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!
122 thoughts on “Preserving Seasonal Foods: Berries”
Can you give more me details on how to make the fruit leathers?
When you freeze the strawberries on a cookie sheet and then put them in a freezer bag are they soggy when they thaw out?
Hi April. Freezing changes the internal cell structure of fruits. There is really no way to freeze them without a bit of “sogginess” as a result. ~Amy
For the blueberries: we use a TON of blueberries (muffins, pancakes, etc). I’m curious how you decide how much you will need? Is there a formula or is it just as many as you can pick and freeze (that would probably be my method).
What do I do if my local berries are not organic? I have never seen any at the farmers market, or seen marketing for organic self pick.
Waaaay back when, my family used to have some blueberry bushes and we would sell extras to our local farm stand. We never used any pesticides, but we weren’t certified organic either. If there’s no ‘organic’ sign, just ask the person selling it if they use pesticides. I’d assume, at the very least, that anything sold small scale local will have less pesticides than what we can find in the grocery store.
We freeze our homegrown raspberries and blackberries this exact way. Rather than freeze the sauce, we just take a bag of frozen berries, put them in a pan with a little honey and water, and make sauce right on the stove. It takes 5 minutes, tops! We add that to yogurt, use it as a topping for pancakes, and substitute it for jelly on peanut butter sandwiches!
I am lazy and have just taken a container of frozen blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries and put them in the freezer. It works great for me so if you do not have space or time to put the berries on a sheet, just throw in the container.
I freeze my berries on the cookie sheet also and then transfer to a food saver bag and save them that way. When I open the bag tastes almost like the day I picked them. Its awesome. I have 4 bags left of blueberries since last July. It has helped us cut down on our food bill also!
I am new to thinking about canning or freezing fresh local foods for the winter… so what about veggies? since you said freezing is better- to freeze like cubed tomatoes and green beans? vs canning?
Hi Lacy. This is a really great resource to help guide you on what to freeze vs. can and exactly how to do it: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html. And here are some of Lisa’s canning experiences: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/05/10/how-to-can-some-jam-a-simple-method-without-pectin/ and https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/06/22/recipe-no-sugar-green-tomato-relish-can-freeze/. Hope these help. ~Amy
You mentioned about making fruit leather, what exactly is that? Do you have or know of a recipe for it?
Hi Lindsey. Fruit leather is concentrated/dehydrated strips of whole fruit. This Rachel Ray segment shows an easy method: http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/food/recipes/make-your-own-fruit-leather/. And here is a dehydrator that we have featured: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/11/16/giveaway-filterpro-dehydrator-by-lequip/. Good luck. ~Amy
I am trying to make some healthy options ahead of time and freeze them…I was wondering how you would go about freezing the berry sauce?
Hi Cassie. I would use a freezer safe jar. ~Amy
I love these ideas and your blog. I see that you have an impressive garden. We just moved & are preparing for a garden at our new home. I’d love any tips or suggestions you have for keeping it organic while keeping out the pests!
Hi Angie. Check out this post here…https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/04/19/homegrown-easier-than-you-think/ and this one…https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/07/14/growing-food-lessons-learned/. Jill
I just found out about your blog and I LOVE it! I have been obsessed with pomegranate seeds for the last 5 years and I experimented with freezing them & drying them. drying them was a little tough, but so GOOD! The end result of drying them they had a nutty fruity flavor and they were really good in home made granola! My favorite is freezing pom seeds! I put them in a Rubbermaid plastic container and they stay separated and nice. The kids and I LOVE TO EAT THEM FROZEN. I love to make home made popsicles and I had put the pom seeds in the popsicle molds and then I filled it in with fresh squeezed orange juice! They were AMAZING! Also I will take the frozen pom seeds and stick them in my Italian cream soda drinks. Raspberry flavor with pom seeds is THE BEST! Anyway love your blog and can’t wait to read more!
Thanks for the canning recipe! Just made my first batch of berry preserves and my kids LOVE it! I was just told I am the BEST MOM EVER. LOL! :) Thanks for the great site… I’m telling friends about it!
