by Loralee Leavitt
When I was young, my father planted a whole row of plum trees in the backyard. He also scouted fruit trees all over Seattle, bringing home plums, apples, and pears. Every fall, our family spent hours cutting up fruit, cooking applesauce or jam, or assembling cobblers for the freezer. We thought Dad was plum crazy. But now that my own children go through fruit as fast as the hungry little caterpillar, I've learned the value of finding and storing cheap fruit.
Whether you get U-pick blueberries, farmers' market peaches, apples from a neighbor's tree, or blackberries by the side of the road, summer offers plenty of inexpensive fruit that can be easily preserved. Look for discounts at grocery store sales, farmer's markets, or roadside stands. Compare prices, since boxed fruit is often cheaper per pound. Free fruit is even better, if your area has wild fruit like blackberries or blueberries.
Once you have the fruit, the next step is choosing how to store it. Traditional canning requires hours of hard, hot work, but there are easy alternatives. To preserve the following tasty treats, all you need is a freezer.
Frozen Fruit: Berries and soft fruits freeze well for future eating. Spread berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet. For stone fruit like peaches and plums, slice in half, remove the pit, and freeze the halves. Peaches can also be frozen whole; if you thaw them in warm water, the skins slide right off. Store fruit in plastic freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as you can to prevent freezer burn. Eat frozen, or thaw in warm water (also an easy way to wash it). Sprinkle fruit on cereal or ice cream, mix into fruit salads or smoothies, or bake into pies. For kids, frozen fruit is better than popsicles. Thawed, the fruit is slightly mushy, but it still tastes fresh.
Sugared Fruit: Slice and sugar fruit like berries or peaches to bring out the sweet flavor, then freeze in bags or plastic freezer containers. Spoon over pancakes or waffles.
Freezer Jam: Freezer jam is easier to make than traditional varieties, it uses less sugar, and it keeps that fresh-picked taste. Smash or slice fruit, add sugar and freezer jam pectin, and stir. (See freezer jam package for exact proportions, since recipes vary by brand.) Freeze the jam in bottles or plastic containers. Do not store jam for too long in the fridge, as the low sugar content gives it a shorter shelf life. You can also freeze cooked jam.
Fruit Sauce: Cooking softens apples and brightens the mild flavor of plums. To cook a fruit sauce, slice and pit stone fruit, or peel, core, and slice apples (an apple-peeler-corer makes this quick work). Simmer with a little water until the fruit softens, and sugar to taste. Eat with granola for breakfast, pour over ice cream, strain for baby food, or bake in a cobbler.
Fruit Yogurt: For a cross between sherbet and frozen yogurt, mix blended fruit with an equal portion of plain, vanilla, or fruit-flavored yogurt. Store in plastic containers or plastic bags, or freeze in ice-cube trays for popsicles.
Even after the growing season ends, you'll have fruit for delicious, nutritious meals. You'll be able to pour frozen blueberries into oatmeal, cover waffles with fresh peach sauce, or bake a juicy plum cobbler. It'll be like having a little bit of summer in the freezer.
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