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At some point, maybe now when the late varieties start showing up, you’ll wipe the juice from your chin and realize time is running out. In just a few short days you’ll be staring down a whole ‘nother year before you’ll have local strawberries again. No need to panic, just grab the freezer bags.

A lot of you are probably old hands at this but this blog is also for my young friends just starting out, so if this is old news I promise another strawberry dessert next post.

Cleaning Strawberries

My grandmother had a little metal pincher to cut/pulled the green top off each berry. They’re probably still around but I haven’t seen one in years. Later on I learned another way to clean strawberries from The Joy of Cooking. The Rombauers promised that if you took the time to core them they would taste better. I agree.

Carefully pour your berries into a colander and swish them repeatedly under cold water. I let them dry a bit at this point.

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Then insert a short, sharp paring knife at a 45-degree-ish angle under the green leaves. Turn the knife in a circle to core the berry. It feels a little funny the first time, but after you get it down it will go just as fast or faster as cutting the tops off. Plus, you keep as much of the berry intact as possible.

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One more note, I never refrigerate fresh, cleaned strawberries because I think it kills the flavor. I just make sure to use them up quickly. I do, from time to time, refrigerate sliced and sugared berries – but only for as short a period as possible.

Freezing Strawberries

After your berries are clean you have to decide how you want to freeze them. For long-term storage I like the sliced-berry method because they resist getting dry and crystallized.

Whole Berries: Line cookie sheets with waxed paper. Spread the berries out in a single layer. When the berries are frozen solid put them in bags, remove as much air as possible, and freeze.

Sliced Berries: Slice and/or quarter the berries as desired. Mix the berries with some sugar, using about 1/3 c. sugar per quart of berries.

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When the berries have accumulated a little juice, put two cups in each quart-size freezer bag. Press them out into an even thin layer, removing as much air as possible, and seal.

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Lay them flat in your freezer until solid, and store.

We’ll be using some frozen berries later on in recipes, but if you want to use them earlier you can thaw them in cold water or just leave them out on the counter

Basic Turkey Burgers, Little House by the Dunes

Little House Turkey Burgers

I have heard of rare, unicorn-like beings who have all their holiday gifts bought AND WRAPPED before Halloween. I am most decidedly not one of them. This year, however, it is my goal to have nearly all of our meat for the winter purchased, wrapped and stored in the freezer before Halloween.

Not to be alarmist, but I am betting that the drought from this summer is going to mean really high food prices this winter on meats and other corn-dependent items. Right now, the prices are still reasonable because the farmers have had to sell off their livestock.  It probably goes without saying, but if you can find (and afford) to buy locally raised meat from small farms it is well worth doing. In our area there are several great choices, including Gallaghers, Halprins, and Bargy Foods (all unpaid endorsements). Even you can’t source all your meat this way you can likely still find some, as I did with the smoked bacon below.

So, on my last trip I found some nice specials. I bought two whole pork loins, three packages of turkey burger, a package of locally made bacon ends and a large tray of chicken thighs. If you don’t have a good supply of both quart size and gallon size freezer bags on hand you’ll want to pick those up too. Someday I might get a vacuum sealer but for now I double-bag.

Turkey burger: As you know from the last post, we are big turkey burger people.  I took each slab of burger out of its package and slid them into quart-sized bags. I know it’s tempting to just put the package in the freezer, but don’t do it! There’s air in the package and air is your enemy when it comes to frozen foods. Where there’s air there will be freezer burn. I pressed each quart bag around the meat as I sealed it, and slid the quart size bags into a large gallon bag.

Bacon ends: These are from Little Town Jerky (unpaid endorsement), a local smokehouse. I like to use these to flavor soups, baked beans and collard greens through the winter. I separated the large package into useable amounts, about what I would want for a pot of soup. They were sealed into the quart size bags and slid into a large gallon bag of their own.

Chicken thighs: Same deal, I separated them into single meal amounts. They were sealed into the quart size bags and slid into a large gallon bag of their own.

Chicken, bacon and ground turkey – all packaged up and ready for the freezer.

Pork loins: These are whole loins, so I had to do some cutting. As long as you have some decent knives (note: they don’t have to be super expensive to be decent, but you do need a way to keep them sharp), it is pretty easy to break down your own meat. You can trim it and get exactly the thickness you like every time.

In this case, I had two large whole pork loins, for a total combined cost of just over $15. One I cut into roasts (leaving the outer fat on), wrapped them separately and put them into another gallon bag. The second one I cut in half. I wrapped one as-is, roasting size, and sliced the other one into pork chops about 1″ thick. I trimmed the fat off the chops. You could double that if you wanted to do stuffed chops, or go thinner if you like. If you’re cutting them thin I would suggest partially freezing it first, because it makes the thin cuts easier.

Sometimes you end up with little bits and pieces because you can’t always tell where the fat is from the wrapper. I put these into a bag by themselves, for stirfry or posole. So there you have it – I spent about $27 total on this meat, and I have at least 16 generous meals worth. That works out to about $1.68/meal, or about .42/person in my household – not bad! In my next post I’ll share my tips for the pub-style turkey burgers pictured at top.

After the last post on Goat Cheese Salad I thought it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about storing leaf lettuce. The colander of lettuce, above, was one week’s haul from my itsy-bitsy garden. While I would love to have a huge garden to roam around in and grow all kinds of exotic vegetables, I’m still a commuter. So, I have a series of five 4 x 4 raised beds. Two of them have three rows of leaf lettuce each, with tomatoes in between.

One of the great things about growing your own food is that you become so much more aware of the effort. Once I have gone to the trouble of getting the beds ready, planting and watering I am not going to waste the delicate leaves I cut. Through trial and error I have found a way to successfully store leaf lettuce for a week or more.

Storing Leaf Lettuce

1) Cut your leaves early in the morning if possible, when they are the least stressed.

2) Wash them thoroughly and pick out any badly damaged leaves and debris.

3) Shake off most, but not all of the water. You want a few droplets still clinging.

4) Get out a large freezer bag. I use the one gallon size. Dampen two paper towels and stack them in the freezer bag.

5) Lay your leaf lettuce on top of the paper towels, seal the bag and place it towards the door of the refrigerator. (I’ve found ours is colder in back and the leaves can freeze.)

Typically it’s the lettuce that’s pressed to the bottom of a bag that goes bad first. So the paper towel both protects the lettuce from touching the plastic while providing a breathable surface that can also soak up any extra moisture. I’ve kept leaf lettuce in top condition for 10 days using this technique for all types of leaf and heirloom lettuces.

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