Monday, July 23, 2012

How to Freeze Peaches Perfectly

Yes, still on the subject of my favorite fruit, peaches. As I said in a recent post, I purchased a peck of peaches at the local orchard so I would have extras to freeze--just so I could hold on to my favorite flavor of summer a little longer. Peach season is just about over, so I thought I would pass along some tips (and lessons learned) in case you'd like to hold on to it too :) There are many ways to freeze and can fruit, but I wanted to freeze peach slices without sugar. That's slightly more difficult. I found, after a bit of trial and error, a great way to do this that will preserve the peaches' color and texture. In other words, using the following technique, your peaches won't turn to brown mush after you thaw them! Yuck.

This was a project, so allow yourself a couple of hours and enlist some extra hands if you can (thanks, Mr. Patton). So why go through the trouble? Let me just ask you this question: Have you ever had frozen peaches from the grocery store? They're hard and lacking flavor. Total bummer. By freezing your own fruit, you get a much tastier product and you'll save money too. In my opinion, totally worth it.

So here's my step by step approach. You'll be blanching and peeling peaches working in batches of 4 to 6 peaches at a time. My peck of peaches (which filled over half a brown grocery bag) yielded 4 gallon-sized freezer bags filled 3/4 full of peach slices. The supplies you'll need are:
  • Large pot, filled with boiling water
  • Slotted or mesh spoon
  • Ice bath: a large bowl filled to 1/3 with ice, then filled to 2/3 with water
  • Towel or drainboard to dry peaches after they're removed from the water
  • Knife
  • Fruit preservative (I used Ball's Fruit-Fresh, found at my local grocer)
  • Additional water
  • Small bowl
  • Cookie sheets, lined with wax paper (plus extra wax paper on hold)
  • Gallon-sized zipper-top freezer bags

1. Gently wash peaches to remove dirt. I filled my sink with water and about a tablespoon of produce wash. Rinse peaches.

2. Cut an "X" on the top of each peach. This will make them much easier to peel after they're removed from the water.

3. Gently place 4 to 6 peaches in boiling water. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Remove the peaches using a slotted or mesh spoon after 2 minutes and place them immediately in the ice bath. Allow them to sit in the ice bath for a couple minutes, gently stirring occasionally, until they no longer feel warm. Remove them from the ice bath and place them on a towel or drainboard to dry. Congratulations; you have just blanched peaches. This halts the cooking process and will ensure the peaches retain their color and a palatable texture. I found this step to be absolutely essential. I tried freezing peaches without doing this and they turned brown and became mushy when thawed.

4. Peel peaches by pulling the skin where you made the "X". The skin will come off very easily after blanching.

5. Slice peaches into 8 slices each. Hold the peach gently and make a few cuts to create 2 to 3 slices right next to each other. The slices should then start to fall off the pit easily. This helps so you don't bruise the peach by trying to remove slices in the process of cutting.

6. Combine fruit preservative with water in small bowl according to your package's instructions. I used Ball Fruit-Fresh Produce Protector which called for 2 teaspoons preservative mixed with 3 tablespoons water.

7. Place peach slices in the bowl (I did 2 peaches=16 slices at a time) and gently turn to coat.

8. Remove 1 slice at a time, allowing extra wash to drip off, and place it on your wax paper-lined cookie sheet. You will have to make a fresh bowl of water+fruit preservative every so often; my package recommended after 4 cups of fruit to ensure effectiveness (although I stretched it a little further). Continue this process until you have a complete layer of peaches on your cookie sheet. Place peaches close together, but not touching. This will ensure that peach slices freeze individually and can be easily removed from your bags once frozen. When one layer is complete, lay another sheet of wax paper across the top and create another layer of peaches. When the second layer is complete, lay another sheet of wax paper across the top.

Tip: I didn't have enough cookie sheets, so I tried this in cake pans and created 4 layers (below). When I removed them from the freezer, it was difficult to remove the peach slices...they were stuck to the paper. That's why I would advice using a cookie sheet and creating no more than 2 layers!

9. Place cookie sheets in the freezer (temperature below 0 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least a couple of hours. Freezing times may vary; just check that peaches in BOTH LAYERS are frozen solid before removing.

10. When peaches are frozen solid, remove the slices from wax paper and place in zipper-top freezer bags. Label them with the date. Peaches should retain their quality in the freezer for six months.

When you're ready to eat some, remove slices from the bag and thaw either in the fridge or at room temperature. Here they are completely thawed. See how pretty they stayed!

And here's my favorite way to indulge in frozen peaches. Just like my grandma served at her house in the summer--with vanilla ice cream. Such a wonderful memory! I added half a crumbled graham cracker on top. Yum.

You can freeze many other types of fruits in this same way too, especially if they are soft-fleshed fruits that have a tendency to brown at room temperature. You may be able to skip the fruit preservative, but I thought it improved color retention. It's just vitamin C (ascorbic acid) anyway, so no harm done.

I hope you enjoy yours as much as I do mine! Click here for my Peach and Honey Yogurt recipe--great for fresh or frozen peaches.