Our close family friends have grown strawberries for sale for the past five years. They decided to make last year their final one, but chose to leave the plants in the ground for friends to pick this year. Strawberry plants’ productivity decreases after they are two years old, though runners do grow into new plants. We weren’t sure how much the field would yield this year. In anticipation of afternoon rains, my parents and I went over this morning to harvest as many berries as we could. We ended up with 57 quarts!
Like most freshly picked produce, these strawberries are sweeter, juicier, and more flavorful than the gigantic crunchy ones that are available year-round from California in the supermarket. This means, however, that we can’t let the perfectly ripe and delicate berries sit around for too long before using them. My dad plans on using 64 pounds of berries in four batches of strawberry wine. Last year’s small batch turned out so well that he decided to boost production. I love having frozen berries on hand year-round for oatmeal breakfasts, smoothies, sauces, and desserts. We’ll also be sure to use some in a strawberry rhubarb crumble or pie. The photos below illustrate how we process so many pounds of berries and what you can do to have easy access to flavorful local berries all year long.
We use paring knives to take the tops off of berries. Try not to remove too much fruit or your hard work picking (or your dollars if you purchase local berries from the market) will go to waste. If you slip the sharp tip of the knife under the stem and pull up, the green top will come off without dragging much fruit along with it. After de-topping the berries, we rinse them and allow the water to drain off. Make sure to taste a few along the way to make sure they’re as good as they look! What happens next depends on the desired final product.
To freeze, spread the berries on a cookie tray for at least 3 hours. Always remove all inedible parts before freezing fruit! Once frozen, they can be rolled into a freezer-grade zip lock bag. This method – called IQF (individual quick frozen) in the food industry – prevents berries from freezing together in large chunks allowing you to use small amounts at a time. It works great for all berries and many steamed or blanched vegetables.
In the end, I always make sure to enjoy plenty of fresh plain berries before the season comes to a close. We enjoyed a cool lightly sweetened fruity drink with strawberries as a reward for the day’s work.