I live in an apartment and have very limited freezer space, and we don’t eat jams all that often, so this year I decided to dehydrate the strawberries I picked. Let me just say they were a huge hit. My husband, whose arm I often have to twist to get to eat fruit more than 3 times a week, inhaled the strawberries. He even enjoyed dehydrated mango which was a miracle. by far the favorite in our home has been the fruit leathers, since they are easy to grab and thrown in the lunch box or take out the door.
Hopefully next year we will be in a house and I will be able to get a chest freezer and have the space to freeze more foods.
I’m aware there is a difference between organic strawberries and regular strawberries. Are all blueberries organic? We have a field we can pick from but I didn’t know if there is a difference between organic and non organic blueberries. FYI LOVE LOVE LOVE your website!!!!
You have to ask the farmer that takes care of the fruit if they use organic growing methods, i.e. no chemical fertilizers or pesticides
Hi Kristin. Our team is glad you are enjoying the blog. You would have to check with the grower to see if they follow organic growing practices. This would be the case for almost any fruit or vegetable. Jill
You can freeze your berry sauce?? That’s wonderful news. :) How do you do it?
This is such a timely post! I love fresh berries, but hate how high the price is when they’re out of season. Now I won’t have to spend extra money to buy frozen berries later!
N Thyme Farms at the Yorkmont Farmer’s Market (seriously worth a visit, there’s so many great farms there, and it’s so easy to avoid the resellers/non organic farmers!) not only have THE most amazing strawberries every spring(that they grow organically) but this year are selling bags of dehydrated ones and they are SOOOOOOOO GOOD. It’s enough to make hubby and I seriously think about buying a dehydrator!
Definitely reccomend this method if it’s available to you!
Total newbie here been reading through everything for about 5 days now. My Hubby and I will be starting our first mini pledge but with our one bedroom apartment no garden, no extra freezer space, no Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earth Fare, Great Harvest Bread Company in 40 miles and living in Northwest Ohio I am horribly terrified were we will get food! But thank you for sharing because next week I will make jam :)
How timely! I’m going berry picking Monday with some mommy friends and our toddlers. If we escape with any uneaten fruit, I’d love to squirrel some away for winter! Thanks, Lisa!
I recently came upon a recipe to make strawberry chips and they are delicious!You take ripened strawberries, slice them thinly.lace them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, bake 220 for 2 hours, turning over half way through baking time. It’s a healthy way to get some crunchy snacks and with strawberry season around the corner here in the northeast I’ll be making many batches!
Good post! I save a lot of money buying what is in season and freezing it. An extra freezer pays itself off, and is better for you too. I recently wrote a post on tips for freezing things for a green smoothie http://www.unconventionalkitchen.com/how-to-freeze-fruit-and-greens-for-green-smoothies
Thank you for starting up this series. I have been trying to eat in season as much as possible, but I also love to preserve food. I appreciate how you detailed a variety of preservation methods!
This is a great post! I hope you will come by and link it up at the Carnival of Home Preserving on my blog today and every Friday. Laura Williamsâ€™ Musings http://laurawilliamsmusings.blogspot.com
We’ve been freezing extra berries ever since we left California. If is a huge money saver! This year, we plan on canning heirloom tomatoes, making marinara sauce, salsa, and then freezing homegrown organic bell peppers. Makes winter SO much TASTIER!!!
Great post. We have to be like ants and plan ahead. I had some extra tomatoes last year, seeds I brought back from Greece, lovingly grown by my father. They tasted like sunshine! I had some extras last year and decided to cut them up and freeze them.
We had the best tomato sauces and then ran out and now nothing else will do. This year I planted 16 tomato plants and hope for an even better yield.
I plan on doing the same with berries this years. Even though nothing beats eating fresh berries, frozen berries are wonderful in baked goods and sauces. YUM!
When I did this last winter, my strawberries thawed and were all mushy – what did I do wrong? I froze them separated on a cookie sheet first and then put them in a tupperware container in the freezer, but when they came out, they were a big sloppy mess – ok for smoothies or on top of yogurt, but too messy for tiny hands to eat as snacks.
