DEAR KAREN: My family and I love to go to U-pick strawberry farms this time of year. If we pick more than we can use quickly, how can I freeze them to enjoy later?
—J.W., Niles, Michigan
Picking strawberries is a great family activity with a sweet, tasty reward. Strawberries can be frozen whole, sliced or crushed, and with or without sugar. Proper freezing is important for maintaining the quality of the berries. Properly frozen strawberries will contain most of their taste and nutritional value. However, after thawing them they will be somewhat darker, and the texture will be much softer.
The strawberries best suited for freezing are those that are dark red, firm and fully ripe. Remove the stems and caps, then wash and drain the fruit carefully. Do not soak in water, or the strawberry will lose flavor and nutrients. Place berries in a single layer on towels to dry.
To freeze whole berries without sugar, simply place in freezer containers or bags. Try to remove as much air as possible by completely filling containers or pressing extra air out of bags before sealing.
To freeze sweetened strawberries, halve or slice strawberries into a bowl. For each quart of berries, add 1/2 cup sugar and gently stir until sugar is dissolved. Lightly crush berries if desired. Spoon into a freezer container, seal tightly and freeze.
My favorite way to use frozen strawberries is in Mock Strawberry Margaritas. Just substitute 1 quart of frozen whole unsweetened strawberries for the 16-ounce package. It's such a refreshing treat on a hot summer day.