Tips for Freezing Strawberries

It’s June, which means strawberries are in season here in West Michigan! Nothing beats a freshly picked strawberry, still warm from the sun. If you are like us and want to enjoy a bit of that amazing strawberry goodness all year round, try freezing strawberries. Whether you’re freezing several flats (which is 8 quarts of strawberries) or a few pints at a time, here are some tips to save you a bit of time (and frustration), in the kitchen.

1. Don’t wait too long to freeze them- Strawberries don’t keep for too long before they get moldy and mushy, especially if they are very ripe when picked. Pick or buy your strawberries on a day when you know you will plenty of time to wash, trim and freeze them. If you didn’t pick the strawberries yourself, ask when they were picked. If they were picked the same day, you can buy yourself a little extra time. If you’re not going to use them right away, or you want to save some to eat fresh later on, try soaking them in a solution of 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar. This will help keep your berries fresher for a little longer.

2. Set Up Your Prep Station- Trust me, starting with the right set up will make all the difference in the world. I always make sure everything is close in proximity. Starting on the left, have your washed strawberries. Next, a bowl for the tops or over ripe strawberries. After that either a bowl for your trimmed strawberries or, save yourself a step and put them right on the tray you will freeze them on. I like to use large stainless steel mixing bowls because they are easy to clean, hold a lot and stow away nicely if you buy the nesting bowls. I picked up mine years ago at Sam’s Club and use them for everything. I also love my large strainer that fits over the sink. You can purchase one like this on Amazon, or I always have luck finding good quality strainers at TJ Maxx or Home Goods.

3. Lining Your Trays for Freezing- I’ve used a variety of things to line my cookie sheets for freezing fruits and veggies. You can use wax paper or parchment paper for the task. One “greener” solution is using silicone baking mats like these. I have one that’s a Silpat mat, which I highly recommend if you also want a good quality liner for baking. If not, a cheaper version will do. I like that they are non-stick and flexible so you can pick up the sides and pour the strawberries into your bags. Another green tip is using kitchen towels to line your trays. You can gather the corners of the towel and dump the frozen fruit into a bag. When you’re ready to get those strawberries on the trays, make sure they are in single layer, otherwise they will freeze in one big blob.

4. Stacking Your Trays- The biggest problem with freezing fruits and veggies is having the space in the freezer to put the trays. Here a simple solution for getting more trays in your freezer at once: Stackable cooling racks! I put my bigger trays on the bottom, move some berries around to fit the cooling rack on the tray, then put a second tray on top. This helps to utilize the vertical space in your freezer. (And in case you’re wondering, we have a separate fridge/freezer we bought at the Restore a few years ago that we clear out during the summer months for this purpose. We store some….uh…adult beverages for helping with the process in the fridge, along with any large harvests or produce purchases that won’t easily fit in our main fridge).

5. Bagging Your Berries– I generally fill up gallon sized bags since we use our strawberries a variety of different ways. But a little time saving tip if you know you will use a certain recipe later on, freeze the berries in the quantity you will use. For example, if your favorite jam recipe calls for 3 cups of strawberries, measure out 3 cups into each bag and label it. Or if you know you will use your strawberries for a smoothie recipe, mix your strawberries with other frozen fruit to make prep work easier when you go to make your smoothie. This tip also applies to freezing veggies. You may consider freezing veggies and blending them for a stir fry mix. Either way, remember you can wash out those plastic bags when you are done and recycle them anywhere plastic grocery bags are accepted.

img_1180-17357241242535958540.jpgI hope these 5 tips help you save some time in the kitchen when you’re freezing some farm fresh local strawberries! Not sure where to buy fresh, West Michigan Strawberries? Check out my list of places where you can either pick strawberries or buy them pre-picked. The same page features some of our favorite recipes using strawberries!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

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Rhubarb

One of the first things to pop up through the newly thawed spring ground is the perennial vegetable, rhubarb. I have to admit, the last year was the first time I had tried rhubarb. I saw it at the farmers market and decided to figure out later what to do with it. It turns out, rhubarb is a delightful addition to many jams!

One thing I quickly learned to love about rhubarb (sorry, friends, not a fan of the raw taste), was what a great “filler” rhubarb is for jams. Instead of using all strawberries or all blueberries, which can get costly, I used rhubarb to add some bulk and the perfect amount of tartness to the jams I made. I found a delicious strawberry rhubarb jam in this Ball Canning cookbook. The jam is a big hit in our household, so I will be making many batches this year.

The only thing I don’t like about rhubarb, other than the raw taste, is how early it’s ready compared to the fruits I wanted to use for jam. Fear not, my fresh preserving friends. I have a few solutions for this problem: use your freezer to help out. First, you can buy rhubarb in bulk and then freeze it until other fruits come in season. Or, if you plan well enough, you can buy enough fruit when it’s in season, freeze it, then have it on hand the next spring when rhubarb comes up. By some odd luck, this happened this year, which made me quite happy as I could start making some strawberry rhubarb jam while the temperatures were still mild.

