It's that time of year when gardens and farmers markets are overflowing with the bounty of summer. It definitely ranks as one of my favorite times of year. I love the farmer's market almost as much I love heading out to the garden and coming in with the fruits of our labor and literally having it on our plates in a matter of minutes.
Amidst this joy of the season is also the somewhat stressful issue of trying to preserve as much as you can now, to be able to savor in the dark days of winter. Food preservation, while so worth it when you crack open a jar of local peaches in January, can be overwhelming and intimidating. I myself am fairly new to canning, and really only started freezing large amounts in the last few years.
Last week I froze 30lbs of local organic blueberries. I love being able to pull out a bag of frozen blueberries in the middle of winter and throw some in a smoothie, muffins or pancakes, but when I look at a 10lb box of blueberries at the farmers market the anxiety starts to build. I immediately start thinking 'I have to wash/sort/dry/freeze on a baking sheet and then transfer into bags!' and that's about enough to have to me running to the grocery store to buy some! Last year I decided I needed to make it easier on myself and made the decision to 'cheat' a little.
I start by dumping a large amount into a big bowl in the sink and fill it with water. When you put the water in the bowl most of the bad berries, along with any leaves or stems generally float to the top. After swishing around a few times and getting all the debris out I dump them into a collander in the other side of the sink.
As I'm letting those drain I re-fill the first bowl and also lay out a bath towel on the counter. I then take the berries from the collander and transfer them to the towel and then again sort through for any bad berries or leaves I may have missed the first time. I generally use a smaller towel to try and dry them off a little bit more and leave them in a single layer while I go re-do the bowl/collander routine.
Once the berries are fairly dry (and little hands have not eaten all of them!) I fill gallon zip-lock bags about 3/4 full and viola, they are ready for the freezer!
To be fair, this probably does not yield the exact results of freezing the berries on a cookie sheet so they don't stick together, but they are kind of like ice, wherein if you give them a little whack on the counter they separate nicely and I'll certainly take that small step for the time savings!