Keeping Summer’s Berry Romance Alive
Berries are like summer camp romances. They arrive suddenly. They’re sweet and pure with a wholesome allure that everyone understands. They bring back warm memories of fireflies and campfires and barefoot walks in the grass…
Just like summer romances, when the season is over, they’re gone.
For the past few years, my chest freezer has helped me keep the romance alive. I’ve carefully washed the berries in a solution of white vinegar and water (to kill mold spores), air-dried them, hulled them, and laid them out on rimmed cookie sheets to freeze. I’d then scoop the frozen berries into freezer bags for later use. It has been time consuming but totally worth it to have summery tasting berries in the middle of winter.
Once frozen, tender berries are really never good whole again. Even under the best freezing conditions, the jagged, microscopic crystals that form during the freezing process turn a firm, luscious berry into little more than a soggy mush-blob. In their whole, still-frozen state, they’re a nice addition to yogurt and I’ve added them to ice creams, but that’s about it.
Almost every time I make a withdrawal of berries from my freezer, they’re destined for the blender. So why bother freezing them whole? Why not freeze a puree? It turns out that the puree saves freezer space, offers versatility and allows me the convenience of dispensing with unpalatable seeds in raspberries and blackberries.
Frozen berry puree is a brilliant resource. It offers an effortless punch of fruity flavor and color at my fingertips. What do I make with it?
• Strawberry banana smoothies, peach blackberry smoothies and raspberry ricotta smoothies
• Raspberry lemonade
• Blackberry maple syrup
• Blackberry applesauce
• Raspberry mojitos and margaritas
• Frozen strawberry lemonade
• Coulis for finishing desserts
You might notice the conspicuous absence of blueberries in the above list. Blueberries are perfectly suitable for pureeing but they get different treatment from me. Because of their thicker skins, blueberries freeze easily without first laying them out on a baking sheets. They also have more non-puree uses. Even frozen, blueberries are great in muffins, pancakes, or added to oatmeal. The same is not true of the berries in the above list.
Freezing fruit purees is as simple as this:
1. Wash and prepare your berries, hulling strawberries and picking through for leaves and stems.
2. Toss the berries in the blender and puree them thoroughly. This is one of those moments when my investment in a VitaMix blender really pays off. They are almost instantaneously pureed silky smooth in the Ferrari of blenders. Those of you driving more of a Volvo may need to stop the blender and stir up your puree to ensure that everything is thoroughly mashed to smithereens.
3. If you’re working with strawberries, you could just pour the puree straight into ice cube trays to freeze. The seeds aren’t particularly bothersome.
4. If you’re working with raspberries or blackberries, you want to remove the seeds. Simply pour the puree into a fine mesh sieve. Using a rubber scraper, wipe the puree back and forth across the mesh to push the juices and pulp through. Keep working until all that’s left is a seedy paste. Then scrape the excess off the bottom of the sieve. If you’re working with a large batch, just dump the paste, briefly rinse out the sieve and start over. It really doesn’t actually take that long and it’s a brainless activity that can be performed whilst returning your mother-in-law’s long neglected phone call.
Because of their sugar and fiber content, the cubes are easily sliced with a knife. If I’m making a raspberry mojito for myself, I’ll just cut a cube into quarters and plop one into the glass while I muddle the sugar and mint. It thaws in a moment.
Having had to consume or bestow my freezer stash on my friends last fall in preparation for our relocation, I simply used frozen berries from the grocery store to get me through the winter. I thawed them on the countertop and then proceeded. Pounce on a sale if you get the chance
On that note, be opportunistic. In the next two weeks, we’ll be seeing the peak of strawberry season. If the fields are full, the farmers have to sell their yield and prices will reflect that. Further, look for bargains on overripe or bruised fruit.
This technique works beautifully on stone fruits as well. In fact, a few weeks ago my supermarket had some pretty ratty looking, overripe white nectarines priced to sell. I bought a large bag of them, removed their flesh from the pits and pureed them- skins and all.
White nectarine daiquiri, anyone?
Ironically, Sophie asked me to make a summery baked good for a year-end party at school. We settled on lemon bars as the right choice. As I prepared the lemon bars, I was simultaneously working on the mixed-berry puree I was shooting for this post. An idea struck me. Why not swirl in a bit of berry puree?