Berry forage storage

Look out! Andreae Prozesky is already preparing for the winter.

It seems I got a bit carried away last week with my strawberry dacquoise adventures. There were so many more things about berry season that I had meant to say, so let’s call this fortnight’s discussion “berries: part two”, because, really, berry-picking is one of the best parts of living in Newfoundland. It’s not everywhere that:

a) Strawberries grow wild (and u-picks are pretty common too.)

b) Blueberries are pretty much ubiquitous.

c) Partridgeberries are accessible.

d) If you ask around, you can usually find someone with raspberry canes or currant bushes that have taken over some section of their back yard.

With all this marvelous local bounty, you would think a person would get sick of berries, but no sir. Even when one has spent all of September inhaling blueberries, there’s still a long, fruitless winter ahead. Storing up for the bleak months is a wise plan for those of us who would rather eat the real thing than styrofoamy strawberries or soapy blueberries shipped in March from California.

To my mind, a local berry that’s been in the freezer for six months tastes better than any berry from abroad, no matter how fresh that berry might claim to be.

There are a few good tricks to have up your sleeve when you’re freezing berries. If they’re wet at all when you put them in the freezer, they’ll clump together into a big crystally mass, and then chances are that you won’t end up using them, and they’ll get all freezer-wilty and thrown out, and that’s a waste of perfectly good food. I don’t usually bother washing wild berries—somehow the likelihood of a moose having peed on them doesn’t bother me too much, considering that I probably ate half my weight in the same berries while picking. Instead, I’ll take them home and spread the berries out in a single layer on a paper-lined baking sheet (hey, this newspaper would work fine), and pick out any leaves or twigs or spiders or whatever. I lay the whole tray in the freezer until the berries are nice and solid, and then I move them quickly into a more sensible container for winter freezer storage, using the paper as a great big funnel.

If you’re working with small, sturdy berries like blueberries or partridgeberries or cranberries, you can forego the tray step, but only if the berries are perfectly dry and not squished. Soft berries like strawberries and raspberries tend to crush one another if they’re packed away in their unfrozen state, and that’s an awful disappointment, so I do the tray-freeze.

Should you feel compelled to wash the berries, say, if the berries are cultivated ones that might have been sprayed with something or other, or if you picked them from a roadside ditch and they’re a little dusty, or if you’re just kind of neurotic, then spread them out on a tea towel (one that you don’t mind staining) to dry and, when they’re dry to the touch, proceed as above.

Plastic freezer bags are probably most people’s first impulse for freezing berries, but I find them difficult to arrange in the freezer. If they’re small sandwich bags they get lost, and if they’re big bags they’re usually falling all over the place. Plastic containers are a bit better, but they don’t stack so well, and sometimes leap out of the freezer and onto your foot just before hitting the floor and smashing, sending frozen berries skittering all over the floor.

One practical solution is to move your frozen berries into a reused milk or cream carton. Two-litre cartons are a bit big unless you’re a hardcore picker (which you may well be), but one-litre and 500 mililitre cartons are quite handy. Open the tops all the way up, rinse the cartons well with dishsoapy water, then set them to dry completely. When they’re ready, load the tray-frozen berries in and tape the tops shut. Masking tape works fine, and it doubles as a label if you’re someone who wants to remember which berries you put in which container.

The milk-carton method has a bunch of advantages. The cartons come free when you buy your milk or non-dairy equivalent, they don’t break, they’re stackable and stand-up-able, and when you open them you can refold them so that the spout returns and you can actually pour berries into a bowl or measuring cup.

On top of all that, using a milk or cream carton means you know roughly how many berries you have. Berry measurements aren’t exactly the same as milk measurements, since we’re talking solids versus liquids, but a 500 millilitre cream container holds about two cups of berries, and a one-litre milk carton holds about four cups.

Handy when you’re thinking about making a partridgeberry pudding and you need to quickly assess your partridgeberry stores, no?

What to do with those frozen berries?

• Make smoothies.

• Make muffins – but don’t thaw the berries first, or else they’ll turn your batter a creepy colour.

• Feed them to young children (only small berries for toddlers, though), and once said children are filthy with berry juice, take pictures for future embarrassment.

• Put them in your pancakes or waffles.

• Put them in a small pot with a glug of wine (or orange juice) and let them gently cook down into a sauce, which you can then pour on cheesecake, pound cake, crepes, ice cream, yogurt (or, if you’ve got partridgeberries, on roast beef, moose, or caribou, or on baked brie.)

• Round up the shrivelly apples in your crisper, cut them up, add some frozen berries and make a mixed fruit crisp (sneaky tip: crushed up all-butter shortbread cookies make a pretty wicked crisp topping, if you want something instant.)

• Throw them, still frozen, in a fancy cocktail instead of using ice cubes.

• Pour them into a bowl, pour cream on top, sprinkle on a bit of raw sugar or maple syrup, and eat the whole thing with a spoon.

Send your questions, comments, and 500 millilitre suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

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