Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Preparing Fresh Strawberries For Freezer Storage

We've been watching the strawberry prices at Aldi this spring.  We've seen some pretty darn high prices at the other stores, such that we probably wouldn't buy them if we had to pay that much for them.  But Aldi always runs "specials" on at least two kinds of fruit each week, and I figured, sooner or later, strawberries were going to be one of them.

...... Does that say, "Rat Blossom"?  .....Oh.  ....I guess it says "RED Blossom".  LOL!

I don't know why I attach so much significance to strawberries in the spring.  But most of my adult life, we've made a foray out to a berry patch, somewhere, to pick them for the freezer.  Until the last couple of decades, that is.  There just aren't any places nearby where you can pick, now, and I don't really want to, anyway.  It's back-breaking.  Aren't I spoiled now?

I do have some strawberry plants.  But they don't make enough for the freezer.  In fact, ripe strawberries are consumed while in the garden, usually.  (Blush...)

It has been so in the past and still is, that if you go to someone's house and they serve you strawberries, you know they think you're pretty special.

I use most of my berries for jam.  But sometimes I'll use them for something special.  There's always strawberry shortcake, and my go-to recipe for the cake that's necessary as the base is Hot Milk Sponge Cake HERE.  (scroll down to the bottom)  Once you've got cake, it's just strawberries, sugared and crushed till the juices flow, spooned onto a slice of the cake, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.   It doesn't get any better than that. 

Or I will spoon sugared and crushed strawberries into Push-Up freezer molds (you might be able to find them locally where they sell party supplies, or at Amazon, HERE.   These are a wonderful treat when coming in from working in the garden. 

Hubs is partial to Fresh Strawberry Pie, a recipe on Allrecipes that's close enough to what I make is HERE.  You can use frozen strawberries instead of the fresh if they've been frozen in a sugar syrup, and that's nice because you're not limited to spring for Strawberry Pie.  You just thaw the berries and drain off some of the liquid, use that instead of the water and pureed strawberries called for in the recipe.  Then you stir the berries into the Jell-O mixture instead of arranging fresh in the pie crust, and then pour the mixture into the crust.  Refrigerate to thicken.  Regular pastry shells are good but graham cracker crumb shells are better, and I'm thinking a shell made with crushed Oreo cookies would be even more yummy.  Sometimes I use a cornstarch base rather than a Jell-O one, in which case this recipe on Cook's is pretty close to my recipe HERE.  I don't use the food coloring and I use strawberry liquid instead of the water, and the drained frozen berries instead of fresh.

I also have an old recipe for buttermilk ice cream that is good made with strawberries OR pineapple.  It is kind of like sherbet.

Pineapple Sherbet
I have made the following changes to this recipe: After an hour in the freezer, I place the mixture in the bowl of my Cuisinart and whir until smooth but not thawed. Then back into the freezer. Makes a more professional-tasting product. You can substitute strawberries for the pineapple.

1 quart buttermilk
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a bowl, combine all ingredients; mix well. Cover and freeze for 1 hour. Stir; return to freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.

And here's one calling for yogurt:

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Got this out of a Women’s Day or Family Circle. It’s very good. Double the recipe for 2-quart ice cream maker. Doesn’t increase much in volume during freezing. Good with pineapple instead of strawberries. Makes 8 servings at 57 calories each. No fat.

1/ 4C. granulated sugar
1 1/2 C. plain nonfat yogurt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 large egg white
1 C. pureed strawberries

Place sugar and egg white in top of double boiler over simmering water. With electric mixer at high speed, beat constantly until mixture thickens and forms soft peaks, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat. Add yogurt, strawberry puree and vanilla. Stir till combined. Pour into container of ice cream machine & process following mfg’rs directions. Transfer to freezer container & freeze. Place frozen container in refrigerator 20 minutes before serving.

There's really no comparison between that red goop you buy in jars in the stores and REAL HOMEMADE strawberry jam.  Sometimes, if I have rhubarb, I make strawberry-rhubarb jam and that's really wonderful.  If my gooseberry bush ever makes gooseberries, I might try those instead of rhubarb. 

So today I'm going to show you how I process my strawberries so they can go immediately to the freezer and then later on, when I'm not so plum-tuckered, I can thaw some out and make stuff with them.

