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Don't can favorite combinations

freeze instead

July 28, 1998

Be it Aunt Mary's favorite salsa, Uncle Joe's favorite chili recipe or the spaghetti sauce you created from the vegetables in your garden, a common question at this time of year is "How long should I can it?"

Unless you are using a recipe with a tested canning procedure, the best answer is "freeze it." Because of the potential for botulism from home-canned products that stray from tested recipes and procedures, freezing is a good alternative for the creative cook.

For example, adding peppers and onions to spice up your home-canned tomato sauce may decrease the acidity of the product enough that a higher heat treatment is needed to destroy the spores of Clostridium botulinum. Without the peppers and onions, the product is acidic enough to keep the bacteria in check.

Freezing keeps all bacteria in check, regardless of the acidity or consistency of the product. It does not kill bacteria so once the food thaws, bacteria may grow again.

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For highest quality during frozen storage, use moisture and vapor-proof packaging materials and store in a freezer that maintains the food at or less than 0 degrees fahrenheit. If your freezer or freezer compartment does not maintain this temperature, limit frozen storage of foods to less than two months.

Pack cooked sauces and chilis into freezer containers leaving one-half inch of space at the container's top, seal, label and place in the freezer. Fresh fruits and vegetables require some preparation before freezing. This will ensure high eating quality.

Raw vegetables, except green peppers and onions, maintain a better quality during frozen storage if steamed or water blanched before freezing. This stops the enzymes that cause spoilage and helps retain nutrients and color. After blanching (steaming briefly over or submerging in boiling water), submerge vegetables immediately in ice water until they cool to the center. Drain, place in an airtight container and freeze.

Fruits do not have to be blanched. However, light-colored fruits such as peaches, pears and apples retain their light color longer during frozen storage if dipped in an ascorbic acid/water mixture before freezing. Use one teaspoon crystalline ascorbic acid per cup of cold water or follow directions on commercial mixtures.

If you like your fruits and vegetables frozen in loose-packed bags, place the fruits and drained, blanched vegetables on cookie sheets and freeze solid. Once completely frozen, transfer them to plastic freezer bags, seal, label and store.

To prevent your freezer from becoming a dumping ground of strange mystery packages, label products with the name of the food, the type of pack (sugar or sugar-free) and date of freezing. Rotate packages and use the oldest ones first. Most fruits and vegetables, and sauces maintain high quality for eight to 12 months.

If you have questions about freezing and/or canning fruits and vegetables or would like some printed information, call Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County, at 301- 791-1504.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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