If you’re wondering how to freeze rhubarb, wonder no more. It’s really as simple as rinsing, chopping and freezing. For the freezing part, put either some wax paper or a dish towel on a cookie sheet and spread the rhubarb into a thin layer. Make sure the pieces aren’t piled up, as they will freeze into a big ball. I like to use dish towels to save from wasting anything that will just go in the trash, especially because I put up a LOT of fruits and veggies every season. You can also use silicone baking mats like these for this as well, for another greener alternative to wax paper. Place the sheet in the freeze until frozen, then pop that frozen rhubarb in a Ziploc bag or another freezer safe container. (One caution though: the leaves are NOT edible. You will notice most places that sell rhubarb have already taken the leaves off for you. If you grow your own rhubarb or receive some from a kind friend, remove the leaves before chopping up the rhubarb.)

I’m still exploring the many uses of rhubarb, but I’ve come across some delicious looking recipes! Apparently you can make a drink with strawberries, rhubarb and gin. Yes, please! And others use rhubarb in pies, muffins and other desserts. As I try out more recipes, I will be sure to share them with you.

Do you have a favorite rhubarb recipe? Share in the comments below and I will add it to my list!

This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click on a link and choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Asparagus Season is Here!

A moment many Michiganers have been patiently waiting for: when those spears first start popping up through the ground. The appearance of asparagus in roadside stands and markets signifies the start of the growing season, which is cause for celebration, if you ask me. And here in West Michigan, people go gaga over the stuff. Case in point is the National Asparagus Festival in Hart, Michigan, where you can taste asparagus prepared in a variety of different ways, see the crowning of the Asparagus Queen and take a tour of an asparagus farm.

Luckily for Western Michiganers, you don’t have to go far to find fresh, locally grown asparagus. Roadside stands are popping up all over the place with the delicious green spears. Below you will find a list of places you can find asparagus. I didn’t include the weekly farmer’s market because it’s a given you will find whatever is in season there. If you know of any more locations selling local asparagus, comment below, email me or find me on Facebook.

Places to Buy Local Asparagus:

  • Roadside stand on White Lake Drive between Whitehall Rd and Durham Road
  • Roadside stand near intersection of Fruitvale Rd and Old 31 in Montague
  • Post Rd and Lamos Rd in Montague
  • Webster Rd just west of Old 31
  • Bishop Farm in Whitehall, Michigan

McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm

 

Last Saturday, my family decided to finally find Ryke’s bakery after our trip to the Muskegon Farmer’s Market. Driving down Laketon Avenue, we saw a bustling neighborhood with cars turning left and right, family homes, businesses, a hospital. Then, wait! Is that a greenhouse? It sure is! There, seemingly in the hospital parking lot, sits a small urban farm, right smack dab in the middle of all of this urban hustle and bustle. That urban farm is McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, situated in the McLaughlin neighborhood of Muskegon.

After driving past this curious little farm, I couldn’t wait to meet farm manager Laurie Wieschowski and see what was growing at “McGrows”. I wasn’t sure what to expect given I was visiting a farm in March. But, oh my, is that farm already well on it’s way to a glorious growing season. Laurie first showed me their hoop house, where garlic and collard greens happily thrived and others rows were being prepped for planting. There I met Gage, the assistant farm manager, and Brietta, a member of YEP, a local youth leadership program who were both setting up irrigation lines.

 

 

Next I toured the green house where trays of microgreens, onions and leeks were soaking in the warmth of the green house. There Laurie told me how the farm works for the community that surrounds them, providing a “food forest” in front where anyone can come pick and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and a children’s garden within the farm’s fences, with colorful raised beds that will soon be filled with fruit and vegetable plants kids can sample from. Laurie told me about how McGrows welcomes all, from preschool and school age children learning about growing a garden, to youth in the Youth Empowerment Project, learning the ins and outs of running an urban farm. Laurie also told stories of people who volunteer at the farm and keep coming back because they love it so much.

 

What captivated me the most about McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm was not just the plants growing in the hoop house and green house (although they were stunning), but more importantly, the stories. Brietta moved me with her story about starting at McGrows because she saw a flyer at school saying if she finished the program mentioned in the flyer, she would receive money. Very enticing, indeed. But she said she stayed because she loved seeing not just the plants growing around her but the relationships as well. How youth like her would start at the farm, unsure of getting their hands dirty. As the plants grew, so did their relationships with each other, their friendships, their confidence, their leadership skills, their connection to the plants they watched sprout up and produce healthy fruits and vegetables for the community around them.

Her story brought a tear to my eye because I could feel how important and powerful this farm was to many people in the community. Even though not much was in bloom at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm during my visit, what’s always growing there year round is an honest, sincere and inspiring sense of a community coming together, getting their hands dirty and growing more than just food.

Next time you are at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market, stop at the McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm table and buy their greens and produce and herbs and whatever they have. (I’ve had their microgreens. Delicious!). When you invest in their food, you are investing in a community, in opportunities for our youth and the community to engage in growing high quality sustainable food.

