Summer fruit, winter treat

During summer and autumn, a myriad of delicious fruits are available. Now is the time to freeze your favourites to make them last throughout the year. Here's what to do:

Things to keep in mind
Fruit tend to be more fragile than vegetables when it comes to freezing. This is usually due to their high water content. If a fruit contains a lot of water (e.g. strawberries) and it is frozen, the water inside the cells of the fruit will also freeze and expand, thus destroying most of the cell walls.

This is why frozen fruit are often mushy when defrosted. Certain types of fruit will react more favourable if you boil them with sugar, cool and then freeze the boiled pulp – strawberries, apples, peaches and pears are good examples.

In similar fashion to vegetables like potatoes, fruits need to be protected against discolouration. For example, apples are prone to discolouration if a cut surface is exposed to air. The use of an acid medium (lemon juice or ascorbic acid) can prevent discolouration.

Sugar acts as a preservative when freezing fruit. However, if you don't like or should not include sugar in your diet (for reasons of slimming or insulin resistance), it is better to use fresh fruit or purchase commercially frozen fruits such as the delicious frozen berries available at Woolworths and other supermarkets.

Basic principles
In The South African Deep Freeze Book, Alice Theron points out that fruit can be frozen by either packaging it along with dry sugar or in a syrup.

The author states that the latter method is not appealing as it produces a hybrid product, which is a combination of canning and freezing. Ms Theron advocates the use of packing with dry sugar to obtain the most pleasing results, and in my experience this is true.

Fruit that may discolour must be packed in dry sugar to which a small amount of ascorbic acid (1/4 teaspoon or 6 finely crushed vitamin C tablets – which you can buy at the chemist – to 1 cup of sugar) has been added.

Coat the sliced, peeled apples with lemon juice and sprinkle with sugar, or just ensure that each slice is coated with the sugar and ascorbic acid mixture. Pack apples into small containers, remove air and freeze. Only freeze small batches (1-2 apples) at a time to prevent discolouration.

Generally speaking, apples are easier to freeze after they have been boiled lightly with added sugar. Apple pies complete with baked pastry and apple crumbles also freeze well without discolouration of the fruit.

Do not thaw raw frozen apples – rather cook them directly from the freezer.

Select firm, ripe fruit. Scoop out all the flesh, mash and add lemon juice with sugar, or lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper (to taste), pack into small containers, remove air and freeze.

Thaw at room temperature and use in dips and spreads.

Apricots, peaches and pears
Peel, slice and coat with sugar-ascorbic acid mixture. Pack into containers, remove air and freeze. Thaw at room temperature or in the fridge overnight before using, but serve cold.

These fruits can also be lightly boiled with sugar and then frozen.

Wash, remove stems and pips, coat with sugar and pack into containers. Remove air and freeze. Thaw at room temperature.

Citrus fruit
It is difficult to prepare perfect segments of oranges or grapefruit for freezing, so it is usually better just to squeeze out the juice of citrus fruits, fill containers, remove air and freeze.

Citrus fruit are acid enough and contain their own vitamin C so that it is not necessary to add any vitamin C or sugar. Thaw at room temperature.

Lemon juice freezes well and is best frozen in small quantities. Freeze in ice cube trays and store frozen lemon juice cubes in small freezer bags for use whenever you need that tablespoon of lemon juice for cooking.

Remove pulp from the halved fruits and add a small amount of ascorbic acid. Pack into small containers, remove air and freeze. Thaw at room temperature and use in fruit salad to add an interesting flavour.

Because it is difficult to de-pip grapes, and freezing will usually produce a mushy product, only freeze the juice (use a liquidiser and strain the juice) together with a small amount of sugar-ascorbic acid mixture.

Thaw at room temperature before using, but make sure the thawed juice does not ferment.

Melons (spanspek, sweet melons)
Peel and cube. Freeze as is or with added sugar-ascorbic acid mixture. Pack into small containers, remove air and freeze.

Thaw, but do not allow to stand as the fruit can become mushy.

Peel, core, remove black spots and cut into cubes. Pineapple can be frozen with or without sugar in small containers. Remove air and freeze. Thaw at room temperature.

Cut in half and remove pips. Coat with sugar-ascorbic acid mixture, pack into small containers, remove air and freeze. Thaw at room temperature.

Lightly boiled plum compote sweetened with sugar freezes well and makes a tasty dessert when served with custard.

Rhubarb can be frozen raw or cooked. Cut raw rhubarb into pieces (5 cm long), pack into any small container (including plastic bags), remove air and freeze. Use directly from freezer to cook.

Cooked rhubarb should be cooled and packed into containers, after which the air is removed and the cooked fruit is frozen. Thaw or boil directly from the freezer.

Strawberries and other berries
As mentioned above, strawberries and other berries have such a high water content that freezing tends to burst the cell walls and produces a mushy product on thawing.

You can freeze berries with a mixture of sugar and ascorbic acid, but it is generally better to freeze lightly boiled berries to which sugar has been added.

Use small containers, remove air and freeze rapidly in the coldest part of the freezer to prevent large ice crystals from forming. Thaw at room temperature and serve cold.

Nutritive value
Most types of fruit have such a high vitamin C content that the small amount that is lost during freezing will not really affect the nutritive value of the fruit when you eat it.

Freezing can make certain seasonal fruit, like apricots and plums, accessible all year round.

Other nutrients in fruit, like beta-carotene and lycopene, are not affected by the freezing process. – (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc)

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