Eat the Rainbow + DIY Frozen Fruit
“The juice of the grape is the liquid quintessence of concentrated sunbeams.”
– Thomas Love Peacock
To be sure, he’s talking about wine, but the same could be said for the magic that lies within the beautiful seasonal delights on offer from the farmer’s markets or our own backyard gardens.
Turns out that ‘eat the rainbow’ is more than a clever marketing slogan — concentrated sunbeams, indeed.
The variety of fresh fruits available from late spring into early autumn can overwhelm you — or at least someone like me who repeatedly finds herself with pounds upon pounds picked from the berry farm, our fig tree, or farmer’s stands. There is only so much to eat fresh or incorporate into recipes before the reality of excess sets in. Out of necessity (and a real fear of wasting food) comes ingenuity.
With a few extra steps, you can safely preserve the flavors, colors + nutrients of seasonal fruit at their peak to enjoy at any moment from January to December. (The same goes for veg, but today’s how-to focuses on fruit.)
What’s in it for me?
RED: The natural reddish pigment lycopene is an antioxidant that may offer protection against heart diseases and certain cancers. (Maximize absorption of this carotenoid by heating.) Adding to the red (and yellow) pigmentation are cancer-fighting, inflammation-lowering compounds called betalains. These are most notably found in beets, but show up in rainbow chard and prickly pear cactus as well.
Other antioxidant phytochemicals commonly found in red fruit + veg are ellagic acid (also found in walnuts + pecans) and hesperidin (also in green veg + in the pith and pulps of citrus peels), which have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering actions. Cranberries and red-skinned grapes (pigmented by anthocyanins) are rich sources of tannins, which have anti-bacterial properties.
ORANGE/YELLOW: Beta-carotene is one antioxidant pigment responsible for the vibrant orange/yellow hues. Beta-carotene, as well as two other carotenoids — beta-cryptoxanthin + alpha-carotene — are converted by the body into vitamin A, which helps decrease risk of heart diseases and some cancers, promote recovery from infection, and protect cells from free radical damage to improve skin, vision, immune and bone health.
Alpha-carotene in particular has been linked to reduced cancer risk, specifically lung and cervical; and beta-cryptoxanthin is being studied for its role in suppressing growth of tumor cells, particularly in cervical cancer.
In addition to the carotenoids, yellow/orange fruits + veg are great sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these antioxidants (also found in dark green produce + egg yolks) are known to help provide the immune system with a boost, and to protect the eye’s lens and retina from damaging UV rays, thereby helping reduce risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Examples: Mango, peach, nectarine, papaya, cantaloupe, starfruit, apricot, plantain, lemon, orange and tangerine + winter squash (e.g., butternut and acorn), yellow summer squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, yellow corn, carrot and yellow pepper
GREEN: Chlorophyll — the natural green pigment — is instrumental to the energy-creating process photosynthesis in plants. In humans, it has anti-inflammatory properties, and can help inhibit absorption of carcinogens. Green also indicates the presence of antioxidant carotenoids that fight off cell-damaging free radicals.
Green cruciferous veg, like cabbages and broccoli, contain indoles and isothiocyanates — phytochemicals with anti-cancer properties. Dark green fruit + veg are generally good sources of the B-vitamin folate as well, which is essential for the formation and protection of our DNA and RNA.
Examples: Avocado, kiwi, green papaya and honeydew melon + spinach and other lettuce greens, kale, collards and other dark leafy greens, okra, green beans, asparagus, mild and hot green peppers, green peas, herbs, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, cabbages and broccoli
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BLUE/PURPLE: The anthocyanin pigments that provide the blue/purple (and to some extent the deeply dark red) colors are media darlings, but are also among the youngest in terms of research efforts. While more and more studies add to the positive data, what we have now suggests that these flavanoids may play various roles as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce risk of heart diseases, age-related cognitive decline, and certain cancers by suppressing tumor growth.
Examples: Blueberry, blackberry, fig, prune, black plum, pomegranate, blood orange, açaí and black grapes + purple/black olives, eggplant, red/purple cabbage, red onion and blue/purple versions of string beans, potatoes, carrots, corn and cauliflower
WHITE/BEIGE: The absence of color, at least by the hand of Mother Nature, still offers plentiful health benefits. Anthoxanthin pigments found in the white/beige fruit + veg are flavonoids associated with the potential to reduce inflammation and stroke risk, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, prevent certain cancers, and promote health of our eyes and hearts.
Some of the white/beige produce also contain the phytochemicals allicin and quercetin, which enhance effectiveness of those anthoxanthins; as well as potassium, important for muscle and nerve function, eye health, and blood pressure.
Examples: Banana, apple, white currants, pear, white mulberries and ginger + mushrooms, onion, white potato, cauliflower, white-skinned eggplant, garlic, celeriac, white asparagus, fennel, turnip and parsnip
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Consuming a variety of fruit and veg daily equates to a broad spectrum of the health-promoting + disease-fighting nutrients. When combined, the unique benefits of each color become even more powerful.
But be choosy at the market, because their beauty is more than skin deep — saturated colors on the outside actually indicate higher levels of beneficial vitamins, minerals + antioxidants on the inside.
Get your produce fresh and in season while you can. After that, don’t let the bounty go to waste: Spread your fruit out onto a few paper-lined baking trays, and pop them into the freezer overnight. It’s about as simple as that, but I included a “recipe” below with a few more details for specific types. What colors will you eat today?
Tell me… Do you freeze your own fruit (and/or veg)? How do you use them?
- Wash and dry fruit well.
- For fruit like peaches, plums, nectarines, slice or chunk into smaller pieces, removing their stony pits. For berries, remove any stems and leaves, keeping small ones whole and slicing or chunking larger ones (you can fully hull strawberries). For cherries, de-stem and pit. For bananas, peel and leave whole. Basically, remove anything you don't want to eat after thawing!
- Arrange fruit in a single layer on a baking tray lined with wax or parchment paper. Give just a little space to any sliced or chunked pieces, as they will stick together. (Whole berries or cherries are fine if touching.)
- Move trays to the freezer, uncovered, for at least 5 to 6 hours or overnight, until completely frozen through. This ensures the fruit won't stick together later, so I tend to keep them in there overnight.
- Label zipper-top freezer bags with contents and date (amount/weight as well, if you wish). Quickly transfer the frozen fruit into the marked bags, remove as much of the air as you can before sealing, and immediately return to the freezer.
- Your frozen fruit should last for many months, ready for smoothies, baking, pancakes and waffles, yogurt, porridge, preserves, etc.
Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, or quickly in the microwave or on the stove:
+ for swirling into porridge or yogurt;
+ to make a quick "jam" for toast or sandwiches (add some fresh lemon or orange juice, vanilla or almond extract, or cinnamon or other spices to jazz it up, if you like);
+ with a sprig of fresh herbs for spooning over grilled poultry, meat or seafood;
+ mushed or pureed with a bit of oil, fresh herbs, vinegar or citrus juice, and maybe some Dijon mustard for homemade vinaigrettes and salad dressings;
+ as a substitute for syrup on waffles, French toast and pancakes;
+ to puree into homemade baby food.
Use straight from the freezer:
+ for quick sorbets, smoothies, "n'ice creams," frozen yogurts, or milkshakes;
+ added to a blender with fresh veg, chillies, and/or herbs for a fruity gazpacho or salsa;
+ to cool down and flavor a pitcher of water or, for the adults, a pitcher of sangria or margaritas!
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