Frozen Assets: Summer Berries
By Terese Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
Wide-eyed. Giddy. A little desperate, even. That’s how we northerners feel during summer berry season, so fabulously lush and famously brief. It’s when we revel in fat raspberries from the farmers market and exclaim over wild patches of blackcaps in the woods. We brake for sidewalk- staining mulberry and Juneberry trees along urban bikeways and harvest gem-like currants from backyard bushes. But how can we ever do justice to this embarrassment of riches during the peephole of time that it exists? Fact is, we can’t. And that’s where freezing comes in.
You may think you don’t have enough time or know-how for freezing fresh berries. You do. People, when it comes to food preservation, it doesn’t get much faster or easier than popping a few pints of organic blueberries into plastic bags and plopping them in the freezer. That’s right: no peeling, canning or wiping steamy sweat from your brow.
To me, freezing berries is intuitive—I aim mainly for ripeness in the fruit, gentleness in the handling and a dry, airtight environment for the berries. Should you want more specific do’s and don’ts, see the following tips, but know that even if you fudge the details a bit, you’ll still be prolonging the season of sweetness.
Berry Freezing Basics
Purchase, grow or wild-gather high-quality, locally grown and preferably organic berries.
Use just-ripe berries. This is when they’re at their most flavorful and nutritious. Under-ripe fruit can taste flat or bitter; overripe berries will easily turn to mush.
Don’t rinse soft-textured fruit like strawberries and raspberries under a bruising spray of water. Instead, place berries in a colander and immerse the whole thing in cool water. If you’re freezing firm-textured berries such as blueberries, Juneberries or cranberries, there’s no need to wash them until later, after they come out of the freezer.
Gently spread damp berries on clean cotton clothes or paper towels and let them air-dry. This helps prevent the crystals that cause freezer burn from forming.
The simplest fruit-freezing method is called dry pack. It means that no sugar, syrup or fruit juice is added. You simply clean, pack and freeze the fruit. It works for most any type of berry.
If you have the freezer space, quick-freeze whole berries before dry-packing them. Spread the berries out on parchment-lined baking sheets and allow them to freeze “individually.” They will freeze faster than berries packed together in a container, retaining more nutrients and minimizing microbial growth. They’ll also hold their shape better when thawed. And you can take as many or as few as you want out of the pack—they won’t clump together into a solid mass.
Whether you’re working with individually pre-frozen berries or packing them fresh, place berries in zip-top freezer bags or plastic lidded containers. (I like used yogurt and cottage cheese containers, and use them from year to year). Fill them to near- but not over-full; some expansion may occur during freezing.
If you’re using rigid plastic containers, “burp” the lid by reopening one end slightly to release a tiny poof of air from inside, then quickly snapping it shut.
If you’re using zip-top bags, after the fruit has been added, press along the seal, leaving a tiny opening at the end, and then insert a straw into the opening. Tighten the seal against the straw, suck out the extra air in the bag and then quickly remove the straw while you simultaneously finish sealing the bag.
Freeze berries at the lowest temperature setting your freezer allows. The quicker they freeze, the longer they will maintain flavor and nutrition.
For the wet pack method, berries are immersed in syrup, fruit juice or another liquid, which makes a tasty sauce for the fruit. It also adds extra sugar, so I rarely choose this option. Except for strawberries, that is (read on).
The high water content of strawberries causes them to soften significantly when they’re thawed. (Most thawed berries lose some juice, in fact, but to my taste, strawberries can get unpleasantly mushy.) The simplest way to wet-pack strawberries is to halve or slice them, then sprinkle with sugar and toss gently. Within a few minutes, juices will be drawn out and the sugar will be dissolved. Pack into containers, leaving a little headroom for expansion, and freeze.
Try It For Yourself
This season's recipes are delicious with fresh summer fruits, but you'll really appreciate the fresh summer flavors when you pull out a pint of berries in midwinter!