It’s that time of year when the delicious berries began to ripen. Fat and juicy, just waiting to be eaten fresh or put into your favorite pies and jams. I have experimented with different ways to preserve the berries. At the moment, I have found that my favorite way to keep the berries at their peak flavor ripeness the longest is to freeze the berries.
The blueberry season for berry picking enthusiasts is right around the corner, well here in Michigan at least. This usually calls for a ride out to one of my favorite places to pick berries…Spicer Orchard in Fenton, MI. (http://www.spicerorchards.com) At this orchard, you can buy the berries already picked or you can pick them yourself. Depending on the weather, I admit I totally wimp out if it is too hot of a day, but I usually like to pick my own. The price is nicer on my pocketbook and I get to pick the berries that I think look the best.
Once I get these berries home. I start out with washing them. I like to soak my berries in a mixture of one part vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar) to ten parts water. The berries soak for a minute or two before I give them a good stir around to be sure any loose bits of dirt are knocked off and the have all mixed well in the vinegar water solution. After the berries have had their bath, drain the mixture and give them a quick rinse off. To dry my berries, I lay them out on a clean cotton kitchen towel and pat them gently with another kitchen towel or even paper towels. If you are going to freeze your berries it is important to get them dry prior to freezing to help prevent ice crystals and the dreaded…freezer burn.
As I said before, freezing is my preferred method of preserving berries. After my berries are rinsed and dried, I lay them out on a cookie sheet in a single layer. I put this into the freezer for about an hour or until the berries are frozen. Once the berries are frozen, I then separate them into different size freezer bags. I like to have some snack pack size as well as quarts for making different things. The frozen berries really hold their texture and flavor by freezing them thoroughly first before bagging your portions. This also helps to prevent the berries clumping into a big ol’ball of berries in the freezer.
Berries that are frozen and kept in the freezer are said to be good for a one year period of time. I try to keep enough to last me through a year but I have to admit I am happy when I have set aside enough just to get me through the winter. By setting enough berries aside, it helps me to keep my grocery bill down as well as local. I like to buy as local as possible when it comes to the foods that I feed my family.
One of my favorite ways to use the berries is in my morning oatmeal. I like to prepare my own regular old fashion oatmeal on the stove top. To my cup of cooking oats, I add in a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice and a sprinkling of brown sugar. Once my oats are cooked, I toss in a handful of the frozen berries and stir just a bit. The oatmeal is hot enough to quickly warm the berries but not cook them into a mush. I find the berries and the pumpkin pie spice really complement each other well.
Happy Berry picking and freezing 🙂