Every so often I manage to squirrel away some of our berry harvests when little boys (or the Old Man) aren’t looking. I want to make sure my little treasure trove will be safely tucked away for later use.
Since we don’t have acres of berry bushes or row after row of strawberry plants, we don’t always have a lot of berries all at once ready for harvest. Sometimes we’ll nibble right off the plant, or sprinkle a few on top of some Greek yogurt. But I will often want to put some aside for the occasional baked goodies or jams.
Perhaps you have made the same initial mistake I made when I first started storing away my stash in the freezer. Dump it all into a large freezer bag or tub, only to realize later when you want to use some that it has all congealed and frozen into a large brick of fruity mush. Crap.
The trick is to freeze your fruit in individual pieces first, as I came to realize later in life. Then when it is put into a freezer-safe container (NOT plastic bag!), the individual fruits will not be mushed together. Now you can actually measure out the amount you want and have bits of real fruit in your baked goods, not swirls of goo. This process is perfect for any type of berry like blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.
Obviously (I hope), the time to wash your fruit is before it’s frozen. Once clean, allow as much water to drain as possible. Spread the fruit out in a single layer in a shallow tray and place in the freezer. Allow the fruit to remain in the freezer for at least 24 hours to insure that it is frozen completely.
Remove the tray from the freezer. Allow the fruit to sit for just a bit, as it may be frozen to the tray. This will allow the fruit to loosen from the tray. Once the fruit can be easily loosened from the tray, use a spatula to lift it off and place it into a plastic container. Don’t use plastic bags, even ones for freezer use. The bags don’t provide protection from getting smashed under the weight of anything you stack on top of them, and are not as solid as they would appear. They tend to allow more of the fruit’s water content to get sucked out and turn into ice crystals on the outside. The same will eventually happen in the tubs, too, but at a much slower rate. (By the way, the best tubs are large dairy tubs like for sour cream or yogurt, and they are free once you eat up the contents!)
The fruit is still good when this happens, but won’t have as much juice. This is not a problem if the fruit will be turned into things like sorbets, jams/jellies, juices, or purees. Just put the ice crystals in with the frozen fruit. Don’t add the ice if the fruit is going to be used in baked goods, though, as it will change the liquid to flour balance.
When you take the tub out of the freezer, the fruit may have started to stick together as ice forms over time. Just give a little shake or tap the tub on a counter and the fruit will loosen up into individual pieces again. You can use what you need and put the rest back for later since it will still be frozen. Perfect!