Stone fruits are always best when eaten at their peak freshness, but preserving some of the bounty by freezing may be just what's needed...

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Stone fruits are always best when eaten at their peak freshness, but preserving some of the bounty by freezing may be just what’s needed to overcome the darkness during the winter months.

There are several ways to freeze stone fruits, but whichever method is chosen, the USDA recommends using powdered ascorbic acid or Fruit-Fresh, which can be purchased in many grocery stores, to reduce the amount of browning on sliced fruit. Mix ½ teaspoon ascorbic acid into each quart of syrup. If using a sugar pack, dissolve ½ teaspoon ascorbic acid in 3 tablespoons water and sprinkle over the fruit before adding sugar. Follow package instructions if using Fruit-Fresh.

Prepare fruit by cutting in half and removing the pits. Peaches and nectarines should be sliced ½-inch thick; you may want to peel the peaches first by placing in boiling water 30 to 60 seconds, then removing the peel.

For the best quality of frozen fruit, begin with freezer-weight plastic containers or freezer-weight zip-top plastic bags.

Here’s a guide to help you choose a method for freezing.

Sugar syrups can vary in weight from light to very heavy, depending on the sugar to water ratio. Although it’s recommended by the USDA that stone fruits are packed in heavy syrup to retain their texture, much of the fruits’ fresh flavor will be affected. It’s a personal choice between texture and flavor.

Make the syrup by combining the sugar and water in a saucepan and bringing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Cool and chill.

Use about ½ to 2/3 cup syrup per pint container. Press the prepared fruit below the syrup when packing, and be sure to leave ½-inch head space for the expansion of the fruit and liquid when frozen.

Light syrup: 1 cup sugar plus 4 cups water equals 4-½ cups

Medium: 1 ¾ cups sugar plus 4 cups water equals 4-¾ cups

Heavy: 2 ¾ cups sugar plus 4 cups water equals 5-¼ cups

Fruit juice can replace the sugar syrup when freezing, but the fruit will be more mushy when defrosted.

Sugar pack is an easier way to freeze. Prepare fruit, then simply put into a bowl and sprinkle with sugar and ascorbic acid or Fruit-Fresh. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit has begun to give up its juices. Pack into freezer-weight bags or containers and freeze.

Dry pack by first preparing the fruit, then place on baking sheets and freeze. Pack into freezer-weight storage bags or containers and store in freezer.

Sources: USDA; “Field Guide to Produce” by Aliza Green; “Timing is Everything: The Complete Guide to Cooking” by Jack Piccolo.

csullivan@seattletimes.com