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SUMMER'S BOUNTY PICK, CHOOSE AND FREEZE FRUITS AT RIPE TIME.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

Expect a great summer of all kinds of juicy, flavorful fresh fruits. Supplies should be plentiful and of good quality (due to the excellent spring growing conditions ), and prices should be reasonable.

The California strawberry crop - 83 percent of the nation's berries come from California - to date is larger than any previous year since data has been tracked. It's anticipated to be a record-breaking year, up 15 percent from last year, notes Dominique Hansen of the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville. And California strawberries are now available year-round.

You'll also find lots of fresh peaches and nectarines now through September as record crops of both are anticipated - each 8 percent higher than last year, says Marilyn Dolan of the California Tree Fruit Agreement in Reedley. While the plum crop, available through October, is expected to be about 10 percent larger than last year's, it is not a record breaker.

California produces 50 percent to 60 percent of the U.S. peach crop, 95 percent of the nectarine crop and about 90 percent of the plum crop.

When you find a bargain or have an overabundant supply of fresh fruits, freeze them to enjoy later in the year. Keep in mind the higher the water content, the mushier the fruit will be upon thawing.

Maximum freezing time ranges from six to 12 months, depending on your freezer. Be sure your freezer maintains a temperature of 0 degrees F. Fruits can't be frozen as long in refrigerator-freezer combination units as in stand-alone freezers. Keep in mind that fruits lose quality faster in frost-free freezers, so plan to use them up in a timely fashion.

Fruits can be prepared in a trio of ways for freezing - unsweetened (dry pack), sweetened and in sugar syrup - depending on how you to plan to use them. While some fruits, like berries, can be frozen without sweetening, most have better flavor if packed with sugar or in syrup.

To prevent fruits from darkening with exposure to air, it may be necessary to treat them with ascorbic acid, which can be found at drug stores in powdered, crystallized or tablet form (crush the tablets), or at supermarkets in ascorbic acid-based products designed for home preservation.

For dry and sugar-packs, dissolve ascorbic acid in water and sprinkle over fruit before packing. Add to syrup if planning to use the syrup-pack method.

Here's an overview of the three freezing methods (see chart for using with different fruits).

DRY PACK:

Fill plastic freezer bags with prepared unsweetened fruit. Seal tightly, label and freeze. For individually frozen fruit pieces, spread fruit in a single layers on a tray or baking sheet. Freeze firm, then package, seal and return to freezer.

SUGAR PACK:

Sprinkle fruit with sugar and mix carefully to coat and allow sugar to dissolve. Fill freezer containers, label and freeze.

SYRUP PACK:

Prepare thin, medium or heavy sugar syrup, allowing 1 to 1 1/2 cups per quart of fruit. Fill freezer containers about one-third full with syrup. Add fruit to within 1-inch of top. Add more syrup, if necessary, to cover fruit. Press a small piece of plastic wrap or foil atop fruits to submerge in syrup and hold fruit in place. Remove plastic or foil. Seal, label and freeze.

--For a thin or light sugar syrup, in a large saucepan combine 1 cup sugar and 3 cups water. Heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Chill before using. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

--For a medium sugar syrup, follow directions above, using 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

--For a heavy sugar syrup, follow directions above, using 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

When it's time to use the frozen fruit, thaw at room temperature or submerge container in cold water and use while still icy. If planning to use in cooking, be sure to adjust the recipe as necessary to reflect the addition of sugar, if any, used in the freezing process.

MIXED CHERRY VEGETABLE SALAD

2 cups fine julienned carrots

1 1/2 cups pitted and halved fresh sweet cherries

1/2 cup EACH fine julienne celery and diagonally sliced Chinese pea pods

1/4 cup very thinly sliced and quartered sweet onions

3 to 4 tablespoons very thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

Pacific Rim Dressing

Toss carrots, cherries, celery, pea pods, onions and mint with Pacific Rim Dressing. Makes 6 servings.

