CORVALLIS - Oregon is berry country. Our summer-long parade of raspberries, blackberries and currants begins in June, with the favorite of many: strawberries.
Strawberries are well suited for the home garden because they produce fruits very quickly, and require a relatively small amount of space. But whether you grow your own, or buy them from the farmers' market, nothing beats the fresh taste of locally grown strawberries.
And strawberries are good for you, too, says Carolyn Raab, food and nutrition specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. They're low in calories and a rich source of vitamin C. One cup of raw strawberries has only 45 calories and provides a full day's supply of vitamin C. Strawberries have antioxidants, too, that help to ward off chronic illness such as cancer.
"Strawberries are a fast fruit," Raab said. "Just wash well in a bowl of clean water, drain, remove the green hull, and pop in your mouth."
You can preserve that summertime taste and healthy goodness by freezing strawberries whole. Raab recommends that you pick berries in the morning while it is cool and refrigerate immediately. Picked berries lose freshness quickly in heat. Do not wash berries until just before you plan to prepare them.
Freezing strawberries in a mixture of sugar and pectin will help retain their firmness after thawing. For three gallons of berries, mix about 3 cups white sugar (depending on sweetness desired) and one package of powdered fruit pectin. Sprinkle over sliced berries and them let sit until it dissolves. Freeze berries in freezer bags or freezer containers.
For whole berries, coat with the sugar/pectin mixture and put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet to freeze. After berries are frozen, transfer them to freezer packaging.
The frozen berries can be thawed at any time and used to make jam, pies, or syrups. Or partially thaw a handful in a bowl and eat them like a sorbet.
Home food preservers can get answers to questions by calling the OSU Extension Food Safety/Preservation hotline from July 15 to Oct. 15 at 1-800-354-7319, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except holidays.) The hotline is operated by OSU Extension Master Food Preserver volunteers and Extension staff.