Every year readers ask how they can eat fresh, local produce in the dead of winter when their farmers’ markets are closed until May or June. Well, this new blog series entitled “Preserving Seasonal Foods” is your answer. I’ve found that many aspects of eating real food require one to plan ahead, and this is no exception. If you want local blueberries in your granola cereal in December then it’s up to you to freeze enough in the summer to last until the next berry season. This is definitely an area of “real food eating” where I recommend to start small…just pick a handful of items to work on preserving this summer and then try a few new ones each year. And if you really get into it you could even continue into the winter months by preserving leafy greens and other cold weather produce as well.
We started small last year ourselves and blueberries were the first items we tackled. Freezing the berries was actually so easy that I was surprised I’d put it off as long as I did. And the best part was how good our frozen, local blueberries tasted in the middle of December! I honestly couldn’t believe how good they were. Our stash of local, frozen berries was FAR superior to the frozen, organic, packaged blueberries from the store, and likely cheaper as well. The only non-frozen organic blueberries we can get here in the winter are from Chile, which of course come at an expense on both our environment (due to the distance they’ve traveled) and our wallet. So I am going to share some of the things I’ve learned so far, as well as advice from some of my wonderfully experienced readers (via Facebook of course!).
Freezing vs. Canning
First and foremost I want to make sure everyone is aware that freezing retains more of the food’s nutrients than canning. I normally freeze foods myself, but just recently canned some jam for the very first time. I happened to find the whole canning process to be both fun and rewarding (not to mention producing some great little gifts) so I definitely plan to continue doing it regardless. I will probably just do more freezing than canning to hopefully obtain the right balance. Plus if our electricity goes out due to another infamous North Carolina “ice storm” I won’t be left high and dry with everything spoiling in our freezer!
4 Ways to Preserve Fresh Berries for the Winter
- Freeze unwashed berries in batches on a baking sheet and once they are frozen transfer them to a large zip lock back or other freezer-proof container. Wash frozen berries with a quick rinse before adding to things like cereal, smoothies, plain yogurt, pancakes, or homemade muffins. Frozen berries can also be used to make recipes like jams and pie. (Note: I have frozen berries that had already been washed, and I thought the outcome was fine.)
- Make homemade jam that you either freeze or can. Be sure to check out my “How to Can Some Jam” tutorial for a berry-honey jam recipe that doesn’t call for refined sugar or pectin.
- Dehydrate berries whole or puree them first to make homemade fruit leathers (similar to fruit roll ups). You can use either a dedicated dehydrator or a regular oven on a very low temperature. The dehydrated whole berries can be eaten as a snack or added to foods like granola, oatmeal, or yogurt.
- Make complete dishes with fresh berries and then freeze them. Some examples are blueberry muffins, raspberry pancakes, mixed berry smoothies, berry sauce (for yogurt), and blackberry pie. For things like pancakes you can use the baking sheet freezer method mentioned in #1 or you can freeze them all together at one time between sheets of waxed paper.
If you have anything else to add about preserving fresh berries please share in the comments below!