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Go ahead, eat those berries frozen

This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to frozen food, not just because there’s ice all around us but also because it’s harder to get fresh fruits and vegetables.

As a product of the foodie nation and the gourmet 1980s, I have always been snobbish about preserved vegetables, especially anything that can be found in the food aisle. But like so many closely held beliefs, it seems likely that this notion springs from an erroneous assumption.

I always thought frozen fruits and vegetables were a pallid imitation of the robust edibles found in the produce aisle. But with produce (and I believe this is also true with seafood), sometimes what you find in the freezers at your local grocery store is more delicious and nutritious than what you find in the fresh cases.

Of course nothing is as good for you as something you’ve grown yourself and eaten just after you’ve picked it. But not all of us can fulfill our food needs with our own greenhouses and backyards, especially not in February.

And of course nothing is as good frozen as the fruits and vegetables you picked yourself and then froze — immediately.

Because here’s the thing with frozen foods: Just like with seafood, the faster something is frozen after it’s caught or picked, the more nutrients are sealed in. That’s why, according to a study done by the University of Illinois, in some cases frozen foods are actually better for you than fresh.

In particular, foods with vitamin C in them are better for you if they’ve been immediately frozen after picking than are foods that have been sitting in the grocery store for a few days.

Vitamin C is one of those very delicate vitamins, apparently. And it’s one of the few that actually suffers when you can it (canned foods are heated first, and the warmth reduces the vitamin’s potency).

Some foods are even better for you canned than they are frozen. Tomatoes, for example, have lycopene in them, which the body absorbs more easily when that chemical has been exposed to heat.

Rather than go through a long list of what is and isn’t good for you when it’s frozen, keep in mind that ultimately, variety in your diet is the best way to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need. And be sure to read labels to know if salt or sugar have been added. Obviously, the less tampering and adulteration  your food is subjected to, the better.

Then the question arises: How does one cook frozen foods, especially fruit? Certainly eating a frozen and defrosted blueberry is not the same as eating a fresh one.

Most recipes for frozen fruits suggest you turn them into a smoothie. While that’s certainly a fine idea, one can only drink so many ice cold fruit drinks on a winter day.

Here’s an idea. Valentine’s Day is coming up, which makes one think (of course) of roses. This is winter (of course) and most of us are eating heavier, richer foods. Why not make a palette-cleansing sorbet with some of those lovely frozen fruits?

A friend suggested this exotic concoction after sampling it at a dinner party. Rosewater (ah, the roses) adds a little sass to what might otherwise be just a smoothie in an evening gown.

If you don’t have rosewater in your cupboard yet, you can find it in Great Barrington at Locke, Stock and Barrel (call 413-528-0800).

Rosewater strawberry sorbet

Adapted from

www.epicurious.com

3/4 cup water;  3/4 cup sugar;  two 1-pound packages of frozen whole strawberries (not in syrup), thawed;   1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice;  2 tablespoons rosewater

Cook the water and sugar in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Purée the strawberries with the sugar water mix (known as a simple syrup) in a food processor until smooth. Push the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, to eliminate some seeds. Stir in the lemon juice and rosewater.

If you have an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If not, you can freeze the mixture in a tightly covered container, taking it out and scraping/stirring it occasionally. It won’t be quite as creamy as what you would have had from an ice cream machine, but it will still be tasty.

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