Berries- To Freeze or Not?

by Elizabeth Skipper | August 21st, 2012 | Ask the Chef

I have been picking berries of all sorts: blueberries, raspberries, etc. I enjoy baking with them, and my family enjoys eating the fresh fruit. However, I have never frozen any of it, as I have two questions. First, will the frozen fruit work as well for baking and just plain eating? Second, is it difficult to freeze berries?

To take your second question first, no, it’s not difficult at all to freeze berries. You’ve done the hard part, which is picking them! Unlike vegetables, berries don’t require blanching before freezing. Nor do they require the addition of any ascorbic acid to keep their color and flavor. The most some call for is the addition of some sugar or sugar syrup, and that’s optional. Consult a reputable source like the venerable Putting Food By, now in its fifth edition, by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughn, for detailed instructions.

The simplest method, though, is to pick through your berries to eliminate any green, over-ripe, or possibly moldy ones. Remove any stems and leaves. Rinse and drain thoroughly, then spread them out on a large cookie sheet and place it flat in the freezer until they’re frozen. Pour the berries into freezer bags, plastic containers, or Mason jars (I love the way one writer describes this, “like buckshot”), and tuck them away in the freezer. Label and date them!

This is the home equivalent of IQF berries, as they’re known in the industry. IQF stands for Individually Quick Frozen. The advantages of freezing by this method are that the berries freeze faster (you save time), the ice crystals formed are smaller which means less damage to the berries’ texture, and you can easily separate out the amount you want when it’s time to use them.

For best results when eaten plain, defrost berries in the refrigerator and use before they’re completely thawed. If thawed at room temperature or allowed to defrost for too long, berries may lose texture and become mushy.

An optional step some sources recommend when freezing firm berries like blueberries is to steam them for one minute before freezing. This softens the skins, which can become tough in the freezer, and is recommended for blueberries you’ll plan on cooking.

A caveat as regards to raspberries – different varieties contain more or less seeds. The seedier ones are best puréed and strained rather than frozen whole. Use them for sauces, juice, or jams. And of course, with any kind of berry, what you defrost will only be as good as you froze, so don’t bother with inferior berries, tasteless, or over-ripe ones.

That said, let me share a story with you that should allay any fears about plunging in. A couple of years ago, a neighbor called to ask if I’d like any blueberries. Was I going go say no? Of course not, so I went right over. My enthusiasm waned somewhat when I saw what she was offering.

Her daughter had gone on a marathon blueberry picking trip, and come home with a two gallon Tupperware container full. After eating until they got tired of them, they were passing along the somewhat sad remainder. (As an aside here, there’s a reason berries are packed in those little containers. The ones on the bottom get crushed by the weight of the ones on top; and the more you pack into one container, the greater the problem.) There were quite a few squashed berries, some unripe ones, some stems and leaves… all those things I said above to remove. And I didn’t want to make jam or sauce.

A call to my dear cooking school friend, the quintessential pie maker, was in order. Her advice was to chuck them all in heavy duty plastic bags into the freezer. I picked out the worst of the offending extraneous material, and did just that. Fast forward to the following year, when she came up for a pie-making session. We defrosted those blueberries, and they made the best pie! So have at it. You have nothing to lose except paying out-of-season prices for your berries.

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