Frozen fruit purees provide plethora of uses

You told yourself that this just wasn’t going to be a preserving year. You weren’t going to pay attention to the fabulous cherry crop, and never mind that homemade blackberry jam in November is to die for.

Who has time for all that fuss and muss?

Your life is complicated enough without feeling obligated to take in every stray piece of fruit that finds its way to market.

But this year’s strawberries are so gorgeous. And your best friend is carrying on about the fabulous blueberry pie she just fixed for her gourmet group using her supply of canned filling from last year. And some guy in the office just laid a jar of his famous Marionberry conserves on your desk. Homemade label and all.

Couldn’t you just scream?

Well, what if I told you that with only a teeny bit of effort, even less equipment, and just about zero muss or fuss, you could get in on the season?

I’m referring to frozen fruit purees. Brilliantly hued, intensely flavored, oh-so-chic sauces frozen in time for a plethora of uses throughout the year. Imagine a golden slice of pound cake napped in raspberry puree; or peach puree, slightly warmed and spiked with just a splash of Amaretto, accenting a scoop of vanilla ice cream; or the very essence of a summer apricot, swirled through a simple custard and garnished with chocolate curls.

The steps involved in making a fruit puree are simple. Smoosh the fruit into a velvety mass by whirling it in a blender or food processor and then press it through a sieve to remove any rough bits of skin. Sugar is added according to taste. To preserve the mixture, pack it into containers suitable for freezing, and freeze.

As summer gives way to autumn and winter, you can pull from your frosty cache, creating lovely desserts in the time it takes to defrost an ice cube.

You don’t even have to make the puree while the fruit is at its peak; simply pack the fruit into the freezer and deal with it later. Freezing is one of the simplest, and oldest, forms of food preservation.

There are some trade-offs, of course. For one thing, unlike canning, freezing won’t destroy the bacteria and enzymes that cause spoilage. It simply slows down their activity. Also, fruits won’t retain their pre-frozen appearance, because ice crystals that form within the food puncture delicate cell walls.

But with fruit purees, that doesn’t matter.

My hallmark frozen fruit puree is one I offer to readers just about every year at this time. I do so because it’s such a simple and wonderful way to make the most of our region’s strawberries. But I’ve never really explained why I find it so wonderful.

You see, my Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri Mix is really just a frozen fruit puree — with the tantalizing concept of “adult beverage” thrown in to emphasize just how useful these preparations can be. Aside from the fact that it does indeed turn out fabulous rum-laden umbrella drinks, my simple frozen strawberry puree is the perfect jumping-off point for any number of sweet treats, from alcohol-free coolers and smoothies to simple sherbets. And a dollop added to a glass of sparkling wine is downright decadent.

Here are the basic guidelines for creating fruit purees, And, yes, I’m also including my recipe for Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri Mix.

For berry purees: Use fruit that is ripe, but avoid overripe or moldy fruit. Two pounds of berries will yield approximately 3 scant cups of puree.

Gently wash the fruit in a colander and drain well. Puree in a food processor, blender or food mill, then force through a sieve or ricer to remove seeds (if desired). Sweeten to taste, if desired, with granulated sugar, and add 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice per 3 cups of puree (this is both a flavor enhancer and color preservative). Pack into freezer containers, leaving 3/4-inch headspace for pints and 1 1/2 inches for quarts. To use, simply scoop out desired amount and thaw.

For apple, apricot, peach and pear purees, or combinations of these fruits: Use fruit that is ripe and colorful for its variety. Avoid overripe, bruised or blemished fruit. Two to 2 1/2 pounds of whole fruit will yield approximately 2 cups of puree.

Wash fruit; cut in half and remove core or pit. Cut into chunks (peeling is not necessary, but if you peel it prior to cooking the fruit you won’t have to put the puree through a sieve or ricer later). Treat the fruit with an antioxidant to prevent darkening. You may use a commercial antioxidant and simply follow the label directions for treating cut fruit, or you may prepare your own treatment by dissolving 2 teaspoons of ascorbic acid or vitamin C crystals into 2 quarts water. Immerse fruit in this solution as it is peeled and cut.

Lift pieces out of the solution and rinse. Put a layer of fruit in the bottom of a large pot. Crush slightly with a potato masher to make juice. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water for every 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of fruit; add remaining fruit. Cover pot; simmer over medium-low heat until fruit is tender, 15 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, adding more water as needed to prevent sticking.

Puree in a blender or food processor, and then (if you did not peel the fruit prior to cooking) force the puree through a sieve or ricer to remove any bits of skin. Sweeten to taste, if desired, and add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice per 2 cups of puree to help retain color and flavor. Pack into freezer containers, leaving 3/4-inch headspace for pints and 1 1/2 inches for quarts.

Freezing berries without sugar: If you are going to turn frozen berries into fruit puree at a later date, this is the desired method of freezing. Lay berries in a single layer on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Freeze until firm, then pack into freezer containers and return to the freezer. Unsweetened fruit will lose quality faster than fruit packed in sugar or syrup, but you can generally store for 8 months without sacrificing quality.

Jan’s Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri Mix

Makes about 1 quart frozen strawberry puree (but don’t stop there; make lots!)

There are no special canning skills required to make up batches of this fresh strawberry puree. Just plenty of fresh local strawberries and a little bit of freezer space. This simple puree makes for heavenly rum-laden daiquiri drinks or alcohol-free strawberry-flavored treats all year long.

2 cups granulated sugar

? cup fresh lime juice (juice from 2 medium limes)

1/4 cup water

1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and hulled

Combine the sugar, lime juice and water. Stir to mix, and then let stand until sugar is almost completely dissolved, about 20 minutes (mixture will be grainy and thick).

In blender or food processor, combine the sugar mixture with the berries. Blend until smooth. Pour into half-pint, pint-, or quart-size freezer containers (either rigid-sided containers with screw-top lids or zip-lock freezer bags).

The mixture will become solid but will have the consistency of a very firm sherbet, so you’ll be able to scoop portions from the main batch, then reseal the mixture and store back in the freezer. Likewise, if you’ve frozen the mixture in ice-cube trays, the cubes will not be rock-solid, but they will hold their shape when popped from the trays into storage bags.

For a 1-serving size strawberry daiquiri: In a blender, combine 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of rum, 1/4 cup frozen strawberry daiquiri mix and 5 or 6 average-size ice cubes. Blend until smooth.

For a strawberry pina colada: In blender, combine 1 1/2 to 2 ounces rum, 1/4 cup strawberry daiquiri mix, 3 tablespoons unsweetened pineapple juice, 1 tablespoon coconut cream and about 3/4 cup of ice cubes (5 or 6 average-size cubes). Blend until smooth. For a nonalcoholic version, omit the rum.

Alternative suggestions: It makes a delicious nonalcoholic cooler when blended with a bit of sparkling water or soda and ice. Or for a more creamy smoothie, blend in milk, a banana or yogurt or vanilla ice cream.

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. Email her at janrd@proaxis.com, or see her blog at www.janrd.com.

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