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Strawberry season has arrived in Vermont, and like every other year we plan to pick at least 5 or 6 gallons of these delicious berries while the season is hot (literally). By doing so, we actually provide a year-round supply of strawberries for things like smoothies, yogurt parfaits, beverages, and baked goods.
We pick our berries from local farms and fields, when the flavor is at its peak, and so of course we want to save that flavor as best we can. We do that by freezing at least three-quarters of our strawberry haul.
Freezing strawberries is quite easy, but there are a few tips that ensure success and you future enjoyment!
Step 1: Pick local, ripe strawberries - organic if possible
Ideally, your berries will come from a local farm so that they have not already seen a few days of transport. Aim for berries that are nice and ripe but not so ripe that they are mushy or soft. They should be deep red and firm. If you can find a farm with organic berries that's even better because you won't have to worry about freezing pesticides along with your fresh berries!
Step 2: Process the berries as soon as possible
Strawberries can go downhill quickly on hot days, and they don't taste quite as good if you put them in the refrigerator. If you can not process your strawberries right away, take them out of the piled up containers and spread them in a single layer on a large tray so that they don't weigh down on each other and cause bruising.
Step 3: Wash and dry the berries (if necessary)
We actually don't wash the berries that we pick from our own garden. We lay them out on a clean towel and roll the towel around a bit to get any specks of soil or grass that might be on them. But, if you got your berries from a place that might spray, you will want to give them a rinse. We do this by filling a bowl with water and placing handfuls of berries in it at a time. Then scoop the berries out and lay them flat on a clean dish towel to dry; to help them along consider aiming a fan at them or turning on your ceiling fan.
Step 4: Cut off the tops
Use a paring knife to cut the green tops off of your strawberries, leaving as much of the yummy berry as possible!
Step 5: Spread the strawberries for freezing
As you cut off the tops, transfer your berries to a large sheet pan. Be sure to put them "flesh up" - in other words, don't put the part you just cut down on the sheet pan. This will make it easier to remove them once frozen. Fill the pan as much as you want, but keep it a single layer.
Step 6: Freeze the strawberries on the sheet pan
Place your single-layered sheet pan full of strawberries in your freezer and leave it there, uncovered, for at least 6 hours or overnight. You want the strawberries to freeze individually so that you can use them more easily later.
Step 7: Transfer frozen berries to a resealable bag
Now that your berries are individually frozen, you can pop them off of the sheet pan and put them into a resealable bag for long term freezer storage (don't forget to date your bag!). While I like to get some of the air out of the bag before sealing, there is not a huge need to worry about too much air in the bag because you have already frozen your berries so the moisture is taken care of. They will hang out in there like a bunch of hard marbles, as long as you don't let the bag defrost.
Step 8: Enjoy!
When you want to use your strawberries, you'll be able to open up the bag, take as many as you want, and then close it back up and put it back in the freezer. I don't recommend thawing the berries in the bag as they will get quite mushy and watery. I usually chop the berries when still frozen for things like scones and muffins, and I use them as a natural cooling aid when packing yogurt in the kids lunches!