It's berry season! And if you're looking for a concentrated, natural source of vitamins and antioxidants, nothing beats a berry. Unfortunately, their small size means that it takes more time to harvest a pound of blueberries than a pound of, say, oranges or apples. Berries are also more delicate, which means they require special handling. As a consequence, pound for pound berries tend to be more expensive than larger, firmer fruits. But it's not an entirely fair comparison. When you buy a pound of bananas, for example, you get about two-thirds a pound of edible banana, and one-third a pound of peel. On the other hand, when you buy a pound of fresh berries, you get a pound of edible fruit.
For the frugal consumer, there are several ways to get berries cheaply. In order of savings, you can pick wild berries if you have access to them, you can grow your own, you can pick them at a u-pick farm, or you can buy them in season at the cheapest price. My mother-in-law grew mouth-watering strawberries, raspberries and blackberries in a small area of her backyard. For three decades, she fed family members and friends all the fresh berries they could eat in season, and froze or made jam with the rest. Those who have limited garden space can grow strawberries in planters or hanging baskets. Just remember to look for container varieties when selecting plants. Give them sun and keep them well-fed and watered, and you should get a good harvest.
My husband and I have tried to grow a variety of different berries, but our yard simply doesn't get enough sun. Instead we fill our freezer with wild blackberries every summer (blackberries are an invasive species where we live). We also make it a tradition to pick tubs of blueberries at a local organic farm, where we pay less than half what we'd pay in the grocery store.
Berries are great in baking and in jams, but to get the most out of them nutritionally, they are best eaten raw, either fresh or fresh-frozen. Most of what my family picks goes into the freezer for later use. My children (the ones past the choking stage) like to eat handfuls of frozen berries straight out of the freezer. I like to make healthy blender shakes for breakfast, with low fat milk, bananas, and frozen berries. I add peanut butter or ground flax seeds for a little extra energy.
Freezing berries is quite simple. First, sort fresh berries and remove any rotten fruit or debris (remove leaves and cores from strawberries at this stage). Rinse the sorted berries in a colander, and let the colander sit for a few minutes to drain excess water. Then spread the drained berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and place the sheet in the freezer. (Freezing berries this way initially means that you can take out as few or as many as you want later, without having to pry or break clumps apart.) When berries are frozen, remove them from cookie sheets and place them in freezer containers. For best results, use freezer bags and suck out any excess air with a straw. I'm not fussy. I use whatever is available, including clean yogurt or cottage cheese containers.
Ask around to find the u-pick farms in your area, or you can try online at PickYourOwn.org for farm listings. Happy picking!
A freelance writer and children's novelist, Rachel Muller writes from her home on Vancouver Island, off the West Coast of Canada. She is married and the mother of three teenage daughters and a baby girl.
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