Greetings, Conscientious Food Consumers!
We Willamette Valley dwellers are so blessed to be living in one of the largest berry-producing regions in the country. Strawberry season is here! Luscious, juicy and vibrantly red — like these, picked fresh from a Corvallis backyard garden — the local bounty of strawberries is just now waiting to delight our taste buds.
Normally in early June, we would also be anticipating a taste of the World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake at the annual Strawberry Festival in Lebanon — but predictably, this year’s festival (the 111th) became a casualty of the coronavirus.
Here in Linn and Benton Counties, we have the luxury of enjoying locally-produced strawberries, as well as blueberries, marion and blackberries, raspberries and so many other varieties. Let’s not forget how most of those delicious fruits get to our markets and our tables — via Oregon’s agricultural workers. Hooray for the harvesters!
These incredibly hard-working people have kept the berries (and everything else) coming, despite the deadly risk of COVID-19. In late May, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, with help from OSU’s Extension Services and the Oregon National Guard, began distributing free PPE and field sanitation supplies throughout the state. Another state initiative announced June 10, the Food Security & Farmworker Safety Program, provides $30 million to help local producers with the increased costs of keeping our state’s essential agricultural workforce housed, transported, trained and safe in the pandemic conditions.
Given this monumental effort to secure our local food chain, it’s up to us, Conscientious Food Consumers, to do our part: No Strawberries Left Behind!
Step 1 (fresh): Eat A.S.A.P.! Store berries in an unsealed container on your fridge shelf away from other produce like apples and avocados, which emit traces of ethylene gas that will cause the berries to over-ripen. Don’t wash them until just before preparing or consuming, preferably within 3-7 days of purchase.
Step 2 (fresh – large batches): To prep and freeze large batches (like flats) of berries, check out these step-by-step instructions from our local experts at the OSU and Pacific NW Extension Services. (Note details regarding sugar/no sugar prep for maintaining quality of frozen fruit.) Make sure your hands and all kitchen utensils and surfaces are clean before getting started!
Tip: Avoid frozen “berry bricks” by spreading out prepped berries across waxed paper on a cookie sheet and freezing them loosely at first. Transfer portions of the pre-frozen berries into airtight containers and return to the freezer. Or stick ’em with a skewer for strawberry popsicles!
Step 3 (fresh and previously-frozen): Note the date for your berries-in-waiting on your handy-dandy Freezer Inventory List, kept on or near your fridge. Make sure to eat ’em up within 10-12 months!
Alternate Step 1 (preserving through dehydration): If you’re into making your own dried fruit/fruit leathers using the oven or an electric dehydrator, OSU’s Extension Service has the definitive how-to guide.
This week’s Kitchen Confession: A Berry Sad Story
A friend cleaning out her freezer when moving gave me a half-bag of frozen strawberries. I planned on using ’em right away in a smoothie, along with a small portion of blueberries I already had on hand. Carelessly, I left the berry bags in the freezer door for easy access, and didn’t take a moment to write it on my Freezer Inventory! Some weeks later… berry sad! A lack of air-tight seal on the bags ensured the spoilage.
Lesson Learned: Tightly seal berries in container, zip lock freezer bag or double-bag. Make sure berries are located where the freezer temperature is consistent. Use Freezer Inventory (take my own advice)!
$ Wasted: Around $4
Enjoy this berry beautiful season… there’s lots more on the way! Be well.