Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Frozen Berries

One of my favorite raw foods, is fresh berries... and my absolute favorite berry is the blueberry. I could eat a pint a day every day for the rest of my life and probably never grow tired of them. Unfortunately blueberries have a short growing-season and can reach as much as $5 per pint - and for half the year, they aren't anywhere to be had at ANY price.

This week I found blueberries on sale for $1.29 per pint, and decided to do a little freezing to brighten my day during those terrible berry-free months. Yes you can buy frozen berries , but at this price it's actually cheaper to buy them fresh & freeze them yourself. Also, while you can buy properly frozen strawberries, I've yet to see a bag of frozen blueberries where they didn't use the squashy overripe ones - which spoils the flavor of the entire bag in my opinion. This is quick, easy, and ALMOST as tasty as eating them fresh! This does take about a day, but actual preparation time is about 1/2 hour so ANYONE can find the time for freezing - and I truly believe that it is worth it!

Before you begin, assess your freezer capacity. How much room do you have for stocking up on goodies, and how much room do you want to devote to one specific food? There's no sense in picking up twelve bushels of berries, if you can only store one. In my pantry, I have a 5 cubic foot chest-freezer that's devoted wholly to bulk cheeses & veggies, and hand-frozen produce & baked treats. (I like to bake 2-3 times what we'll eat when baking, and freeze the extra for later - it saves me time in the kitchen!)

Once you know how much room you have for preparation & have purchased (or picked if you're lucky enough to have your own berry garden) what you can store, wash your fruit VERY gently. You don't want to bruise your fruits or they can spoil. Yes it takes a very long time, but fruit CAN spoil in your freezer. After they're washed, lay them out flat on your counter or tabletop to air-dry. Depending on humidity, this can take between 10 minutes & an hour. Be sure to pick out any berries that are at all soft or wrinkly as you're doing this. I think of these as "bonus berries" and set them aside for the kids to nibble.

When your berries are dry, you'll need to set them into shallow dishes & pop them into the freezer. You don't want to pack them in, they need to be loose & layered no more than two-high for this so they don't press down & squish each other. I prefer my shallow baking dishes, because they stack without nesting tight together - it makes for a perfect way to layer them in the freezer!

Let your berries sit for at LEAST 12 hours. I like to let them freeze for an entire day, just to be sure they're frozen completely solid. At this point you should be able to gently shake your dishes, and hear them rattle. That's the sign for you to pull out the bags, and finish.

You will want two sets of bags... smaller bags for individual servings, and large gallon or 1.5 gallon FREEZER-SAFE (don't skimp on these, the freezer ones are thicker & designed to keep out freezerburn) bags. I use pint-baggies & gallon baggies, because I tend to use a pint of berries at a time, but you can use snack-baggies or quart baggies if you prefer. Measure out a pint (or whichever size your small baggies are) of berries into your small baggies, squeeze out any extra air while closing them, and pop them inside the larger freezer bag. Make sure to label your freezer bags, so you don't end up with mystery-bags in a few months. I find I get half as many small bags into the large ones as the capacity calls for... so for my blueberries today I have four pint-baggies inside each gallon-size bag. I've squeezed a fifth in before, but this way they lay flat in the freezer so I can actually store more food!

That's it... now all you need to do is pop your labeled bags into the freezer, and bring them out as needed later in the year! You can bake with them or run them through the blender for smoothies or sorbet... but one of my favorite ways to eat freshly frozen berries is straight from the bag & still frosty!