I am so lucky to live in southern California and so lucky that strawberry season is still upon us, although it’s winding down. But right now, when you can get flats of organic, local strawberries for a steal I can’t help but stock up! But what to do with all those berries? They’re obviously not going to last if I don’t preserve them in some way. So what are the best (and easiest!) ways to save all these strawberries for later enjoyment? I aimed to find out and tried a number of different things.
First, we at them up as many as we could while they were fresh, sweet, and perfectly delicious. Especially the really ripe ones as they don’t freeze or dehydrate well (or so Google tells me). I used strawberries in everything from vinaigrettes to smoothies to summery salads to homemade yogurt parfaits to marinades. Holy yum. The vinaigrettes and marinades were super easy and I made them in my tend to do a 1:1 ratio of oil:vinegar but you can up that to 2:1 or 3:1 depending on your tastes. Add a little salt and pepper to your liking and you’re golden. I also did one with some Dijon mustard added to the mix for a little more zip. For the marinade it’s the same deal but add some garlic and shallots.
I also made what I’ll call a quick jam with some of the fresh berry juice and bits left in the food processor after making slices (see below). I just threw the bits and juices in a jar, mashed them down, and added a little lemon juice. We ate this for a week, no fancy canning required!
Ok, now for the rest of the pounds of strawberries I was getting from our CSA, JR Organics. I dehydrated them and I froze them. But first I had to hull each one of those puppies. I need to get me one of those strawberry huller thingies.
After hulling my bounty I set to slicing about half of them. (If you’re going to wash your berries – do it before you slice. I have to admit, I didn’t wash mine but I would recommend the practice). I sliced some of the berries for the freezer (I wanted to compare the sliced frozen strawberries to the whole) and the rest for the dehydrator. I used both the food processor and a mandolin to see which was faster. The food processor definitely wins in speed (I could put about five berries in the chute at a time) but the mandolin is a bit more precise, even though it’s not as fast it wasn’t bad and definitely gave me more even slices. So it was a toss up for me after my first round; I liked the mandolins even slices but I also freaking loved my “quick jam” from the food processor bits. Such easy deliciousness. John (who loves his PB&Js a few times a week) also loved it.
Trick I learned with the second flat of strawberries — with the mandolin you don’t have to hull those puppies. Just slice them holding onto the green top! Then you just have to get rid of the last bit’o’green (for those of you that have been following me on FB – the worms got all my tops!), no hulling required, first step eliminated, time saved. Mandolin wins this round.
I then laid out my slices, trying to make sure they didn’t overlap, on my 5 Nesco Dehydrator racks (I need to get more racks. Like, way more racks.) and the remaining slices went on wax paper (placed on a cookie sheet for easy transport) for the freezer. I also froze some whole berries that I had hulled so put those on wax paper and a cookie sheet, too. I tried to prevent these from overlapping, too, but it’s not the end of the world if they’re touching.
Dehydrator slices: Set the dehydrator to 135° and let them puppies dry out. Drying times will depend on your dehydrator, the humidity of where your at, and your desired chewiness factor. John likes his a little chewy, I like mine crisp. For John’s chewier version (which taste like candy!) they were in there for about 6 hours. For my crisp version (great as a topping on my homemade yogurt for some added crunch!) it was probably about 10 hours. All versions were FREAKING DELICIOUS. And addictive (you’ve been warned).
Freezer slices and whole strawberries: If they’re still a bit damp, let them dry out a bit before popping them in the freezer. Once they’re mostly dry, just place the whole trays in the freezer and let them sit in there for a half hour or so. They don’t need to be frozen all the way through, just mostly frozen and dry so they don’t stick together. Then just dump them in freezer bags! (You can just go straight to the freezer bags and skip the wax paper/pre-freezing step but then they’ll stick together. By pre-freezing on the wax paper you get nice berries that don’t clump up). Freezing whole strawberries allows you to load up the trays with WAY more strawberries. But if you freeze them sliced, you don’t have any work to do later and can add them quickly into your dishes. You can also halve or quarter the strawberries before freezing rather than slicing, too.
Now you have sweet, ripe, delicious, local strawberries whenever you want them! Both dehydrating and freezing are pretty easy. I personally like the sliced dehydrated version and the whole frozen versions best (you can always cut up the whole versions after they thaw a bit if you need sliced or halved).