Learn how to freeze fruit at home! Save big bucks when you combine picking your own fruit and preserving it in your own kitchen.
July in the Pacific Northwest is the perfect time to get outside. For my family this means we’ve been doing a lot of fruit picking at Pick Your Own or U-Pick farms. If you’ve never done Pick Your Own fruit and want to learn more, check out the earlier posts in my summer fruit series (including why you should be freezing fruit). Then read on to find out how to freeze fruit at home and save big bucks!
We eat a lot of frozen fruit throughout the year, so I’ve been working on filling our freezer with fruit we’ve picked. We’re saving money compared to store bought frozen fruit, and and the quality is much better. And since we’ve been bringing home huge amounts of fruit, we’ve had plenty to freeze, can, eat fresh, and bake with. So far I’ve frozen blueberries, pineapple, figs, and peaches.
I’d like to get more types of fruit packed away for winter though, so I’m planning to go back for apples, pears, and more figs. I’d also like to pick up a flat of strawberries to freeze, though sadly I missed Oregon berries for this. I did split a flat of Oregon Albion strawberries with my mom, but I used these for jam, and I regret nothing. Because it’s amazing.
Anyway, back to freezing your harvest. Freezing your own fruit at home a a super easy process, especially with fruit like blueberries that don’t need to be processed much. Here are the methods I use to freeze fruit at home.
How to Freeze Fruit at home
Before we can get to freezing, your fruit has to be processed. Different types of fruit will need to be handled differently.
Peeling and slicing
Every fruit has different needs:
- Stone fruits like peaches or apricots need to be peeled, pitted and sliced.
- Apples will need to be cored and sliced, peeled if you prefer.
- Blueberries need to be picked through for stems and bad berries, then washed (and dried if possible as this helps them to not stick together).
- Bramble fruits like blackberries and raspberries are difficult to wash well without squishing, but should be picked through and rinsed.
- Strawberries should be washed and have the greens removed. You can hull them if you like as well. Then you can either leave them whole or slice them any way you like. I usually do some sliced or quartered, and some chopped for use in things like oatmeal. Yum!
You get the idea. After your fruit gets a wash you can process it in whatever way makes the most sense for you. Don’t forget you can also freeze fruit from the store! Melon, banana, mango, pineapple, grapes, oranges, nectarines, etc.
I don’t usually add any preservatives to my fruit, but in case you want to there are a few things you can do.
If you don’t want your fruit to darken as it freezes you can soak the fruit in water with a bit of lemon juice added. You can also use an anti-darkening product like Fruit Fresh or ascorbic acid. Another option is to use sugar, by either mixing white sugar with your fruit before freezing or freezing in syrup.
Since I don’t normally use any of these methods I’m not going to go into detail about the processes. I find that fruit will taste amazing no matter what it looks like. Using preservatives won’t prevent fruit from softening after being thawed, or I might consider it.
I’d like to share with you a few different methods I use to freeze my fruit. I like to think of them as “loose-pack” and “pre-portioned.”
I’ll start with loose-pack because this is the method I use most. It is the method that allows for any kind of future use, though it’s also the most involved. With this method you’ll be able to just open a bag and pour out a few blueberries to stir into your oatmeal, use a whole bag for a pie, or anything in between.
Lay out your fruit
Loose-pack basically just involves laying out your processed fruit on cookie sheets to freeze. Make sure the fruit is touching as little as possible, because everywhere fruit touches it will freeze together. The exception to this is fruit that can be dried well like blueberries.
Once your fruit is laid out on the cookie sheet you can stick it in the freezer. I like to use my chest freezer as it provides a deep freeze at 0° F. This helps the fruit freeze really quickly, preventing further darkening. But I’ve used my regular kitchen freezer many times with no problems at all.
I usually leave my cookie sheets in the freezer overnight, or a half day if it’s in the morning. Don’t try to pack too much in your freezer at once or you can actually lower the temperature of the whole freezer and your other foods will start to thaw (I’ve done it!). For me two cookie sheets at a time works really well (plus I only have two cookie sheets). Since I know how much I’ll be freezing I can process only as much fruit as I’ll freeze in one batch.
Label your containers
Whatever method you use, you’ll want to get it labeled. I use permanent marker on freezer bags. Write down what kind of fruit it is, the date, and how much is in the bag if possible. It’s always nice to grab a bag, see that it has 3 cups of fruit in it, and know it’s just right for the pie you’re making.
This is the easy part. Your fruit is frozen solid, your containers are labeled. Now you just have to get the fruit into the containers. The wet fruit will usually stick to the cookie sheet, so I use a spatula to loosen it. Once it’s unstuck you can dump it right into the bags (measuring as you go if desired).
I usually use the spatula to scoop the fruit right into the bags. With rolling fruit like blueberries I like to find some kind of scoop. I actually use the fat catcher from my Foreman Grill for this. If you don’t have a fat catcher you can use a spoon, or a freezer tub with a flat side works well.
Another thing that I find helps my fruit last well is to get as much air as possible out of the bags before I toss them in the freezer. I use the straw trick for this. Basically you just zip you bag most of the way shut, with just a straw sticking out. Suck as much air out as you can with the straw, then quickly zip the bag closed.
Voilá! Loose-packed fruit!
The pre-portioned method is a lot simpler than loose-pack. The benefits of using this method are that you’ll know exactly how much you have, and that it’s lazy!
Choose your container
The first thing you have to decide is what amounts you want to freeze your fruit in. Once you know how much you want you’ll be able to decide what to freeze them in.
For small amounts you can use muffin tins (mini, regular, or jumbo), or any other container that works for you (not glass). If you chop your fruit small even ice cube trays can work well, and are great for smoothies!
If you are using them in recipes you’ll want to know the volume of your cubes. Generally speaking a mini muffin tin holds a few tablespoons, regular holds 1/2 cup, and jumbo holds 1 cup. You can test this with water for your particular tin to be sure of the volume.
For larger amounts you can use plastic tubs or freezer bags. I don’t recommend using glass because the fruit will freeze as a solid block and won’t come out of the jar easily.
Don’t forget to label your containers as described above, you’ll want to know what type of fruit you have, the date, and the amount in each of the cubes.
Pack em’ and stack em’
Once you’ve chosen your container and measured out your fruit, there’s really not a lot to this method. If you’re freezing in bags you can lay them flat on a cookie sheet so they’ll stack nicely after they’ve frozen. When using muffin tins or another container for small amounts, shake them out like an ice cube and toss the fruit cubes into a freezer bag or tub.
If you’re having trouble getting your cubes out of the tray it can help to set the bottom of the container in some warm water before they’ll come out. Just be careful not to let the fruit thaw much or the cubes will stick together.
Be sure to squeeze as much of the air out of the bags as possible before you seal them. You can use the straw trick from above with this method as well.
Frozen fruit should be safe in the freezer indefinitely, with only quality changing over time. If you have a deep freeze and remove as much air from the bags as possible your fruit should keep really well.
If you have any questions about food safety and freezing, check out the US Department of Agriculture Freezing and Food Safely Fact Sheet. I love their site for food safety guidelines, especially for canning.
And that’s it for freezing your own fruit! Toss those baggies in the freezer, and see how long you can wait before cracking back into them.
What’s your favorite way to use frozen fruit? I’d love to hear about it!