I’m pretty new to the whole preserving foods thing. I’ve made freezer jam the last few years, frozen strawberries, blueberries, peaches and asparagus to use throughout the year, and canned applesauce, but that’s about the extent of my preserving experience. But, I have learned from my experience every year, and plan to do more and more preserving each year.
I have hopeful plans and expectations for the amount and kinds of food that I want to put up this year, and just wanted to share some of my experience for those of you out there who might be new to preserving like me.
Let’s get started with freezing berries and other fruit, like cherries.
There is nothing better than fresh-picked, sun ripened berries and fruit in the summer. I really think that fresh fruit is God’s candy. Especially when you pick it right off the bush or tree yourself! It satisfies your sweet tooth and is packed full of all kinds vitamins and antioxidants that are good for you too! What more could you ask for?
Although “fresh” produce is available in grocery stores all year round, and we can buy strawberries in November, bluberries in December, and raspberries in January, besides being shipped from the far corners of the earth, they just don’t even come close to the taste and quality of freshly picked berries.
So, in order to enjoy fresh, local fruit all year long the best thing to do is put them up by freezing them! A few weeks ago I froze 6 1/2 gallon bags of strawberries, and this past weekend we enjoyed picking local cherries and I’ve been working on freezing them over the past couple of days (along with my family eating our fill too!) And I’m hoping to do blueberries and raspberries soon too!
Freezing berries is really simple and doesn’t take any special talent or equipment the way that some other types of preserving, like canning, does. It’s a great way to get started with preserving if you are just starting out.
How to Freeze Berries and Fruit
1. Source your berries
Whether you go to a u-pick farm and pick your own, buy directly from a farmer, or from the farmer’s market, buy the best quality berries that you can afford, it will be well worth it.
Ask the farm or the farmer what their growing practices are. You can probably find a farm that is not certified organic, but uses organic growing practices for the most part – staying away from conventional pesticides and fertilizers. You can feel good about picking or buying this type of fruit, and it will mostly likely cost less than certified organic fruit.
Pick Your Own
- Picking your own is a great option because you will usually get a much better price than if you buy from a farmer’s market where fruit can be highly marked up. You can find a list of local u-pick farms at pickyourown.com.
- One thing to consider when planning a trip to a u-pick farm is the price of gas these days. If the farm is too far away you may not actually be saving much on u-pick fruit. But, if you also savor the experience of being out in nature, teaching your children how food grows and where it comes from, then definitely check into pick your own farms.
Buy from a Farmer’s Market
- If you do buy from a farmer or farmer’s market, ask for a deal if you are buying a large quantity. Usually a farmer will be willing to give you at least a little bit of a discount, especially if you’ve built a relationship with them.
- Another great thing to look for at farmer’s markets is discounted produce that might be at the end of the season, or less than visually appealing, but will still work great for freezing, or even for making jam.
Before you go pick or buy your berries, make sure to clean out your fridge so you have plenty of room to store them to keep them from going bad before you ca get them put up.
2. Clean and Prepare Your Berries
This is the most labor intensive part, depending on the type of berries or fruit you are putting up. Before you pick or buy your berries make sure that you have a good chunk of time within a day or two to put up your fruit. You don’t want to get a large quantity of fruit and then have to throw half of it away because you didn’t have enough time to process it all before it goes bad (trust me that I know this from experience!)
Prepare Your Fruit
- First, clean your berries or fruit whether that’s cutting off the stems of strawberries, or simply sorting through blueberries and raspberries to get out stems, bad ones, and maybe even little wormies. Strawberries are more time intensive, while blueberries and raspberries are less.
Wash Your Fruit
- Next, wash your berries, especially if they are not organic. I’ve heard different methods for washing berries – submersion vs. just rinsing, and I tend to like the quick submersion method the best for really cleaning the berries, and also being quick and easy.
- The quick submersion method: Run cold water into the sink and then dump some of your berries in. Not too many because you don’t want them to sit in there for too long and become water logged. Give them a quick swish around and then get them out and into a colander to dry off as quickly as possible, looking again for bad ones, or bad spots, as you take them out of the water.
- For blueberries I have heard that if they are organic (we are blessed with an organic u-pick blueberry farm less than 15 minutes away) that you don’t have to wash them at all and that they freeze better than way. Just sort through them, spread them out on a cookie sheet (see below) and freeze. And then you can wash them off when you are ready to use them.
Let Fruit Dry
- At this point you can just shake the collander a few times to get extra water off and then let the fruit sit and drain to dry for a while, or you can spread the fruit out on some kitchen towels (beware that this can, and probably will, stain your towels) and pat them dry.
- For cherries, I ended up washing them first, before pitting them, and here’s my cherry pitting trick that I recently learned from my mom that I promised you on Facebook.
- Take a straw and stick it through the stem side of the cherry and push it all the way through, making sure to hit the pit in the middle.
- The straw will will come out on the other side with pit and you have the whole cherry still pretty much intact to be eaten or frozen whole. Pretty neat huh?
My mom told me that the strength of the straw is important, you don’t want to try to use a flimsy straw. I discovered that the straws from Starbucks work well for this.
3. Flash Freeze Your Fruit
You want to freeze your fruit as individually as possible so that it doesn’t stick all together in one clump. The best way to do this is with cookie sheets.
- Spread your fruit out on a cookie sheet in a single layer. This doesn’t have to be precise (as my mom reminded me as I was placing individual strawberries one-by-one onto the pan), just make sure the fruit is not too jumbled together or on top of each other so that they freeze more individually.
- Pop the cookie sheets into your freezer (either kitchen freezer or extra freezer) and leave them for a couple of hours, or overnight.
- Once they’re frozen, pop them off the sheet and into freezer ziplock baggies – whatever size you choose. I tend to use gallon bags, but quart would work well too for keeping out freezer burn when you’re opening and closing the bag over and over.
- I use the very precise method of sticking a straw in between the “zipper” of the bag and sucking the air out and zipping it shut as fast as possible. Then write the date on the bag and store in your freezer. Most frozen fruit will be good for about a year.
Flash freezing with this method is ideal for preserving the fruit’s quality and freshness without the use of added sugar. This kind of frozen fruit is great for throwing into smoothies, using as a topping for homemade yogurt or oatmeal, or even baking with. I’ve also heard that you can make jam from frozen fruit, but I haven’t tried that myself.
Now you have wonderful fresh frozen fruit to enjoy all year long!
Do you freeze fruit? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? What’ your favorite way to use frozen fruit?
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