A strawberry’s delicate skin causes it to lose it’s shape when frozen and thawed, and will always turn to mush unless the berry is flash frozen with dry ice. Even when flash frozen with dry ice the thawed berry will not have the same structure as a fresh berry. If you want to use the berries as a snack try them still frozen, I personally really like them this way and think of it like a mini all natural popsicle.
Great, thanks for everyone’s help, now I don’t feel like such a schmuck ;)
I don’t think you did anything wrong. I find the berries are like that after freezing. We use ours for other things. I still use them in cereal, yogurt, muffins, ice cream etc.
Yes, that’s how we eat them…still partially frozen!
Blueberries are the one fruit that I just put in freezer right in containers. I generally don’t have any problems with them sticking together. (and they pop apart easily if they do) I do wash them before I freeze them, so they can go straight into my oatmeal without any extra steps! Any other fruits I freeze on cookie sheets and then transfer to containers.
It’s easy to dry blueberries if you want to wash them before freezing them. I put them in my salad spinner which dries them quite well. Then I put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet to freeze before transferring them to freezer bags. My children love drying them for me because the salad spinner almost feels like a toy. :)
Dehydrated fruit is *amazing*. It makes a mess-less snack for kids, adds easily to yogurt, hot cereals, and cold cereals. Toss it into granola for a fruity snack. It’s just good. :)
I will definitely give it a try! Thank you so much for sharing!!
I freeze all kinds of fruit! I have a large container in my freezer for fruit. If we have items that will spoil before we can eat them, I’ll cut them up, lay them on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, I just put everything into one big frozen fruit container. It’s great for my morning smoothie because I get a variety of fruits (mangos, bananas, berries, etc.) each day.
I always lightly rinse local strawberries because they have dirt on them from a farm then spread on a cookie sheet and freeze. Blueberries I do not rinse first but I pick them off a bush so no worry about dirt. Berries do not get freezer burn… I put them in regular freezer bags and use them for almost a year. I’m on my last bag of blueberries right now (from picking 1 year ago). I follow the recommendations for freezing berries that is found on http://www.pickyourown.org. I’ve also successfully frozen slices of local, natural growing methods apples for smoothies, as well. Also, freezer jam will retain more nutrients because you do not cook the berries… canned jams have to have the berries cooked. Canned jams are great for gifts, though.
*Shelf life not self life! lol!
I have a question. Once you freeze,can, and/or dehydrate, what is usually the expiration or self life for these items? Also, what do you put your muffins or breads into when you freeze?
You should get the jar sealer attachment for the food saver we have both reg and wide mouth. We vacuum seal everything – lettuce, cheese, veggies, fruit, meat, spices, leftovers….then put in fridge or freezer. we have seen it help with keeping food fresh and cut down on freezer burn (as long as the berries are dry too). After the initial cost of jars we have saved a ton not using as many bags as we used to and it is much less wasteful. We were going to get the foodsaver canisters and leftovers dishes but reviews said the plastic cracked easily so we went with the jars.
I have had frozen berries last for over 2 years without freezer burn, but by 2.5 years I noticed the berries tasted and smelled off. In my house canned items always seem to get eaten quicker than the frozen items (possibly out of sight out of mind), so only up to a year, but I do have plenty of neighbors who are eating items that they canned up to 5 years ago. I live in a very rural farming community, so when crop year is good people will perserve as much as possible to last throughout the not so good crop years. I don’t have as much experience with dehydrated items, because I don’t personally own a dehydrator, but I have eaten jerky and fruits given to by others that I had for 3 months.
Just wondering if the berries ever get freezer burn? I have a foodsaver, but the bags are expensive so I try to save them. If you put them in a ziploc bag and remove as much air as possible, do they not get freezer burn? I’m thinking that every time I go to a farmer’s market and find good ones I will buy a bunch and freeze them, so it could be 6 months before I would touch them again.
I have 10 huge blueberry bushes in my backyard and freeze the blueberries every year. Thankfully in 2009 we had the best crop ever, because the next two years (2010 and 2011) were terrible due to unusual weather. In November of 2011 I was eating berries from the 2009 crop that had been washed and frozen that tasted perfectly fine, but near Christmas 2011 I opened the last gallon ziploc bag of the 2009 crop and noticed that the berries were freezer burned (the smell and taste was off). So in my experience I have berries last over years frozen and think you would be fine for 6 months.
