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COLUMN — Surplus peaches mean a summer of smoothies

I was feeling lucky and grateful when a neighbor dropped off several pounds of surplus peaches over the weekend.

However, my two-person household can’t eat that many peaches before they go bad. My first thought was to can the peaches in syrup for eating later, but the forecast was for temperatures over 95 degrees for the next few days. That’s too hot for me to process my jars of peaches by water bath. My best option was to blanch, peel and freeze the peaches. I also had some mangoes that were ripe, so I decided to create freezer “smoothie bags” for easy, pre-portioned mixes of the fruits to toss in the blender.

To avoid freezer bags and containers with blocks of frozen produce that you have to pry apart, you can put your sliced, diced or whole fruit on sheet pans or plates and place them directly into the freezer. After a few hours (timing depends on how large your fruit pieces are), the fruit is frozen as pieces and won’t stick together in your freezer bags or containers. It’s important not to leave the pieces of fruit frozen on the sheet or plate for too long so you avoid freezer burn. I can only fit one sheet pan in my freezer at a time, so I froze my peach slices first, making sure to leave space between the slices, then froze my diced mango. I divided the frozen fruit pieces into small freezer bags, ready for smoothies.

Blanching is a necessary step when you’re freezing most vegetables. Fruits like peaches and mangoes do not require blanching before freezing, but blanching my peaches was an easy way for me to peel them before slicing and freezing them. Blanching is scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short period of time. It stops the enzyme action that can cause the loss of flavor, color and texture of vegetables. It also helps prevent the loss of nutrients in the produce.

When you’re blanching vegetables, be sure to follow the proper time for the specific produce you’re using. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a useful chart on their website of blanching times for many different vegetables.

There are two key steps for easily-peeled peaches by blanching. One is to score a shallow “X” on the bottom of each peach with a knife before submerging it in the boiling water. The other is key to all blanching processes: immediately move the peaches from the boiling water to a bowl of ice water. This cools the produce, and the cooling typically takes the same amount of time as it did to blanch your produce.

May we all experience a surprise fruit surplus at some point this summer, and I hope that freezing is an easy method to turn to if you can’t consume it all at once.

You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on Virginia Food Works’ website: www.virginiafoodworks.org/Home-Canning-Resources.

Katharine Wilson is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.