Freezing fall fruits, vegetables

A most practical solution to fall's abundance is to take full advantage of your freezer, storing this summer's bounty for your family and friends to enjoy in winter.

Freezing is not nearly as complicated nor as time-consuming as other methods of preserving and storing food, though there are several guidelines you should follow.

For maximum flavor take a cue from commercial food packagers, advises Janet K. Felmeth, director of the White Westinghouse/Kelvinator Appliance Company Home Economics Institute. ''Freeze fruits and vegetables at their peak flavor. The quicker they are frozen after being picked, the better they will taste when used ,'' she says.

''Avoid using home-grown or purchased produce that is too green. And don't freeze food that is overripe. It is a waste of time, since freezing preserves quality but does not improve it.''

''Some vegetables need special preparation, such as blanching. It's a good idea to consult a cookbook or freezer guide for directions on handling specific foods.''

Ms. Felmeth offers these additional tips for freezing fresh produce:

* Cool all food before freezing by putting the wrapped packages in the refrigerator until they are cold to the touch. This goes for raw strawberries as much as for stewed tomatoes. In other words, everything.

* Label all packages and containers, including information on the type of food, date, number of servings, and cooking instructions for freezer-to-oven dishes.

* Unfrozen food increases the temperature of the freezer, so don't freeze more than about 1/10 of the freezer's capacity at one time.

* New packages added to the freezer should be put in a single layer on the freezer shelf, leaving one inch of space between each package until frozen solid. They should not be put in door shelves, nor should they be placed on top of food already frozen.

* Finally, don't freeze boiled potatoes, even when they're in soups or stews, and never freeze salad greens and garnishes, mayonnaise, cream fillings and puddings, or the whites of hard-cooked eggs unless they're chopped.

The maximum storage life for vegetables is eight months and for fruit, a year , according to the US Department of Agriculture, Ms. Felmeth says.

''Most foods, such as vegetable casseroles and stewed tomatoes, should be cooked while still frozen.

''But fruit can be thawed in several ways: at room temperature, placed in cold water, or put in the refrigerator.''

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