PACIFIC RIM DRESSING: Combine 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon sesame OR vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel and 1/8 teaspoon bottled hot pepper sauce; mix well. Make about 1/3 cup.

STRAWBERRY SPINACH SALAD

2 bunches fresh spinach, rinsed, trimmed and well dried

1/2 cup orange juice concentrate (undiluted)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Tear spinach leaves into bite-sized pieces and place in a glass bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

For dressing, whisk orange juice concentrate and mayonnaise together until well blended. To serve, pour dressing over spinach and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with strawberries and almonds. Makes 6 servings.

PLUM GOOD COBBLER

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 cups pitted and sliced plums

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter OR margarine

1/3 cup low-fat milk

1 to 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

Reserve 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Mix remaining granulated sugar, plums, 2 tablespoons flour and spices; place in an 8-inch round OR square cake pan. Combine and mix remaining flour, reserved 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add milk to flour mixture and mix until moistened. Spoon 8 mounds of dough on top of plum mixture. Sprinkle brown sugar over dough. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven 25 to 30 minutes or until plum mixture bubbles and thickens and topping browns. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or whipped topping. Makes 8 servings.

QUICK VERSION: Dough may be prepared according to package directions using buttermilk baking mix. OR, prepared biscuit dough may be substituted.

RASPBERRY LIME SALSA

2 tablespoons EACH finely diced sweet onion and sweet yellow pepper

2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup peeled and chopped lime

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1 cup fresh raspberries, rinsed and drained

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine onion, peppers, vinegar, lime and basil in a small bowl; mix well. Carefully stir in raspberries and remaining ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Serve with grilled seafood, chicken, pork or duck. Makes 1 1/4 cups salsa.

FRESH APRICOT LATTICE PIE

1 (15-ounce) package prepared refrigerated pie crusts (2 crusts; enough for a double crust 9-inch pie)

5 1/2 cups sliced fresh apricots, about 2 pounds

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

On a lightly floured surface, unfold one crust. Transfer crust to a 9- or 10-inch pie pan, and let extra dough hang over edge.

In a large bowl, combine apricots, sugar and flour; toss gently. Pile fruit mixture evenly into pastry-lined pan. Dot with butter.

To make lattice top, unfold and cut remaining crust into long strips 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide with a fluted pastry wheel or knife. Use longer strips near center of pie and shorter onces near edges. Arrange strips in one direction across pie and continue in opposite direction. When all strips are in place, trim pastry all around with scissors so you have about 1/2-inch of overhang. Press firmly around rim to seal crusts together, then fold overhang under itself all around to make a thicker edge. Flute edge.

Place pie on a foiled-lined baking sheet in preheated 400-degree oven; reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake 50 to 60 minutes, until crust is golden and juices are bubbling. Cool before cutting into slices. Serve topped with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

CHERRY SOUP A LA MAXIM'S

1 pound ripe, sweet, dark red cherries, preferably Bings (about 3 1/3 cups)

1 quart chicken OR veal stock

1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons kirsch, to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pit about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups cherries. Put pitted cherries in a food processor and process to a coarse puree.

Skim any fat from stock and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in pureed cherries. Immediately remove from heat, cover and let steep 10 minutes.

Pit remaining cherries. Strain soup through a fine strainer. Rinse saucepan and pour strained soup back into it. Add pitted cherries and a teaspoon sugar and warm over low heat 2 minutes, but do not allow soup to come to a simmer. Add kirsch and season with salt, pepper and more sugar if needed. Serve hot or cold. Makes 4 servings.

From ``Chez Panisse Fruits'' by Alice Waters.

BUYING FRESH

WHEN BUYING fresh fruits, use the following guidelines. Be aware that some fruits ripen and get sweeter after picking; others do not. Experts also recommend smelling the fruit before buying as fragrance is a good indicator of flavor. Note that ripe fruit should be refrigerated until ready to eat or use.

