Yesterday I read that the Listeria outbreak has expanded yet again, to more frozen produce. The timing could not be worse for me because I am 23 weeks pregnant right now. (Listeria is an even greater concern during pregnancy, it can cause complications). I had been enjoying the occasional smoothie, to ensure I get a lot of the nutrients I need. (Plus it is getting HOT ). So this recent Listeria hysteria is another reminder of why I am learning to grow and preserve food. The old adage is true, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.
It is strawberry season right now, and I could not resist the big box of 100% organic strawberries that were for sale at the local farm store. I have never actually purchased strawberries in bulk, and they do not last very long in our house. (My daughter LOVES strawberries, she eats them as fast as I buy them). But the price was $1.00 less per pound if you purchased the big box, so I did it. (I knew I was making a lot more work for myself by doing this because strawberries go bad pretty quickly; they get moldy or mushy in 3-5 days). But for strawberries, the labor is worth it.
Once we got home we ate some lunch then got to work right away. I washed, sliced, and dehydrated a large portion of the strawberries. I was initially planning on freezing a large portion of the strawberries, (because I figured it would be less work and I had the space). However, I read that frozen strawberries only last around 3 months, unless you coat them in sugar. I like to avoid excessive sugar consumption, so that was not an option for me. Dehydrated strawberries can last a lot longer, if you do it correctly. I didn’t dehydrate them for LONG term storage this time. To do that you need to make sure you remove a certain percentage of water, and remove the oxygen from the storage container. I just wanted to keep my large purchase from getting moldy, and have some healthy snacks for travel food.
Freezing the strawberries was more of an experiment. I wanted to see how well it worked before I did it in bulk.
I have seen people literally stick a carton of strawberries in the freezer, with the stems and leaves in place. (Usually because of lack of time, I did not think that was the right way to do it). I asked around, and researched it online, and discovered the proper way to freeze strawberries.
1. Purchase fresh strawberries.
2. Remove the leaves, (hulls) from the strawberries.
3. Wash the strawberries, and sort through them as you do this. Mushy strawberries won’t freeze as well. You want to choose strawberries that are firm.
4. Let the strawberries dry. I put them in a colander and let them air dry for a few hours. Then I pat them dry with a towel.
5. Lay a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and lay out the strawberries individually on the tray. This step is not mandatory, but it prevents the strawberries from clumping together when they freeze. At first I was not sure it would be worth the effort to lay out the strawberries on the parchment paper, but it worked very well with cherries that I froze last year. So I decided to give it a try.
The results were actually very good. The strawberries looked fantastic when they were finished. They looked bright and vibrant, not dull like the frozen strawberries I have purchased before.
I purchased around 13 lbs of strawberries and preserved most of it. So as far as price, I saved about $13.00. (Buying in bulk, as I mentioned previously, was $1.00 a pound cheaper). I did not time how long it took me to dehydrate and freeze the strawberries, but I would say it took a few hours. (The dehydrating took a long time because I sliced the strawberries first). So I am not sure I was saving that much money, once the cost of labor is factored in.
You can’t put a price tag on the taste of local grown organic strawberries. The taste is superb, no question.
Obviously if you grow your own strawberries, you will have a significant savings. This is something I am working on. I purchased around thirty strawberry bare roots and planted them this year. The harvest will be small this year, but hopefully much larger next year. (Organic bare roots are inexpensive; you can buy them on Amazon. Strawberry plants are more expensive).Saving money is not the only reason I am learning how to preserve food. I like having control over the quality of food I consume. The growing season is short, and the winters are too long. I want to have good quality food year round. Eventually, when I have the space, I hope to grow more and preserve more food. (Someday I will learn how to can. It is on my bucket list for this summer).
So avoid Listeria contamination and enjoy delicious strawberries in your morning smoothie. Get out to the strawberry patch or farmer’s market and get yourself some strawberries.