Frozen Berries: The Jewels of Winter

Most people keep ice cream and ready-to-bake pizzas in their freezer. Fine. (Although homemade pizza is easy and so much more delicious.) The one thing you should keep in there above all else? Berries. Yes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cranberries.

You might be wondering what’s so special about berries over other frozen fruit. Okay, keep all the fruit you want (or can fit) in your freezer. I’m not going to discourage that behavior. Frozen fruit will always come in handy.

But here’s five reasons why frozen berries are a must:

  • They are multi-purpose. Eat them raw in smoothies, bake them into muffins, pancakes, or crisps, and puree or cook them into sauces.
  • They are easy to freeze. Make sure to freeze them individually on trays. Pack the berries into freezer bags only after they’re frozen.
  • Berries don’t need to thaw before using. This makes them perfect for last-minute meal planning.
  • They are boom and bust. The fresh berry season is short. At it’s peak, market tables are overflowing with berries. Then the next week, they’re gone. Freezing berries is the easiest way to extend the bounty throughout the year.
  • Summer berries are the most delicious fruits of all. Okay, I admit, that might be a personal bias. As a kid, I ate bowls of cream and fresh raspberries from my grandfather’s garden for every meal.

Most berries are available in summer*. The season starts with strawberries, moves to raspberries and blueberries, and finally blackberries. Cranberries are the exception and come into season during autumn. Some berries even have two seasons, with a second bumper crop in late summer.

Whenever they peak, all fresh berries are ephemeral. High perishability combined with a short harvest is what makes freezing berries essential. It’s easy to take them for granted in summer when so many fresh fruits and vegetables are available. But come winter, frozen berries are jewels that promise to make winter meals shine.

Using Frozen Berries

I’ve convinced you to stock your freezer with berries, right? Now let’s talk about simple ways to use them.

Composite of Greek Yogurt With Blackberry Sauce Served With Toasts: Peanut Butter With or Without Cocoa Nibs, or Rose Apricot Spread

Plain Greek yogurt topped with blackberry sauce made from frozen berries. Served with peanut butter toast, both with and without cocoa nibs, and apricot rose spread.

The same sauce is useful for pancakes or waffles, hot cereal, and desserts, like cake and ice cream. Use frozen berries with yogurt, even without making a sauce. I often layered frozen raspberries and yogurt in a container at night. By lunchtime the next day, the berries had thawed. Stir and eat for a healthier alternative to those sugar-laden, individual yogurts.

Here I made a blueberry sauce as a filling for crepes:

Composite of Blueberry-Whole Wheat Crepes With Blueberry Sauce, Meyer Lemon, Yogurt and Cinnamon

Whole wheat crepes made with Hard White flour from Bluebird Grain Farms and blueberry powder from Bowhill Blueberries. Served with blueberry sauce made from frozen berries, plain Greek yogurt, Meyer lemon slices and cinnamon.

And then used the leftover sauce on hot cereal:

Cracked Farro Cereal With Canned Nectarines, Blueberry Sauce, Yogurt and Cinnamon

Cracked farro porridge from Bluebird Grain Farms topped with home-canned nectarines, blueberry sauce made from frozen berries, plain Greek yogurt, blueberry powder and cinnamon.

As with yogurt, you don’t have to make sauce to use berries with hot cereal. Stir them in a few minutes before it’s finished cooking. (Don’t over stir unless you want to turn your cereal a bright color.) That said, the word “sauce” overcomplicates what I actually do. Here are the simple steps to make a sauce from frozen berries:

  1. Place one or more varieties of frozen berries into a saucepan.

  2. Turn up the heat and cook until the berries start releasing some juice. Add a little water if the pan is dry.

  3. The sauce is done when it looks good to you. If you want the berries to keep their shape (like I’ve shown here), don’t cook the sauce as long. And if you want it more uniform, cook it longer.

Adding sweetener is an optional step. This could be sugar, honey, maple syrup—whatever you want. But one of the simplest ways to eat healthier is to reduce your sugar intake. (And no, replacing it with artificial sweeteners doesn’t count.) The goal is to learn to like the taste of foods that are less sweet. So taste the fruit sauce, think about what you’re serving it with, and then decide whether to sweeten it. Don’t instinctively throw in some sugar. In fact, you can use sweeter berries, like blueberries or strawberries, as a natural sugar replacement. Combine these with more tart berries for a sweet-tart balance.

And of course, the ever-popular smoothie which uses thawed or frozen berries:

Composite of Blackberry-Blueberry Smoothies With Whole Wheat Toast With Honey and Apricot Rose Spread and With Blueberry Sauce and Biscotti Crumbs

Blackberry-blueberry smoothie made with frozen berries, cashew-coconut milk, coconut oil, chia seeds, honey, cinnamon and powdered ginger. Served with whole wheat toast spread with honey and apricot rose spread (top) and as smoothie bowls with blueberry sauce and biscotti crumbs (bottom).

This is embarrassing. I have claimed a hatred of smoothie bowls in the past (though perhaps not publicly). I made the smoothie for breakfast and assumed it would thicken up into chia pudding by snacktime. I should have stirred in another spoonful of chia seeds. But I didn’t notice until I was hungry. So I ate my first smoothie bowl. Actually it was tasty. That doesn’t mean I like the concept though.

At the start of this post I mentioned baking but then gave no examples. No worries because I’ve got plenty … to be featured soon in an upcoming post about baking.

These are a few ideas. Once you have a bag of berries in your freezer, you’ll think of your own. But here’s one more since you probably have some ice cream in there. Why not try this simple dessert?

*Not sure how to buy fresh berries? Here’s some tips for getting the best. First, always buy organically-grown berries because they are difficult to wash. While you’ll see them in grocery stores, farmers markets offer better quality. For the best value, go to the market near closing time and buy half-flats. Since berries do not keep, farmers need to sell what they pick that day. During peak season, that usually means selling at a discount. I’ve gotten incredible deals this way—once I paid $26 for 1.5 flats. There’s more risk here if the weather is hot because berries are prone to spoilage. Also, early in the season, prepare to be disappointed because farmers can sell out.


If you have questions about freezing or using berries, leave me a comment.

All of the berry-ful breakfasts detailed in this post were part of my Week in Review meals for March 6–22, 2017.

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