While fruits at farmers markets are often ripe and ready to eat, those from supermarkets - like peaches, avocados, nectarines, pears, apricots and plums - may require some ripening time in a loosely closed brown paper bag at room temperature. Be sure to check the fruit daily (and refrigerate once ripe).

APRICOTS: Choose plump soft-ripe fruit with golden orange color. Avoid pale yellow, green yellow, very firm, shriveled or bruised fruit.

AVOCADOS: Choose heavy, medium fruit that yields to gentle pressure but is still firm. Avoid fruit with dark, soft sunken spots.

BERRIES: Select plump and firm berries with bright full color for the variety. Berries do not ripen after picking. Avoid any that are shriveled, bruised, mushy-looking or moldy.

CANTALOUPE: Look for slightly oval, yellow or golden background, heavy netting with tiny cracks at stem end and sweet fruity aroma. Avoid any with green color.

CHERRIES (sweet): Choose plump firm cherries with bright color. Mahogany or reddish-brown skinned ones are the most flavorful. Avoid overly soft, shriveled or moldy cherries and those with dark stems.

FIGS: Tree-ripened plump ones have the most flavor. Ripe figs give way to slight pressure. Avoid hard, dry figs and those with splits or signs of mold.

GRAPES: Regardless of type, select plump, clean, unshriveled ones firmly attached to pliable green stems. Bright color, especially with red or black grapes, indicates ripeness. Ripe green grapes have an amber cast. Grapes don't ripen or get any sweeter after picking. Avoid soft or wrinkled grapes and those with bleached areas near the stem.

HONEYDEW: Look for a cream-color rind, heavy honeylike aroma; blossom end should give to gentle pressure.

MANGOES: Select those that are plump. When ripe (ripen at room temperature, if necessary), the fruits give to gentle pressure. Avoid those with shriveled or bruised skin.

MELONS: Buy those that are clean, firm and ripe with clean scars at the stem ends and with no soft, water-soaked or moldy areas. Most melons are sold underripe and need to be left at room temperature a few days to develop flavor. Avoid melons that rattle as they may be overripe.

NECTARINES: Look for plump, firm, unblemished fruit with an orange-yellow background between red areas. Ripe nectarines yield to gentle pressure. Avoid any with green color.

PAPAYAS: Choose yellow fruit, soft but not mushy. Green fruit won't ripen. Most papayas are sold hard and need to be ripened further. Avoid bruised or shriveled fruit.

PEACHES: Look for fruit with a yellow or creamy color background. Avoid green, very hard or bruised fruit.

PEARS: Regardless of type, choose firm-ripe, not hard fruit of good shape and color. Most pears are sold green and need ripening. Avoid bruised fruit.

PLUMS: Pick plump ones with full color for the variety and slightly soft at the tip end. Reject any with shriveled skin or brownish discoloration.

RHUBARB: Choose crisp, straight, firm, bright red stalks. Avoid wilted or flabby stalks.

WATERMELON: Look for symmetrical shape, dull rather than shiny surface and underside that is yellowish or beginning to turn cream-colored. A hollow sound when thumped indicates sweetness and ripeness.

- N.H.

Sources: ``Sunset Fresh Produce A to Z'' and ``The New Doubleday Cookbook,'' by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna.

FREEZING FRUITS

Most fruits are suitable for freezing, whole, sliced, cutup or pureed. Freeze at peak season when the flavor is optimum. Fruits should be fully ripened but still firm. Prepare small amounts - 2 to 3 quarts - at a time and work quickly. Freeze fruit immediately after preparation or when cool.

If you plan to use fruits in making fillings, pies or jams, they are best packed unsweetened or in sugar. Those packed in syrups are best used in desserts.

