Tuesday's Tip: Processing Strawberries

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's no secret that we use a lot of frozen berries here because of our delicious breakfast smoothie habit.  :)  Blueberries and strawberries are our most common berries of choice, though sometimes we use other fruits as well.  Seeing as how both strawberries and blueberries are on the Dirty Dozen list, it's pretty important to buy organic when possible.  However, for a long time I didn't feel like it was really affordable to do so.  Over time I've gradually gotten more and more of my berries organic (organically...? How say you? Como se...?) and I'm always keeping my eyes open for good deals.  Sometimes at my Kroger store they will mark down the organic berries to a very good price (anywhere from $1.79-$1.99/lb.), so I try to always walk past the berry section to see if I can pick up some good deals while I'm there.  Pretty regularly I get there when the lady has just done the mark downs, and I can get 10 or more pounds at a time!

I also found out about a strawberry patch about an hour away from me that, while not certified organic, does not use pesticides on their produce.  I didn't have time to go pick berries, but my mom was so awesome to drive down there to pick up already-picked berries for us!  We spent $12 per gallon of these freshly picked, essentially organic berries, and that was a price I thought was excellent considering that I spend more than that on bags of non-organic frozen strawberries already!  We bought 9 gallons of strawberries, and while that may sound like an awful lot of berries to take care of, we actually got through it pretty easily.  Let me tell you how:

1.  My husband gathered up our 4 younger boys and set them up with an assembly line to pull the green tops off the berries.  Normally I would have personally sliced each and every top off and wouldn't have thought of having them do it by hand.  It worked really well, they had fun doing it, and with all four of them working steadily, it was done in a short time.  I will say that the juvenile hand-pull method of de-stemming strawberries does not always yield perfect results.  For my purposes, this was good enough and that works for me!  :)

2.  After that I cleaned both sides of my kitchen sink and filled both sides with cool water and as many berries as could fit, plus added about a quarter-cup of hydrogen peroxide.  I swished it around with my hand a couple times, making sure the floating berries got dunked a few times.  I let that all soak for 20 minutes, then drained the water, and then refilled and added a quarter-cup of apple cider vinegar to each side and did another soak for 15-20 minutes, then drained the water and refilled once more for a rinse.  The hydrogen peroxide and apple cider vinegar work great to kill off any microbes, parasites, or other nasty germies that you don't want to eat.  This soaking method is very easy to do, though of course it monopolizes the sink and takes a little while to wait.  I usually do this method of cleaning produce while I do other things in the kitchen or around the house.  No problem!

3.  After the washing, soaking, and rinsing, I just bagged up the berries whole, putting them into gallon-sized ziploc bags.  And this is the step that I most regret.  Why?  Because I have ended up with gallon-sized hunks of frozen berries that are not that nice to work with.  Generally speaking, nobody in my family likes to start their day with the background noise of me slamming frozen fruit around on the kitchen counter.  (strange, isn't it?!) I didn't think it would be quite so bad, and for that I will pay for awhile.  However, now you get to learn from my mistake!  Ways I could have avoided this would have been to either flash freeze the berries on a flat cookie sheet before adding them to the ziploc bags, (this option would not have been practical for me because of the amount of berries I've been processing), let all the berries sit out til they dried completely before bagging them up, or to simply use smaller ziploc bags for the freezing.  Today I had maybe 10 pounds of berries to process, and I used sandwich-sized bags to freeze them in.  Those will be the right size for the amount of berries I would use for smoothies in one day, so even if they chunk up a bit, it will be manageable since I can just peel the bag off and throw them into the blender.

Do you have any tips for getting great deals on organic berries?  Do tell!

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