I meant this reply for you, Sarah – You should get the jar sealer attachment for the food saver we have both reg and wide mouth. We vacuum seal everything â€“ lettuce, cheese, veggies, fruit, meat, spices, leftoversâ€¦.then put in fridge or freezer. we have seen it help with keeping food fresh and cut down on freezer burn (as long as the berries are dry too). After the initial cost of jars we have saved a ton not using as many bags as we used to and it is much less wasteful. We were going to get the foodsaver canisters and leftovers dishes but reviews said the plastic cracked easily so we went with the jars.
I have some from two years ago that I will still use in a smoothie or waffle although I don’t like to eat those straight. That year I got to pick at THREE farms for free so I went a little crazy. Just make sure they are dry, and get as much air out as possible. I keep them in the back of my dedicated freezer so thtey don’t have a lot of temperature change and just bring out one bag at a time to use.
Very helpful! Thanks guys!
We froze blueberries last year that lasted most of the winter and never had a problem with freezer burn.
I also freeze small portions of berries if I’ve bought more than we’ll consume before they’ll go bad. Also, if the berries aren’t “perfect” (mushy spots), I’ll freeze them for smoothies as long as there’s no mold. I actually will throw pretty much any fruit that is on that too blemished to be eaten (because of picky eaters!) but not spoiled edge into the freezer for smoothies! I usually cut up apples and larger fruit first so it can go right into the blender!
Oh — I always wash my strawberries! I let them air dry then. But I guess I should try not washing my blueberries (coming up later this month) when I pick them this time around. Just lay them out on towels, and you don’t have to flash freeze blueberries??
I freeze bags and bags of blueberries and strawberries each summer – enough to last me through a winter of smoothies and muffins! I actually posted today about how I’m saving my overabundance of kale! http://behealthybehappywellness.com/blog/2012/06/save-your-kale
We are lucky enough to live in central florida – prime blueberry and strawberry country – and have friends that have large-scale operations of both and let us pick end of season for FREE!!! Also I have 400 feet of wild blackberry hedge on my property. So i love to freeze berries. A couple of things to add.
Berries absorb water so the texture can change if they are washed first. Either wash when you thaw or get ones from a known source that are organic.
If you make sure your berries are completely dry they can be put directly into bags or containers. When I get home I spread them on every surface on beach towels and also pick out stems, smushed or underripe berries. I leave them for a day or so then put them directly into bags and stack. I can easily get out just what i need for smoothies, morning granola, waffles or muffins. If they are put up dry they won’t stick together.
For strawberries I take off the ehads and cut them into different sizes, chopped small for breads and muffins or left halved for smoothies. Then i usually use the tray method for these since their natural moisture is exposed and they stick together.
our blackberries are small so i follow the blueberry method. But we planted some large thornless (YAY! no more pain) Natchez this year and I will probably chop some and do some whole next year.
Love the blog and ideas!
Thank you for all of the great tips! Jill
Blueberries are easy to grow and are an attractive bush year round from the pretty blooms in the Spring, to the ripening fruit, to the bare reddish stems in the winter. Blueberry bushes are a part of my landscaping! Every year they produce more than I can use or store so my neighbors also benefit from them. They require little work and few pests, mainly birds who like them too. This problem can be solved with a well placed wind chime and /or whirley gig.
I live in coastal Virginia where it is hot and humid during blueberry season so I mainly freeze them. I pick a quart at a time, bring them in and spread them on a baking sheet. Pick them over and place them into pint or quart size plastic freezer bag. I use a straw to draw out as much air as possible and place them flat on a baking sheet and pop them in the freezer. This keeps the bags flat while they freeze. Retrieve the baking sheet when they are frozen.
When the weather is cooler, I use the frozen berries to make jam or put them in baked goods. Frozen blueberries cool down hot oatmeal to an eating tempererature and when eaten with granola and milk, they turn the milk to icy crystals. Yum.