3 Low-Sugar Methods for Preserving Strawberries

Reader Contribution by Eric Reuter and Chert Hollow Farm
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Strawberries are a core component of our annual diet, as they’re one of the easiest fruits to grow and preserve. Many guidelines for strawberry preservation call for extraordinary amounts of added sugar, which we’ve found quite unnecessary for the fresh, sweet, high-quality berries we grow.

We’ve also found it quite effective to combine multiple preservation methods to make the processing work more efficient. Here are the three main ways we handle our fresh berries.

Using Sugar in Strawberry Preservation

While it’s possible to freeze strawberries without any sugar at all, a little sugar can be beneficial. In our experience, lightly sweetened berries last long and have better flavor than unsweetened berries.

Sugar’s ability to draw out some juices creates a protective syrup that seems to reduce freezer burn, and certainly increases the space efficiency of preservation by allowing berries to be crushed into a solid mass rather than packed loosely with air around them.

In our experience, ¼ cup sugar per quart of berries is ample for freezing and canning; we don’t use any sugar for dehydrating berries.

Strawberry Varieties and Sources

For years, we’ve grown varieties of strawberry (‘Earliglow’ and ‘Sparkle’), chosen for their intense flavor, not their size or shelf life. This makes them great for home production, because their extra sweetness reduces the need for sugar, and they don’t have to sit around waiting to be bought and sold.

If you want to reduce sugar in your preservation, consider planting or sourcing strawberry varieties that will help you out in that regard.

Setting Up a Work Station

Having an efficient work space helps make this time-intensive job more practical. We set up a rinse bowl, strainer (with bowl underneath), cutting board, measuring quart, and large collection bowl ahead of time.

Batches of berries move through each location as we work: one batch in the rinse bowl, one draining in the strainer, one on the cutting board, finished berries absorbing sugar in the collection bowl. As each batch is finished, we move the other batches along the assembly line, so there’s little down time.

A waste bucket sits nearby to catch tops and other discards, beloved by our chickens.

Freezing Strawberries

Our standard approach to freezing strawberries involves simply halving them, mixing in up to ¼ cup sugar per quart of berries, and packing them into freezer containers. We cut up about 4 quarts at a time, adding sugar with each quart, to create a nice juicy mix that’s ready to be frozen.

Allowing the berries to stand with the sugar for a few minutes gives time for the juice to be drawn out.

Strawberries can be frozen whole simply by laying them out on a baking sheet, placing the sheet in a freezer until the berries are solid, then dumping them into a sealed freezer bag. While this is very little work up front, we haven’t liked the long-term quality or flavor as much as the light sugar-pack method, and it’s far less space-efficient.

We’re especially fond of eating our frozen strawberries mixed into homemade yogurt, where the light sweetness balances the yogurt perfectly. They also make a nice base for salads with other frozen fruits like blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

Dehydrating Strawberries

Dried strawberries are a delightful product, packed with intense flavor and shelf-stable. We slice pieces about ¼”-inch thick — too thin and they melt into the dryer tray and make a mess.

While you can try to slice the whole berry for drying, it’s more efficient to simultaneously process them for freezing: cut a few thick slabs from the heart of the berry (for drying) and place the rounded ends and small pieces in the collection bowl for freezing. Your berries will dry more evenly than a bunch of mis-matched chunks.

We pack the finished product in jars, then place them in the freezer for a few weeks to kill off any insects or eggs that might be present. After that, the jars sit happily on a pantry shelf waiting to be enjoyed. Dried berries are excellent for topping salads, adding to trail mixes and baked goods, or just snacking.

Canning Strawberries

Last year, we tried canning strawberries as a stand-alone preservation method, simply packing the lightly sugared pureed fruit into quart jars and topping off with hot water. Sugar is not strictly necessary for canning strawberries, but as with freezing, a little bit seems to improve the quality.

We were pleased with the quarts of canned berries; while the flavor wasn’t as good as dedicated jam, we could use them the same way as frozen berries, without the risk of a freezer going bad. These juicy jars made excellent bases for refreshing drinks.

Otherwise, recipes abound for canning basic strawberry jam. We use the same amount of sugar for jam as we do for freezing, about ¼ cup per quart of crushed fruit, simply cooking up the result instead of freezing it and adding pectin. Chopped rhubarb can make a nice addition if you have it.

Top photo by Eric Reuter
Second photo by Joanna Reuter

Eric Reuter and his wife, Joanna, founded their homestead farm in 2006, within a narrow Ozark-style valley with diverse landscapes and ecosystems. Chert Hollow Farm seeks to integrate food and farming into the ecosystem, at various times managing vegetable & grain crops, perennial fruits, dairy/meat goats, poultry, timber resources, and natural habitats. Read all of Eric’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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