A freezer makes time stand still. And for anyone bent on capturing the fruits of summer, that's golden.
I'm not a stranger to the concept. Say, for example, the berry harvest is coming on fast and furious, you're aching to put up several batches of your favorite jam, but there's a five-day conference in Poughkeepsie on the calendar. If you bank a batch of fruit in your freezer now, you can get back to it when your life settles down. November, perhaps?
Well, that's exactly what I do. Instead of sweating through multiple jam-making sessions during the hottest and busiest time of my year, I freeze multiple batches of measured fruit/sugar/lemon juice that can be thawed and cooked into jam at a much later time.
But until last winter's acquisition of a Magic Bullet blender system ramped up my interest in fruit smoothies, I wasn't into stockpiling an inordinate amount of seasonal fruits beyond those needed for my annual preserves, plus some cereal-topping extras. Well that's about to change since my sweetie and I became fruit-smoothie fools.
Because our conversion took place in the winter months, we were forced to use commercially frozen fruits. And most of it is not the best quality. Never mind the price point, which is equally horrific.
On the other hand, capturing the local crops ensures flavor and quality from the get-go. So I've cleared the decks in my freezer for all of the season's berries, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums and apples.
As far as the actual construction of the perfect fruit smoothie, I consider that a personal affair. Between my sweetie and me, bananas are the deal-breaker. Steve thinks they're a tasty additive. Me, not so much. That's why the Magic Bullet blender system with its multiple blender jars and blade attachments makes life so simple. We can make back-to-back beverages in no time at all and still catch the sunset from our deck in a timely fashion.
- They pull double duty, quenching thirst and satisfying hunger at the same time.
- They're a great way to sneak more fiber and antioxidants into the family's diet.
- They don't require a lot of fussy ingredients.
- Add yogurt, milk, flaxseeds, silken tofu, wheat germ or protein powder to the blender for extra nutrition.
- If you're using frozen fruits, you won't usually have to add ice cubes to achieve a frosty consistency.
- Experiment with the vast array of juices that are on the market to give your smoothies a tropical flavor.
- If you use too many different fruits in your smoothie, the flavor is going to be less distinctive than if you focus on three or less.
- Sparkling water adds a nice zing.
- For a boost in sweetness, consider a spoonful of frozen, fruit-juice concentrate.
- Make frozen fruit purees (see related recipe, but basically, it's four parts fruit to one part sugar and a splash of fresh lime or lemon juice) and freeze in ice-cube trays until firm, then pack into resealable bags — great additions to simple smoothies.
FREEZING FRESH FRUITS
Most fruits can be frozen, but some (peaches, apricots and apples) need to be treated with an anti-darkening agent if you want to protect their colors (more on that in a moment).
When you freeze fruits, you can pack them with no sweetener at all or pack it in syrup or granulated sugar. Keep in mind that freezing alters the texture of fruits because internal cell structures have broken down and juice is released. So once thawed, most fruits will be soft and not as beautiful to look at as fresh fruits. For the most part, this isn't a problem because you're either cooking with frozen/thawed fruits, or you're blending them in a smoothie.
Freezing unsweetened fruits: While many fruits are best frozen when sweetened, most maintain high quality without sugar or syrup. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, loganberries and Marionberries (and other berries within the blackberry family) all are good choices for freezing unsweetened. By freezing the fruits or fruit pieces individually before packaging, it's easier to remove just the amount you want from the freezer at a later date, making for easy smoothie construction. To individually freeze, simply spread fruits or fruit pieces on a tray, freeze uncovered until solid and transfer to recloseable freezer bags or rigid containers. Store in the freezer for up to 12 months without a loss in quality.
Freezing fruits in sugar: To freeze fruits in a sugar pack or "dry pack" — with sugar but no liquid — spread them in a shallow pan and sprinkle with sugar. Gently mix until fruits release their juice and sugar starts to dissolve. Pack into freezer containers and freeze. Be sure to leave 1/2 inch of head space for freezer bags or pint containers and 1 inch of head space for quarts to allow for expansion during freezing. For easier stacking, freeze filled bags flat on freezer shelves until solid, then stack.
Freezing fruits in syrup: Syrups used to pack fruits for freezing can be made in different concentrations; to prepare them, simply mix the ingredients until well-blended, then chill before using. You even can substitute honey for one-fourth of the sugar. When you pack fruits, add enough cold syrup to cover, usually 1/2 to 2/3 cup per pint. For a 20-percent solution, heat 4 cups water with 1 cup sugar (yields 4 3/4 cups syrup); a 30-percent solution is 4 cups water and 1 3/4 cups sugar (yields 5 cups); a 40-percent solution is 4 cups water and 2 3/4 cups sugar (yields 5 1/3 cups); a 50-percent solution is 4 cups water and 4 cups sugar (yields 6 cups).
Protecting fruit colors: Some light-colored fruits have a tendency to darken after cutting. Ascorbic acid (sold in drugstores and health-food sections in most supermarkets, is a common anti-darkening agent. Commercial anti-darkening products containing ascorbic and/or citric acids (and often sugar) also are available; look for them in your supermarket, usually where canning supplies are sold. Lemon juice prevents darkening too, but the quantity needed often makes fruits too tart.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.