Enjoying Summer's Bounty All Year Long

IN THE KITCHEN

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While the on-going drought has resulted in fairly slim pickings from area gardens, there are still good deals to be found in the produce aisles at the grocery stores and at the fruit and vegetable stand across from Mazatzal Casino.

You might want to venture over to the Verde Valley too. There, long-standing irrigation rights make it possible for farmers to still grow enough to have road-side stands. One of the most popular is the Houser and Houser Farms corn stand, it is on the road to the Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde.

The tradition of home canning lets us take advantage of the bounty of summer all year long, but it is a hot and tedious job -- at least in my experience, and not something I am inclined to do willingly.

Freezing the goodies from the garden is more my style, though admittedly, I am not too proficient at it.

The other day I stopped by -- right before the close of business -- at the produce stand on the Tonto Apache Reservation and was given a really good deal on squash -- too good a deal ... There was no way I could make use of all of it and I said so. The lady filling the bag with the golden-yellow stuff said just to par-boil it a minute and freeze it.

I was surprised, I didn't know it would freeze. I have frozen fresh corn though. I just shuck it, clean it up some, bag it up and toss it in the freezer. I have also been told it can be frozen right in the husk.

I have several cookbooks on preserving food, a couple cover a wide range of methods and one focuses on freezing.

According to one of the books, freezing is the most popular method of food preservation. It's the most time-saving method and produces the best finished product.

From another: Any food that you can, you can also freeze. Usually, if preparation for freezing was adequate and the freezer is working right, frozen food retains more of its original fresh flavor and texture and generally keeps more of its nutrients. However, freezing does not kill the organisms that cause spoilage, as canning does. Freezing just stops the growth of those organisms temporarily.

Now about that frozen corn -- It seems to me it turned out fine, but according to another of these books, I did it all wrong. This is the "proper" method:

Select only the most tender, succulent ears. -- Now, when I have seen others shopping at Housers' corn stand, they pull back the top husks and silk to see the corn. I don't do this though. I pick ears of fresh corn by weight. I have found if an ear has a good, dense weight to it, it is probably nice, full and healthy, and delicious. A couple of ears of this corn, some margarine, salt and pepper, a big glass of iced tea and plenty of napkins and you have a complete meal.

Husk the ears and remove the silk, wash the corn, and sort it according to size. Scald in boiling water: small ears, those 1-1/4 inches or less in diameter should be boiled for 6 minutes; ears 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter need 8 minutes; and large ears, in excess of 1-1/2 inches in diameter should be boiled for 10 minutes.

Cool immediately and thoroughly in ice water and drain.

Wrap each ear in moisture-vaporproof paper, seal and freeze. When frozen, several ears may be packed in a single bag or carton.

To serve, thaw at room temperature for two hours in unopened wrappings. Drop into boiling water, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Squash -- Summer or Zucchini

  • 1 bushel, which is 40 pounds, yields 32 to 40 pints.
  • 1 to 1-1/4 pounds yields 1 pint.

Select young squash with tender skin and small seeds. Wash thoroughly and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices or cubes.

Cook a pound of squash in 1/2 cup of water, without salt or seasonings. Use a tightly covered saucepan and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. There should be little or no water left in the pan when the squash is cooked.

Cool by placing pan over cracked ice and stir frequently. The squash may be mashed if desired.

Package in freezer cartons or bags, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Seal and freeze.

Another way to handle squash is to dip the slices into lemon juice and roll in fine, dry bread crumbs. Sauté the slices in hot melted butter until very pale gold and tender. Package the slices in layers in a freezer carton, separating each layer with two layers of freezer paper. Seal and freeze.

If the freezer you are using is maintained at 0 Fahrenheit, the corn should keep 8 to 10 months, the squash an entire year.

Frozen apricots, peaches, raspberries and strawberries will also keep for a year. Almost all vegetables will keep for a year when frozen, the only exceptions are corn on the cob and mushrooms, cut corn keeps for a year. Beef roasts, steaks and cubed pieces (stew meat), plus poultry will all keep for a year. Ground beef should only be kept for eight months.

Neither pork or fish should be kept at length. Pork roasts and chops can be frozen for six to eight months, smoked pork or ham no more than seven months. Pork sausage should be used within four months and bacon within three. Lean fish, such as trout, cod, haddock, flounder, and shrimp can be stored for six months, but that is the most time recommended for any fish or shellfish, most should be used within three months, while lobster and crab have a freezer life of only two months.

Precooked bakery goods can be frozen, but not for more than six months in most instances. However, yeast bread can be kept for up to a year, as can fruit cakes and fruit pies. Chiffon and pumpkin pies should only be frozen for a month.

Those combination dishes, such as stews and casseroles, prepared in advance to save time on some rushed evening, should be used in four to eight months.

If you don't have a unit that stays at zero, the shelf life is shorter, about half for every 10 degrees above zero. Something that will keep for 12 months at zero, will only keep six months at 10 degrees or three months at 20 degrees.

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