Last week my daughter and I brought home 12lbs of freshly picked strawberries. After a morning in the fields she went down for a nice long nap, while I got to work. Since strawberries only retain their peak flavor for a day or two, I had to freeze and preserve my gorgeous red jewels as quickly as possible. This guarantees I’ll enjoy strawberries year-round and won’t have to rely on supermarket varieties that are often laden with dyes and chemicals. Here are my go-to tips for making the most of your strawberry season:
Picking Strawberries: When standing in the fields only pick the fruits that are firm and uniformly red. This means they have fully ripened and are at peak flavor. Pinch the stem about 1/4″ above the fruit and place it in your basket.
Washing & Storing: Only wash strawberries right before you need them. Strawberries are porous and washing them long before you intend to eat them will cause them to rot. When you bring your berries home, immediately place them in the fridge to help them stay fresh as long as possible.
Freezing Whole Without Sugar: Wash and hull strawberries. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper so that there is a little bit of space between each berry. Freeze the berries on the cookie sheet until they are completely solid. Then, transfer them to a freezer bag and mark the bag clearly. These berries are great to use for smoothies or in cereal. These can remain frozen for up to 6 months.
Freezing Whole With Sugar: Wash and hull strawberries. Place strawberries spaced apart on a lined cookie sheet as above. Gently sprinkle a light coating of sugar over the berries. Freeze on the cookie sheet until solid and transfer to a freezer bag. Since sugar helps preserve texture and flavor these are great for baking including shortcakes, pancake toppings or over ice-cream. These can remain frozen for up to 6 months.
Strawberries in Vanilla Simple Syrup: Wash and hull strawberries. Pack into glass or plastic jars so that they are full, but the berries are not crushing each other. Over low heat dissolve 3 c. of water with 1 c. of sugar and a vanilla bean* to make a simple syrup. Cool the syrup to room temperature, or chill it in the fridge. Transfer the syrup to a cup with a spout and pour it into the jar of berries. Fill until there is 1″ of air space before the lid. Close the lid tightly and freeze. To thaw, place the jar on the counter top and allow it to come to room temperature. This strawberry syrup is delicious served over ice-cream, pound cake, cheesecake or stirred into cocktails.
*If you want, you can substitute citrus zest, mint leaves or a warm spice to alter the flavor of the syrup.