It’s almost that time of year in my neck of the woods - strawberry season!!
We have a strawberry farm a few miles from our house and I so look forward to each season’s crop. While we can get them year round in the grocery store, there’s nothing quite as sweet as a fresh from the farm strawberry.
I adore strawberries! There’s just so much that you can do with them.
As much as we love them around here, we can only eat so many, so in preparation for strawberry season I thought I would share some of my favorite preserving methods.
Because strawberries are acidic you don’t need a lot of special equipment to preserve them. The best methods, in my opinion, are freezing, drying and making jam. So let’s look at each method.
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There are a couple of ways that you can freeze strawberries. Which you choose will depend on how you plan to use them in the future.
Individual Quick Freeze
The easiest freezing method is individual quick freeze (or IQF for short). Freezing also preserves more of the flavor and juiciness than any other method (except maybe Strawberry Jam). This will preserve your strawberries for use in any recipe that calls for fresh or frozen strawberries - such as pies, smoothies, cakes, etc. You can freeze them whole, or sliced.
Wash the berries and drain. Slice off the caps, compost or throw away.
At this point, you'll need to decide whether you want to freeze the berries whole or sliced. I do both depending on how I plan to use them. I recommend cutting larger berries in half before freezing, but it’s not necessary.
Spread the berries out on a clean baking sheet, dish, plate or pan…whatever you have that fits in your freezer. Make sure that the berries are not touching.
Place in the freezer for at least 2 hours.
Remove from freezer and pop into quart freezer containers or bags. I recommend these (affiliate link) because they are versatile, so they get lots of use - you can freeze with them, use them as food storage for leftovers, etc.. You can also use regular freezer Ziploc bags. I would double bag just to be safe.
Don’t forget to label your container with the date. Use within 6 months for the best flavor. They are still safe to eat after that time period, but they won’t taste as good!
Freezing with Syrup
I use this method to freeze strawberries that I plan to use as a topping for ice cream or cake. It’s a pretty simple freezing method.
Wash the berries and drain. Slice off the caps, compost or throw away.
Slice the strawberries into a container or bowl until you have about a quart worth (measure if you need to). Add to the bowl at least ½ cup white sugar (more if you like really sweet berries). Mix well, cover the container and pop into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or long enough to let the juices release from the berries. Check after about 15 minutes and give them a good stir.
Once they are good and syrupy (I cannot believe that’s an actual word...it is, I looked it up!), pour into a freezer bag. Remove as much air as you can, flatten, label with the date and contents, and lay in the freezer.
You can also freeze them in a plastic container. I prefer the bags because I can freeze in smaller quantities.
When ready to use simply thaw in the refrigerator or on the counter.
This is definitely the kiddos favorite way to eat strawberries and there are LOTS of uses for dried berries (see below).
I dry them a couple of different ways - in slices, and as fruit roll ups.
Dehydrating in Slices
Wash, slice off the caps. Slice about 1/8 inch thick, in whichever direction you prefer. I slice top to bottom. Which direction you slice isn’t as important as the thickness of your slices. You’ll want to make sure that they’re all pretty much the same so that they will dehydrate evenly.
Spread the slices over your dehydrator sheet, or baking sheet if you’re using the oven. It’s ok for them to touch, in fact I recommend it. Pack as many onto the sheet as possible.
Set your dehydrator to 135 degrees and dry for 8-14 hours, depending on how crisp you want them to be. You’ll get fully dried berries in 8-10 hours, but if you want them to be crispy you’ll need another 2-4 hours in the dehydrator. I typically dehydrate ours for about 9 hours.
I don't recommend using the oven to dry strawberries. It's not that they won't turn out ok, because they will. It has more to do with the amount of time it takes to dehydrate in the oven. I've only done it once and it took the better part of 16 hours! that's a long time to go without my oven, not to mention how hot it makes the house. But if you don't have a dehydrator and want to use the oven, set the temperature as low as you can, which is usually around 150 degrees for most ovens. Place the baking sheets in the oven. Begin checking at about 10 hours and continue checking every half an hour or so to make sure they aren’t burning. Ovens usually dry less evenly than a dehydrator and some pieces will burn if you don’t pull them out.
When done, allow them to cool completely then store in airtight container.
Dehydrating as Fruit Roll-ups
You would NOT believe how easy it is to make fruit roll-ups! I know I couldn’t when I first tried it. These homemade versions are so much better than the store bought ones!
This tastes best when you use slightly overripe strawberries. Trust me on this!
Wash about 2 cups of berries and remove any imperfections (super soft spots, etc.). Remove the caps and compost or throw away.
Now toss all of those berries into a saucepan. Turn the heat on medium-low and let the berries heat slowly. Stir frequently to make sure they’re not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once they start releasing some of their juice, cover the pan and continue cooking for about 15 minutes until nice and hot, but not boiling. Stir occasionally.