APRICOTS: Rinse, leave whole or halve and pit. If not peeled, dip in boiling water 30 seconds to keep skins from toughening. Submerge in cool water; drain. Or peel and slice, if desired. Mix 1/4 teaspoon ascorbic acid (dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water, if desired) and 1/2 cup sugar with each quart of fruit. Pack apricots and liquid in plastic freezer bags or rigid freezer containers; press down, leaving 1/2- to 1-inch headspace. Can also pack in light, medium or heavy sugar syrup with 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid per quart of syrup.

AVOCADOS: Pit, peel and mash, adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice per 2 avocados. Freeze up to 4 months in plastic freezer bags or containers, leaving a little headspace.

BERRIES (raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries): Rinse berries gently; drain well. For unsweetened, dry pack, spread berries on trays and freeze until solid, then transfer to plastic freezer bags or containers. To pack in sugar, mix 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar into each quart of berries. Pack in plastic freezer bags or containers, leaving some headspace. To pack in syrup, cover berries in rigid freezer containers with medium sugar syrup, leaving headspace.

CHERRIES, SWEET: Rinse, stem and pit. To pack in sugar, mix 2/3 cup sugar per quart of cherries. Pack in plastic freezer bags or containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Or pack in rigid containers in a medium sugar syrup with 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid per quart of fruit. Can also tray-freeze whole (with pits) and pack in plastic freezer bags once frozen.

FIGS: Rinse fully ripe fruit; remove stems. Dry pack in plastic freezer bags or containers.

GRAPES: Rinse and stem. Leave seedless grapes whole and pop into freezer bags. Can also pack grapes halved and seeded in medium or light sugar syrup.

MANGOES: Rinse and peel. Slice fruit or cut into pieces, avoiding flesh near pit. Mix 5 to 6 cups with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon ascorbic acid until sugar dissolves. Pack in plastic freezer bags or containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Can also pack in any style sugar syrup with 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid per quart of syrup.

MELONS: Cut in half; remove seeds and peel. Cut into cubes, slices or balls. Dry pack in plastic freezer bags or containers. Or use light sugar syrup pack.

PEACHES and NECTARINES: Do not peel nectarines. To peel peaches, dip in boiling water 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, then plunge into cold water; slip off skins. Slice or cut in half. Mix with 1/4 teaspoon ascorbic acid and 1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar per quart of fruit until sugar dissolves. Pack in plastic freezer bags or containers, leaving headspace. Can also pack in any style sugar syrup with ascorbic acid. Can also freeze using dry pack.

PEARS: Peel, halve or quarter, and core. Heat in boiling medium or heavy sugar syrup 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon ascorbic acid to each quart syrup. Cool. Pack fruit and syrup in freezer containers.

PINEAPPLE: Peel; remove eyes and cores. Cut into wedges, cubes, sticks or thin slices; or crush. Pack unsweetened (dry pack) tightly in rigid freezer containers, leaving headspace. Or pack in sugar, mixing 1 cup per 2 quarts fruit until sugar dissolves. Can also freeze in light or medium sugar syrup.

PLUMS: Rinse and dry well. Leave whole, halve or quarter. Use dry pack, sugar pack with 3/4 cup sugar per quart of fruit or medium or heavy syrup with 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid per quart of syrup.

RHUBARB: Rinse and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Freeze in a medium syrup pack, a sugar pack using 1 cup sugar per quart of fruit or in a dry pack.

- N.H.

Sources: ``The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book,'' edited by Susan Westmoreland; ``Sunset Home Canning,'' by the Editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine; ``Ball Blue Book: Guide to Home Canning, Freezing and Dehydration'' by Altrista Corp.

CAPTION(S):

7 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) The essence of summer

Fresh fruits bursting with color

(2 -- 5 -- color) California produces 50 percent to 60 percent of the U.S. peach crop, 95 percent of the nectarine crop and about 90 percent of the plum crop.

(6) no caption (Mixed Cherry Vegetable Salad)

(7) no caption (Fresh Apricot Lattice Pie)

Box:

(1) BUYING FRESH (see text)

(2) FREEZING FRUITS (see text)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Jun 19, 2002
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