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2016-6

FREEZING Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve summer’s bounty. My kitchen freezers are stocked year-round with frozen peppers, green beans, blueber-ries, peaches, zucchini, freezer pickles, tomatoes (to make tomato juice), and other goodies. It takes some time to put it all together, but what a blessing it is to find neatly labeled bags in the freezer waiting to be prepared into a favorite dish in the dead of winter. There are some drawbacks, like power outages, to freezing versus can-ning. However, freezing does seem to maintain the crispness and texture that canning sometimes lacks. Produce can be frozen in plastic freezer bags, reusable plastic freezer boxes, or specially made freezer jars (the latter are available at hardware stores). Vegetables require blanching, which means washed vegetables are plunged into boiling water or steamed for a few minutes and then transferred to ice water to stop the cooking process. This technique enhances the color and ensures a great-tasting, not to mention attractive, finished product. Blanching times vary according to the vegetable to be frozen. Make sure to follow the specified blanching timeline to a T for perfection. Bag or box the blanched vegetables and label with the date and what’s inside. To ensure that your veggies don’t clump together in the freezer, bag them in plas-tic freezer bags then lay flat on a cookie sheet before packing, labeling, and storing in containers. All veggies will clump together in the freezer if not laid flat first. To freeze herbs such as basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano, wash and dry them, then mince them up and fill the compartments of an ice cube tray halfway. Fill the tray with water and freeze. Once frozen, pop the cubes into a plastic freezer bag so you can use them in winter recipes such as homemade Italian dishes. DRYING Fresh fruits and vegetables can be dried using a dehydrator, a tool that uses constant, low heat and air circulation to evenly remove moisture. Growing up, I loved using our dehydrator with my mother. It was so fun and made the house smell great. One year, my parents and I grew a huge okra patch and after exhausting every recipe for cook-ing, canning and freezing, we still had a basket left. My innovative mother decided to slice and dehydrate it. We added it to soups and as a crunchy topping to Caesar salads. We also used it instead of bacon bits or in place of shredded cheese. The process of dehydrating food has existed for thousands of years. Before refrigeration, people salted meats and dried veggies to remove moisture that would break it down. Food was also dried in the sun. Early American homesteaders strung bean pods to hang them from the rafters, and bundled garlands of peppers and herbs as reminders of the harvest and a reassurance that there was always one more meal available to serve. Vegetables grown in the garden, such as peppers, tomatoes (I love whole cherry-type tomatoes), beans, pumpkin, okra, beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, corn and others, can be dehydrated. Be sure to choose produce free of blemishes and bruises for an optimal product. The key to properly drying food is to reduce the moisture content to a point where the produce will not mold or become an inviting abode for bacteria. Properly dried vegetables are quite brittle. Blanching vegetables prior to dehydrating is recommended. This inhibits enzyme growth that could cause spoilage, and as a bonus, it speeds up the drying time. Always slice the vegetables the same size and place on dehydrator trays in a single layer, being careful not to touch any other vegetables on the tray. I love the thermostatically controlled dehydrators that eliminate guesswork as to drying time. Simply dehydrate the vegetables at the temperature and time recommended in the manual. To be on the safe side, I like to do my own quality control by removing a few dehydrated vegetables from the tray and allowing them to cool completely. If the dried vegetable is brittle and there are no beads of moisture escaping from it when snapped, and if it feels dry, then it is. Dried vegetables can be stored for up to a year by using this method. But, more than likely, you’ll have empty jars before the year is up. If you have kids in the household, they will not only love the process, they will devour the dried vegetables. Don’t forget that you can also dry your favorite herbs for the winter. 92 WBM june 2016 Jams and jellies can be frozen in the jar for up to one year. Leave ½-inch headspace at the top of the jar to allow for expansion. PHOTO BY ALLISON POTTER savor


2016-6
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