Blueberries are such a mainstay of our diet! Every summer we put away as many as possible (while trying to be self-disciplined and not eat all the fresh ones in the process). Last summer we bought about 75-80 lbs and we are aiming to do the same again this year!
Not only are they just incredibly delicious, but blueberries are nutritional powerhouses (see this for more on the merits of this sweet little berry):
- High in Vitamins C and E, as well as manganese
- Chock full of antioxidants. Blueberries are rated one of the highest, as far as foods that supply these phytonutrients which reduce free-radical cell damage (this is very important, and helps to fight many conditions, including cancer)
- Promote better vision and protect against macular degeneration
- Help to protect the brain (specifically it's memory and learning functions) from oxidative stress and age-related conditions like Alzheimer's
- Very high in fiber, which encourages healthier elimination. A very good thing. :)
Here is a box with my first 20 lbs of the season (this picture isn't actually 20 lbs- I've already used up more than half of the box before taking the picture). Plump, juicy and oh-so-good! There were a lot of naughty little fingers dipping into the berries while I dealt with them (mine included)!
Here's my basic method:
Start by filling up strainers or colanders with berries. Fill one side of the sink with cool water, and preferably some type of fruit/veggie cleaner to help remove any pesticide, exhaust, etc. residues.
I let each strainer sit in the water for about 3-5 minutes, occasionally swishing it around. When it's done, I transfer it to the next sink, where I rinse it off with cool water from my sink sprayer hose. I try to let it sit for a couple minutes, to drain out as much of the excess water as possible.
Next, I lay out dish towels on the counter (it's best to pick ones that aren't your absolute favorites- they don't generally get really stained, but it is a possibility). I dump one strainer full onto one tea towel. As I spread them out, I pick out any stray leaves, stems, green berries, etc. Then I lay another towel over top of the berries, and let it sit for a good 5 minutes.
The point is to use the towels to soak up as much excess water as possible. I actually give my berries a bit of a gentle rub down with the top towel after letting them sit, just to dry them off as much as I can before putting them in bags. This helps the berries to freeze nicely without all clumping together. I used to lay them out nicely on cookie sheets, to prevent clumping, but found it was so much work. I find that this method is so much faster and easier, and works just as well!
Just pretend that you can tell that this is me pouring blueberries from a towel into a bag. I fold up the 4 corners of the towel to lift it up, then open up one side and they easily slide right into the bag.
Once you get used to doing this, you get into a real rhythm of filling
empty strainers, putting them in the soaking water, rinsing them,
laying berries out, and putting dry berries into ziplocs. I've been doing this for so many summers now that I think I could almost do it in my sleep. I washed and dried and put away all 20 lbs within 30 minutes!
And here are my lovely berries, ready for the freezer. I find that a large ziploc will take about 5 lbs of berries, give or take. I filled 4 of these bags, and we ate about a pound or so fresh as well.
It's probably also worth mentioning that I never, ever buy my berries from a store. The best way to get cheap and fresh berries is to go straight to the farm, if at all possible! We love to do u-pick berries, which is definitely the cheapest way to get them when you consider the cost per lb. Most farms will also sell them pre-picked for a slightly higher price, but I can almost guarantee you that it will still be cheaper than getting them anywhere else, and fresher, too!
And that's it! Blueberries have got to be the easiest of all fruits to put away for the winter! Now they will be made into blueberries smoothies, crumbles, syrups, muffins, etc. all year long. :)
Are you blueberry lovers like we are? Do you take advantage of summer to stock up on them? How do you preserve your berries?