(late) Blueberry Season

I know. This post is so late. It’s mid-September already, and I’m over here like, wait what? How did September arrive so quickly? And how can it be almost half-way done? Wasn’t it August a moment ago? What happened to summer?

In my defense, I will put the blame for not writing sooner on my family. I was the matron (because I’m married, apparently I can’t be a maid) of honor in my mother’s wedding. And then I helped plan my sister-in-law’s baby shower. Not to mention working full time in the busiest season of the year for my job. Which is environmental/garden education. So, no, I haven’t been busy at all over the last three months.

The sad part is, I’ve taken so many pictures with the intent to blog, but alas, time just slips away. Well today begins day one of the resurrection of the blog, and I’m starting it off with how we preserved blueberries back in mid-August with hopes that someone, somewhere might find this useful this year. The rest of you can bookmark it for next July/August blueberry season.

Blueberries are one Adam and my’s favorite fruits. We preserve them like crazy because we eat them like crazy. Smoothies every other week all winter long, blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, you get the idea. We try very hard not to buy fruit in the winter as our goal is to eat as local as possible, so we need to preserve alot of blueberries.

This year, I think we have 20 lbs in our freezer. 10 for me and 10 for Adam-just kidding folks. 10 of those pounds did come from our CSA (we buy bulk fruit from them). The other 10 pounds we self-picked at a local blueberry farm.

It’s a great time, picking blueberries. If you’ve never harvested your own food, you really should. It’s a-maz-ing!

But onto preservation.

So 20 pounds of blueberries. Sounds overwhelming right?

NOPE. Freezing blueberries is just about the easiest way to preserve any kind of fruit. Seriously.

First, take the blueberries out of the bag. Sort out any squished, moldy, or otherwise not-nice-looking blueberries. The yucky ones can get composted. Otherwise, there is such a thing as a garbage can. I guess.

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Then take your good blueberries and put them into a colander. Rinse them really good with running water. Note the change in colander. We use two at a time because it goes faster that way.

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Aren’t they so pretty?!

Anyway, after you rinse them, let the berries sit a minute or two to drain off the excess water (this is the part where two colanders comes in handy).

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Next, get out a couple of sheet pans (Adam wants you to know it’s not a full sheet pan, but you know what I mean). Lay a kitchen towel over the sheet pan and pour your blueberries onto it. Shift the pan back and forth until the berries are a single layer, and then gently place another towel over top. This is to soak up any excess moisture that didn’t drain off.

As we found out last year, this is a rather important step. Unless you like having your frozen fruit stuck together in one giant heap. Then, by all means, skip this step.

After you’re done with the towels, gently pull them both off and from under the berries. The result should look like this:

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Your pan should have a snug amount of single layer blueberries, ready to go into the freezer. (Ignore the tomatoes, I’ll get to those next week). All you need to do is pop the tray(s) into the freezer on a flat surface and leave until all the berries are frozen. We usually leave ours overnight. Or a couple days if we forget.

After the berries are frozen, just shake them off into your freezer container of choice. Last year we used gallon size ziploc bags that worked great. As we’re moving away from plastic, we’ve mostly switched to pint and a half size mason jars as they are the largest size glass jar that can be put in a freezer.

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It’s a very nice sized container, and it stacks pretty good. Not quite as well as plastic bags, but good enough for us.

All said and done, we processed our blueberries in less than an hour for each set of 10 pounds. Rinse, dry, freeze, contain. That’s it. I think it took longer for us to pick the berries than to freeze them.

Did I mention that it’s way cheaper to make your own freezer fruit? It is. So much tastier too. Not to mention the benefit of buying local produce and investing in a small farmer’s life. All the benefits add up just like berries in a jar.

Stay simple, stay local friends.

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Strawberry Season

The craziness of spring has finally settled, and Adam and I are able to consider sitting down long enough to write a blog post again. This last weekend was the first time we’ve been able to relax for quite a while, and it was a special weekend indeed. We celebrated 2 years of marriage via camping and eating as much local and organic food as we could find/make.

Part of that eating led us to do some strawberry picking as June marks the beginning of the preservation season. Wisconsin has glorious summers filled with so many different kinds of wonderful foods, and last year we adopted the perspective that part of being better stewards of our world meant buying as much of our food as close to home as possible. That said, we needed to prepare for the long Wisconsin winter where hardly a thing grows unless it’s in a greenhouse.

So we preserved. We froze strawberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, plums, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, corn, and peas to name a few. We also made applesauce and pearsauce, and canned beets, relish, pickles, peaches, and dilly beans. It was quite the adventure in food preservation as we didn’t know quite how much we would need. So this summer, we’re hoping to refine that technique a bit and plan a little better about our purchases and such.

But back to strawberries.

The most cost-effective way to preserve your own food is to take advantage of the pick-your-own seasons. Not only is it a fun way to get outside and meet your farmer, but it’s a great way to save a little bit of money by doing the labor yourself. And for individuals on a budget (which is us), it helps us support our local farmer and not break the bank. Keeping that in mind, we went and picked 17 lbs of strawberries this morning in under an hour. For a little bit of sweat, it cost us just under $25 for our efforts. I should also mention that we got ~10 lbs of strawberries from watching someone’s house while they were out of town. In total, we’ve gotten close to 27 lbs of berries this season to work with. We’ll probably get some more, but this is a great place to start.

We freeze our strawberries, and though it’s not a long process, it is a bit tedious until you get use to it.20160619_183631 First we washed our berries. The quickest and most effective way to do this is to fill the sink and pour the berries in. Then we swish them around a little bit before rubbing each one and transferring it to a colander. Depending on where the berries come from, they may be really easy to wash, or if they’re dirty, it takes a little bit. The important thing is to switch the water between each set of berries that get poured into the sink.

Next comes the cutting up and packaging. As Adam and I do this in a team effort, we have 20160619_183645quite a few bowls going. We switch off colanders as one of us washes while the other one quarters and cuts the tops off. From the colander, the strawberries get their tops and any bad spots cut off (which will go into our compost), and then depending on size they are halved or quartered. And so on so forth, we do this until the all the berries are processed, usually switching off jobs to keep things interesting.

For today, we processed about 19 lbs of our total 27. To wash and cut took about 1 1/2 hours, and that includes packaging time. We package our berries like this:

Plastic isn’t our favorite or even first choice of container, and we’re working on finding a cost effective replacement. We’re hoping to use more mason jars, but just didn’t have them ready for today’s need. Instead, we use quart freezer bags with 3 cups in each bag. 3 and 4 cups both fit comfortably in these bags, but as we use our strawberries primarily for smoothies throughout the winter, 3 cups works best for what we go through in a week.

All said and done, we processed ~19 pounds of produce into twelve 3 cup freezer bags and one 4 cup freezer bag. Each bag weighs roughly 1 lb and will give us a week of strawberries to add to our smoothies in the winter. Not too shabby when you consider that it took us ~2.5 hours between picking and processing (~5 hours total if you combine mine and Adam’s times).

So for 13 weeks this coming winter, we’ll get to enjoy the great taste of Wisconsin strawberries that we preserved ourselves. And I don’t have any hard evidence, though I know it’s out there, but I’m thinking these berries will retain a lot more of their original nutrients than the ones I could get from the store in the middle of winter. And they just taste better too because they’re not shipped from who-knows-where. They’re from my home state, and I got to meet the person who grew them, which is pretty cool. It’s a pretty simple thing, doing a little bit of you own food preservation, and Adam and I enjoy the time spent talking to each other while we’re doing it.

Stay simple and stay local friends!