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Preserve the tastes of summer for the winter

You can still enjoy great seasonal fruits and vegetables during the cold months. Anne-Marie O'Neill of Real Simple explains how.
/ Source: TODAY

Peaches, plums, tomatoes and sweet corn are deliciously ripe this time of year, but the abundance of these fruits and vegetables disappear with the hot weather. Anne-Marie O'Neill of Real Simple explains how to put summer on ice.

TomatoesMake now: Tomato SaladMake later: Linguine with Tomato Sauce (or any place you would use jarred tomato or marinara sauce. Just add browned sausage, olives, herbs, etc.)

How to freeze
1. Make tomato sauce for freezing. You don't want to freeze whole tomatoes. They are mostly water, so when you freeze and defrost the fruit, it completely alters the texture and turns into mush.

2. Ladle cooled sauce (without pasta) into resealable plastic bags, filling only halfway. Use resealable plastic freezer bags for freezing because you can squeeze air out of the container, which is great for two reasons: it takes up less space in the freezer than a container and also prevents that freezer-burnt taste. Be sure to use plastic freezer bags designed for freezer storage and not food storage bags, because the plastic in food storage bags is not thick enough to seal in moisture.

3. Lay bags flat on a baking sheet and freeze until solid ... and don't forget to label. Label the bag with a pen, marking the contents and the date. You may think you'll recognize the contents later on, but when it's covered in frost or you're feeling flustered because you have 15 minutes to get dinner on the table, you might not recall what it is.

4. Stand the bags upright.

5. Freeze up to 3 months. But because freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only. You can also determine quality after defrosting. Certainly if a rancid or off odor has developed, it's been frozen too long and should be thrown out.

6. Thaw in a microwave on low heat or in the refrigerator overnight, or transfer to a saucepan, cover, and warm over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.

CornMake now: Summer Succotash and Spiced LambMake later: Sweet Corn Chowder (or any chowders, soups, salads, salsa)

How to freeze
1. Break each ear of uncooked sweet corn in half. It's recommended to freeze uncooked corn. You could freeze cooked corn, but it tends to turn out rather waterlogged. And corn cooks really quickly, so you're really not saving much time by cooking it before freezing.

2. Stand each half on end in a baking dish or large bowl.

3. Slice downward to remove the kernels from the cob. You want to remove corn from the cob for several reasons; it takes up less space in the freezer; it's easier to defrost when it's off the cob; and it's easier to get off the cob when it's fresh and dry, not slippery and soggy after being thawed (potential hazard with knife on slippery kernels).

4. Transfer the kernels to a resealable plastic bag.

5. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Plums
Make now: Fresh Plums with Polenta Cake Make later: Pork Chops with Warm Plum Sauce (or any time plums are baked or sweetened with sugar and spooned over ice cream or cake, tarts or pies, etc.)

How to freeze
1. Rinse the plums and pat dry. Don't forget to wash and dry the fruit before freezing. This removes some of the dirt, bacteria, pesticides, etc. Also, since you're slicing, then storing, the fruit, you don't want bacteria on the outside of the fruit to come in contact with the rest of the fruit.

2. Do not peel. You want to leave the skin on so the slice of fruit will retain its shape; without the skin, the fruit might turn into shapeless mush after freezing and defrosting.

3. Cut each one in half, discarding the pits.

4. Slice the fruit into wedges about 1/2-inch thick.

5. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag.

6. Freeze up to 3 months.

7. To defrost, place the bag on a counter for 1 to 2 hours or rinse quickly under cool water.

8. Pat the plums dry.

9. Use immediately after thawing. The flavor and color are freshest and most vibrant right after thawing.

Peaches
Make now: Caramelized Peaches with Ice Cream Make later: Rustic Peach Tart (or any time peaches are baked or sweetened with sugar and spooned over ice cream or cake, tarts or pies, etc.)

How to freeze
To freezing peaches, follow the previous steps for plums.

Tip: If you want to get really serious about preserving fruits and vegetables, buy a vacuum sealer such as the FoodSaver Advanced Design V2440 ($130, foodsaver.com). Vacuum sealers can extend the life of foods (fresh foods as well as dry goods like pasta, cereal, etc.). They slow the aging process by removing virtually all the oxygen and moisture. Oxygen is what causes items to slowly deteriorate, so the less contact the food has with oxygen, the longer it will last. This system claims to extend the freshness of food up to five times longer than conventional storage methods. Most models are small enough to stash in a cabinet and are easy to use.