farm-fresh peaches, frozen to perfection
AFRIEND WITH AN OLD PEACH TREE made me a beneficiary of too many fruits to keep up with one bumper-crop year, and into the freezer some went. But in my overzealous drive to avoid added sugar in my diet, I made an error that affected the quality and storage life of the frozen fruit—a mistake I didn’t make again. I’m sharing my tactics for freezing farm-fresh peaches this summer, so you can make peachy recipes anytime you please.
My semi-failed batch of peaches went wrong for a couple of reasons, besides skipping the sugar entirely.
what I did wrong:
I let the fruit get overripe before putting it into suspended animation. If you’re freezing fresh (uncooked) fruit, you want it to be ripe but still firm—not already so soft as to be on a downhill slide. Fruit that drips down your chin when you bite into may be a sensuous summer pleasure, but it’s too far gone for putting up. More treacherous, though…
I didn’t reckon with the air pockets inherent in stuffing any irregular-shaped pieces of something solid into freezer bags, boxes or jars. Air pockets invite freezer burn, which means deterioration.
what i do now:
I pack ripe-but-firm fruit in syrup. Peaches are easy to freeze in liquid—goodbye, air spaces between fruit slices!—and it needn’t be the traditional heavy, sugary kind. (And P.S.–you don’t have to consume the syrup, but can drain it off later.)
White grape juice (below) can act as simple syrup.
Even if you prefer a sugar-based syrup, a light simple syrup of just 1:3 parts sugar to water will do. No need for heavy syrup (1:1 ratio) or even medium (1:2). To make light simple syrup, gradually add 2 cups of sugar into 6 cups of water and heat just until dissolved. Chill the syrup before using to pack fresh fruit.
Whichever liquid you use, layer as much fruit as possible into the container before filling all the crevices with “syrup.”
Pieces will want to float to the top, poking above the liquid. The standard trick is to crumple plastic wrap in the “headspace” left above the contents to allow for expansion during freezing, then remove the wrap. I just top up with more juice after the contents freeze, to cover any escaped bits, protecting them from burn.
Another essential ingredient: an anti-oxidant. Tossing the fresh-cut peaches in lemon juice will retard browning, but ascorbic acid powder (available at health food stores in the vitamin aisle from brands such as Now or Solaray) is probably more effective because you know just how much oomph you’re getting. A half-teaspoon, or 1,500 mg. of ascorbic acid powder per quart of syrup, is recommended. Have the ascorbic acid-laced syrup or juice ready, and drop the fruit directly into the mixture as you slice.
I think jars are easier than freezer bags, and (as discussed) the less plastic in contact with our food, the better. If you want to use bags, select freezer strength, and stand them up while freezing so that any air migrates to the top, where you can force it out after the food freezes at least halfway, before resealing the bag.
Still prefer to pack fruit “dry”? Get out the sugar. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends 2/3 cup granulated sugar per quart (or 1-1/3 pounds) of cut fruit that was first tossed in ¼ tsp. (750 mg.) of ascorbic acid and 3 Tbsp. of water. Let the sugared fruit sit 15 minutes before packing and freezing, taking care to eliminate air spaces as above.
When it’s time to defrost, do so in the refrigerator or under cold water, then use the fruit at once. If your recipe doesn’t require any liquid, pour it off, and improvise: Use it as both the liquid and sweetener in a bread or other baked good you are making. Nothing goes to waste!
And one more thing: To peel, or not to peel? If you want to, the touted “trick” is to score the skins lightly with an “X,” then drop the fruits into a pot of boiling water for about half a minute, then into a bowl of ice water to make the skins easy to rub off. It’s the same tactic used for skinning tomatoes when canning whole tomatoes.
With peaches, though, I think it yields a raggedy piece of fruit, so I peel them with a vegetable peeler—or leave the skins on, another reason for the ripe-but-firm fruit rule. Imagine peeling overripe peaches! And what’s a peach with a hint of fuzz, anyhow?
this peach clafoutis won’t last
MY BEST PEACH RECIPE (above) isn’t sugar-free at all, and it doesn’t last very long. It’s for Peach Clafoutis (the easiest of fruit desserts, though it puffs up and looks gorgeous as if you’re a master baker). Confession: I borrowed the batter from my friend Martha.
peaches: the botanical viewpoint
ALTHOUGH I DIDN’T KNOW how to freeze peaches well at first, I did have some peach savvy—mostly of the scientific or botanical variety. Did you know peaches are related to roses, for instance (that and other stone-fruit trivia is here)?