First off, before you buy strawberries, look them over very carefully.  You don't want them if there are rotten ones in the container.  If you can, weigh the container to make sure it really weighs what it says it weighs, if they're sold by the pound.  Sometimes, when berries start going bad, store employees will open the containers and take the bad ones out and then put the containers back on the shelves.  Even if they make up the difference with some taken from another container, you're still getting berries past their prime.  Strawberries don't keep very long after they're picked, anyway, and you want them as fresh as you can get them.  You're in luck if they're practically "flying off the shelves", as Hubs said they were today, because you're more assured of freshness.  Also, if the berries are more white than red, bear in mind they don't do any more ripening once they've been picked.  Berries that have a little white on the shoulders or that are white inside are ok, as once they're cut up and sugared there will still be plenty of flavor, and they will make better jam berries.  But anymore white than that and they will be sour and not good for anything but maybe jam, and poor jam at that, unless you have about equal parts ripe berries to combine with them.

Be prepared to start working them up as soon as you get them home.  If you make them hold overnight, even if you have a way to refrigerate them, you run the risk of having to throw a lot of them away.  

Of course you're going to wash your berries first.  I stand at the sink with my small Cutco paring knife and hull them.  I have a berry huller but it's faster just to ease the point of the blade in under the cap and cut it off.  That means I already have my knife in my hand for cutting the berry into four pieces (or more, if the berries are huge, as these are) and I don't have to put one tool down and pick up another.  It goes fairly fast.

I like to use theseice-cream containers (WMT sells this brand) because they are rectangular and fit into the freezer and because they hold a gallon.

The label actually says there's a gallon and a pint of ice cream in the container and I've measured.  A gallon and a pint ends right up snug to the lid and you don't want to do that with your berries.  They'll need space to expand in the freezer.  Just up to the collar is plenty.  And that's a little under a gallon.  Maybe "a gallon LESS a pint". 

I have frozen berries without sugar and they dry out in the freezer.  They lose flavor and color.  And they get mushy when they're thawed.  So I prepare my berries as if they're going to go on strawberry shortcake right away.

Fill your container with hulled, sliced berries.  When the container is full, stir in sugar.  I use about a cup to a gallon of sliced berries.  That's not super-sweet, but it's plenty for us.  Fold that sugar in and allow to sit while you start filling another container.

Every 15 minutes or so, fold the mixture again.  The juices will start to mix with the sugar and make a nice smooth syrup-ey "sauce" in the berries.  If you didn't know it before, you know it now.  THIS is the trick to preparing berries for strawberry shortcake

After several "foldings", the juices will be covering the berries, and the container will be less full because the mixture is filling every nook and cranny in the container.  I think this is why they freeze so well this way, because there is so much less exposure to air.  But if you've already made cake and the ice cream is melting, go ahead now and spoon some out.  You'll thank me later. 

While this one's working, I've gotten a second container in the "folding process", as well, and when both look like this, I pour one into the other until it fills the container just to the collar.  Like I mentioned before, that allows the frozen mixture to expand, and if it doesn't have enough room, it'll pop the lid and then other things in your freezer might start to smell like strawberries and that's not always a good thing. 

Now they are ready to go into the freezer.  I write on the lid how much sugar I added.  Because if I want to make jam, or pie, I need to know how much to reduce the amount of sugar by, since it's already in there and all.

The strawberries are coated in the sugar-and-juice glaze and therefore there is no bare surface of the strawberry exposed to the air, even though it looks like it here.  And of course we keep the lid tightly closed.  If you were concerned about it, you could freeze it in vacuum-sealed bags.  The glaze also makes the strawberries separate quicker when you're thawing them. 

Of course you know that Hubs and I are not going to sit down and eat an entire ice-cream container full of strawberries with our spoons.  Heh!  But, I will probably spoon what isn't used for whatever purpose it was thawed in the first place, into push-up molds.  Or maybe we'll have some of it on cake with ice-cream, and then I'll make a batch of jam with the rest.  It's all good.  Yummy, in fact.

One thing that I want to make sure to mention is that when you thaw for mixing with Jell-O or a cooked cornstarch mixture, thaw it only till you can pour off enough of the juice as called for in the recipe.  Then pop the container into the freezer just until you are ready to fold the strawberries themselves into the mixture.  Once they're in the Jell-O or cornstarch mixture, they, being cold, will not be affected by the warmth of the rest of the dish and then will hold up pretty well with the whole pie, or whatever, in the refrigerator until it's eaten.  Which, around here, is pretty fast. 

So, if you're where there's an Aldi store, run out there and get yourself some strawberries before the sale is over.  $1.29 a pound.   That's 29 cents higher a pound than Aldi's sale price last year, but considering shortages due to California's droughts and other calamities, you're probably not going to find them any cheaper anywhere else.

Hugs xoxoxo

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