While hot, puree with a stick blender right in the pan. If you don’t have one, allow the berries to cool a little, pour into a blender, and blend well. You want to make sure there are no chunks left.
Add 2 tsp. of lemon juice (the bottled kind is fine). If you want more sweetness you can add 2 Tbsp. of honey or sugar to the berries. Mix well.
Pour the puree onto Teflon dehydrator sheets or silicone mats.
NOTE: If your dehydrator didn’t come with silicone mats or Teflon sheets then you’ll need to purchase some that are the size of your dehydrator trays (affiliate link). I’ve heard some suggest using plastic wrap, but I don’t recommend that personally.
Set the dehydrator temperature to 140 degrees and dry for 4-8 hours. Watch them closely after 4 hours. You don’t want them to get crispy.
When done, cover the tray with wax paper and press it down gently into the fruit, just enough to stick. Flip over onto a cutting board and remove teflon sheet (or whatever you used to cover your dehydrator tray).
Let the fruit cool for a while until it's easy to handle without burning your fingers. When cool enough, use a pizza cutter or knife to slice the fruit into strips. Roll-up strips with the wax paper facing out.
Pop the rolls into any air tight container and store in a cool dry place.
Told ya it was easy! Can you believe it?
Ways To Use Dried Strawberries
There are tons of ways to use dried strawberries. Here are just a few of the ways we use them in the Nerddom.
- Add to premade muffin mixes. I store the dry ingredients in zipper bags and then add the wet ingredients when cooking. Makes baking muffins quick and easy without all the junk in those pre-packaged mixes you get at the store!
- Add to homemade granola or trail mix.
- Add to cereal, oatmeal or cream of wheat.
- Eat by itself as a snack!
This seems to be the “go-to” way of preserving strawberries for most people. When you find out how easy it is, you’ll likely hop on the wagon too!
There are about 150 bazillion ways to make strawberry jam. Ok, maybe not that many, but pretty darn close! If you’ve been reading here any length of time you know that I keep it simple. No time for all that fancy stuff around here!
Refrigerator / Freezer Jam
This is probably the easiest method, particularly if you don’t have canning equipment or don’t want to store the jam for a long period of time.
Start with about 2 lbs of strawberries, washed and caps sliced off. Crush the berries well and transfer to a large, thick-bottomed pot.
Add 4 cups of white sugar and ¼ cup lemon juice (the bottled kind is fine) to the berries. Stir well.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to high and bring to a full rolling boil, while still stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 220 degrees (about 10 minutes). Use a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and let cool on the counter for a few minutes.
Pour into glass canning jars or plastic containers. Allow to cool completely on counter before sealing. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to 1 year. Be sure to label your container with the date if you're freezing!
It’s almost the same as the refrigerator jam above, except that we are going to water bath can the jars instead of putting them in the fridge.
Start with 3 pints of strawberries, washed and drained well. Remove the caps and compost or throw away. Toss the berries into a large heavy bottomed pot - I used my big stainless steel pot. Add 5 cups of white sugar and stir well. Cover and let stand until the berries release their juices and make a syrup. This usually takes about 2-3 hours. Stir a few times to speed up the process if you like, but it's not necessary.
Move the pot to the stove and bring the berries to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, add 1/3 cup lemon juice (the bottle kind is fine, or you can use fresh). Return to a boil.
Continue to boil over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until a candy thermometer reaches 220 degrees.
I am going to assume at this point that you know how to water bath can safely. If not, then you should definitely read the Ball Water Bath Canning Guide.
Ladle the hot preserves into hot sterilized half pint jars. Leave ¼ inch head space. Process for 10 minutes in water bath canner.
If you want to go beyond the simple strawberry jam, here are a few recipes I’ve rounded up to try myself. Maybe this year! If you try one let me know how it turns out.
- Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam
- Strawberry Chipotle Jam
- Strawberry Chia Seed Jam
- Plum Strawberry Jam
- Honey Strawberry Jam
- Strawberry Ginger Jam
- Strawberry-Orange Jam
New Methods I’m Trying This Year
I’m branching out this year and trying a couple of news things with our strawberries. I’m a tad excited!
The Pioneer Woman (LOVE her!) has a recipe for Strawberry Sauce that I have every intention of making. A strawberry sauce for ice cream, cake, pancakes…oh my yes!
I’d also like to try making a Strawberry Vinaigrette Dressing. It seems easy enough. I adore Raspberry Vinaigrette so I’m pretty sure I will love this one as well.
What are your tried and true methods for preserving those plump sweet strawberries during their peak season? I'd love to know!
This is the first in a series of posts covering ways to preserve lots of different produce. You can find the full (ever growing) list here.