Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Berry Picking

Earlier this year we were lucky enough to get a second freezer for our garage.  As soon as we plugged it in I knew that it was destined to be filled with berries!  My husband and I really like to have frozen berries in the house to whip up smoothies on the weekends.  The price of a bag of berries, however, can be a bit staggering.  So, when June rolled around I started looking for the signs that the local berries were ripening.  

A few weeks ago I was able to meet some friends at a lovely little family run organic farm and pick strawberries.  In a fairly short span I had collected about 9 pounds of sweet and juicy berries.  During that same period of time my toddler had a great time picking his own berries and stuffing them in his mouth as fast as possible.  He ate red ones, green ones, leaves, dirt and everything that didn't make it in his mouth was smeared allover the rest of him.  It was a really great way to spend a sunny day.

Right on the heels of strawberry season come raspberries!  The weather has been uncooperative so when the weekend forecast was for sun I decided to seize the opportunity and make it a family affair.  Saturday the three of us got packed up and went to visit another lovely family run organic farm not too far away.  Picking raspberries was certainly cushy compared to strawberries.  For one this farm had lush grass growing between all the rows so, no dust.  These canes were nice and tall so they shaded themselves and if you were unable to bend, or just didn't want to, there were plenty available without bending or kneeling.  The best part, the berries there were enormous and delicious!  My husband and I picked while our son played, picked, and sampled happily around us.

I didn't realize until we arrived at the farm, my husband had never been to a u-pick farm before.  He was thrilled to have the opportunity to be directly involved in bringing the food, we would eventually eat, from the farm to our table.  Growing up my mother grew some fruits and vegetables in our yard and we got to pick berries in the summer to make jam.  I forget that many kids who grow up in the city or suburbs only see food in grocery stores.  I get so excited thinking about all of the wonderful lessons we are teaching our son when we try new things as a family.

After both trips I arrived home eager to get my berries frozen as soon as possible.  I froze berries for the first time last summer and it is pretty easy but there are a few steps to avoid creating a solid lump of squished and unidentifiable fruit.

First they need to be washed. Gently.  I like to fill my largest plastic bowl (I think it is a 16 cupper) with cool water and a squirt of produce wash.  Then I fill my colander about 1/3 of the way with berries and dunk them in so the water can swish around them but they stay contained.  Then I gently rinse them to get all the bubbles and any remaining dirt and leaves off.

Next remove any stems, (the strawberry stems just pinched off) and blot off any excess water by setting the berries on paper or dish towels.

Place the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet or any pan that will fit in your freezer. I  like to cover the pan with a sheet of parchment paper if I have it.  The paper helps move them from the pan once they are frozen. If you need to freeze your berries in batches, only wash as many as you can freeze at one time so avoid over handling them.  

Leave the berries in the freezer at least until they have firmed up, a few hours, up to over night. Once they are frozen the berries can be transferred to gallon sized zip top bags.  Now they are ready to grab for any recipe or just for a little burst of summer flavor whenever you get a craving.

If you live in the Puget Sound area check out to find local farms open for u-pick, farm stands or other fun activities.  For those out of the area please share any resources you know of in the comments!

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