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Keep these crops fresh in the freezer

Stretch the season on fresh fruits and vegetables by using your freezer. Of course, you'll want your frozen goods to taste as close to fresh as possible. That may mean taking a few extra preparation steps before you bag and freeze:

Preparing produce

Blanching: Briefly steaming or boiling vegetables before freezing helps to preserve flavor, nutrients and color. It also stops the enzymes that cause food to deteriorate. You can use your steamer, a pot of boiling water or your microwave oven to blanch. Most vegetables should be blanched.

Dry-pack: Freezing without adding sugar or liquid is a common way to freeze most vegetables and some fruits.

Tray freezing: Arranging foods in single layer on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan lets you freeze foods individually. Once frozen, you can dry-pack berries or vegetable pieces into airtight freezer bags for long-term storage. This allows pieces to be removed as needed, with the unused portion to stay in the freezer for later use.

Syrup-pack: Freezing fruits in a sugar-water syrup helps to preserve their shape and texture. Soft fruits, such as peaches and cherries, benefit from sugar syrups.

Sugar-pack: Coating fruit with sugar before freezing will help it retain flavor and texture. Berries are often frozen in a sugar-pack.

Honey-pack: Drizzling fruits with honey adds flavor and preserves texture, just as sugar-packs do.

Diet-pack: Freezing fruits in water or a low-calorie liquid, such as fruit juice, will cut the sugar content, but can also form a hard ice coating around the fruit. Before freezing, you'll need to treat the fruit with an anti-browning agent, such as lemon juice.

Freezing tips

Turn your freezer to its coldest setting a day before adding a large quantity of food. Maintain it at 0 degrees F or below.

For peak efficiency, keep your freezer at least 75 percent full. To stock it to that level, you can add loaves of bread or water-filled milk cartons. Do not overfill. There should still be enough space for air to circulate.

Add no more than 3 pounds of unfrozen food at a time per cubic foot of freezer space.

Freeze food quickly to preserve texture and flavor.

Smaller and thinner packages freeze faster.

Allow room for slight expansion when freezing foods with liquids.

Label and date all foods. Use within optimal freezer life, not longer than 6 to 12 months for most fruits and vegetables.

Place packages directly on freezer shelves, not on top of other frozen foods. Leave space around them until they are frozen.