August 29, 2008

Freezathon and Food Facts

I like to use a method called "flash freezing" for things like peppers, onions, rhubarb, berries - things that don't have to be blanched before they're frozen. Flash freezing just means that you spread out whatever you're freezing in a single layer and once it's frozen you transfer it into another container.

This allows you to take out just the amount you need for a recipe later on, rather than having everything frozen in a big clump. It's just as simple as wash, trim, chop and freeze. I leave some things whole, like berries and hot peppers. I use cookie sheets or another flat surface, covered with plastic wrap - that way if there's a little water on the produce it won't freeze and stick to the cookie sheet. It takes at least a couple of hours before things are completely frozen and you just have to keep checking it. Next you dump it all into freezer bags or containers, label, and put it back in the freezer. These are part of the hot peppers, rhubarb, and green peppers that I froze today - it's fast!

Now for the food safety bit - True or False? Once something is frozen, it can be kept safely in your freezer indefinitely. Answer is False. Even in a freezer there is a shelf life to everything. Food really can go bad in there. Check out this website - Clemson Extension Office. They have a chart that tells you how long you can safely freeze or refrigerate foods. You'll see that some things aren't ever recommended for the freezer. You may go running to your freezer for a grand clean-out after you read the chart!

Also, when it comes to methods for freezing or canning foods, you HAVE to educate yourself for the safety of your families. You should never take advice on storing food, including mine, without verifying that it's sound advice. There are lots of bad practices out there (like canning food in the oven - ahhh - nooo!!!) so get a good, updated book from the library or visit your local extension office to get your own sound information. There's an extension office in virtually every county in the country - Cooperative Extension System Offices - and there's a home economist in most of them (as well as a master gardener) and they have expert advice as well as many publications (free or cheap) to help you along. Lots of them hold classes on canning, etc. Lots of them also have information on the web like the site above. Some of you know that I have a degree in food science and nutrition and you may think that based on that fact, I know what I'm talking about when it comes to food preservation, but let me just say that I graduated in December of 1982 and lots of things have changed!!! I try to keep up and be informed myself, but I could easily leave out an important step when I'm blogging simply because I didn't think to include it, so again GET YOUR OWN INFORMATION BEFORE YOU BEGIN STORING FOOD FOR YOUR FAMILY! Sorry, don't mean to yell but I'm very convicted about this since bad experiences make people give up the practice of preserving and that's a shame since it's a good thing to do!

One more question - True or False? Fresh produce is always the best. Answer is False. No, I haven't lost my mind here! If you're getting your produce directly from the garden or a local farmer's market, then fresh would be best. But...if it's from the grocery store, you may not always be getting what you think you're getting. Many things come from a long distance and are picked when they aren't yet ripe so they'll arrive at the store with fewer dings - we like our produce to look pretty! The nutrients develop as the fruits and veggies ripen, so you're losing out right from the start with these items sometimes. Also, they've been bred to look good rather than taste the best, so some flavor is going to be lost as well. The other problem is that the longer something sits around in a warehouse or on the shelf at the store, the more nutrients it loses. Again, do your own research but don't be afraid to use canned or frozen fruits and veggies. These have been harvested when they are at their peak and the nutrients are basically locked in by the canning or freezing process. Some major universities have done studies showing how comparable the nutrients are in canned, frozen, and quality fresh vegetables - look on the web. Of course you want to watch out for high sodium content or fatty sauces, but again, most frozen and canned veggies and fruits are really good choices when the "fresh" stuff at the store doesn't float your boat.

Well, this is all then.

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