And why stop at buying a bag of their delectable microgreens? Sign up for the CSA program and receive a weekly share of this urban farms harvest. Check out their website to see the variety of CSA programs McGrows offers.

Thank you, McLaughlin Grows Urban Farms for letting me visit! I cannot wait to come back and share your inspiring farm with my family.

Lundell Farms

One great pleasure in life is watching people talk about something they are passionate about. That thing that gets them out of bed in the morning, the thing that lights up their eyes, the thing that’s hard work but worth every moment spent on it. The thing that’s close to their hearts and they want to share with everyone around them.

That is exactly what I saw when my family and I visited Lundell Farms yesterday, which is just south of Whitehall in North Muskegon. Lori and John have such a passion and dedication for raising and growing the best quality foods they can, and proof of this is not just in their words but in their actions. We saw first hand how well they treat their animals, from the green house where they grow their own fodder to provide nutrient dense greens to their animals, to their awesome dog/farm hand Ranger who guards “his” animals with tremendous dedication (You can see his attentiveness in the photo below. He wasn’t taking his eyes off those small humans running around, just in case).

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Lundell Farms started with Lori and John wanting to grow and raise healthy, nutrient rich food for themselves. Slowly, they added on to their farm, clearing the woods to make way for a barn, pasture for their animals, and a garden for fruits and vegetables. John even planed some of the trees he cleared to use in the construction of their barn. In talking to Lori, I appreciated her honesty about how they care for their animals every step of the way to ensure not only the best quality meats for their customers, but also to ensure their animals live a healthy and happy life each day on the farm.

 

Lundell Farms believes in being good stewards to the land. For this reason, they grow their produce without using synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, making certain they can offer their customers high quality foods that are not only good for your health, but also good for Mother Nature. (Read more below and at the Lundell Farms website).

All of our produce is raised organically.  We start the natural process by being stewards to the land.  We continually work to improve our soil with organic matter.  On all of our property we refrain from using any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.  We spend plenty of hours weeding!  We compost the manure from our animals and use that as soil builder and fertilizer.  Our produce is started by using a majority of heirloom seeds from varieties that have been handed down for generations.  Heirloom varieties are never Genetically Modified and are known for their exceptional flavor.  They do not always look perfect like what you may be used to in the grocery store, but once you taste them, you will see why we believe heirloom is the way to go!
These are the practices that, we believe, gives our product a superior quality and flavor.

Before we left, Lori showed me the seedlings she is growing in their greenhouse, awaiting the arrival of spring and their new life in the garden. For customers who believe in what the Lundell’s do, Lundell Farms offers a CSA Program, which lasts 18 weeks and offers customers a portion of their wonderful produce each week for as little as around $20 a week for a family of four or $11 a week for a family of two. Read more about what they offer their CSA customers on their website. Lundell Farms also offers pork, lamb, turkey, chicken and eggs. Check out their website for more information on ordering meat from their farm.

My family and I enjoyed our visit to Lundell farms, so much so that my boys did not want to leave; they were having too much fun learning about the animals and stomping in the mud puddles. We look forward to returning this spring and summer to enjoy the delicious goodness available for purchase from Lundell Farms. Until then, thanks, Lundell’s for sharing your beautiful farm with us!

 

 

The Smoothie that Keeps on Giving

Last year I read a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. In it, the author details the journey her family took in living a year of eating only locally grown and raised foods. Of course, each family member was allowed to pick a food item that would be their “exception food”. Mine would for sure be coffee! Being a mom of 2 boys, I cannot function without coffee. Reading this book made me wonder what changes my family could make to eat “closer to home”. I admit, the winters are difficult when we have a picky eater who actually likes raw, fresh veggies and turns his nose to steamed or canned veggies.

My husband and I decided we would stock up on whatever we could when things came into season, and stored these for the winter season. When I compared prices to what we could pay in the grocery store, I found the prices we paid at the grocery store were actually about the same as buying direct from the farmer.

 

We started with picking strawberries from Scholl farms in Montague. Since our boys tapped out early while strawberry picking, we ordered the rest through Stibitz farm. We ended up with 7 flats of strawberries in the freezer. The next fruit in season was cherries and we picked 60 lbs of cherries at Gavin Orchards in Coopersville. Last we picked blueberries at Palmer’s in Whitehall. Okay, the boys didn’t last long enough for us to pick a years supply, so we went back to purchase prepicked blueberries. I have to say, it’s March now and we still have a great supply of those fruits, plus the jams we made from them.

How does this make for a smoothie that keeps on giving? Because when we chose to buy all our fruit local, we helped the families who own these farms. When they make money, they have the opportunity to spend their money in our community as well. Buying from local sources also gives local farmers more money to possibly expand their operation, hire more employees, or update their equipment. The money stays here in our community, building up a healthy local economy. Everyone wins.

We didn’t stop with these fruits. We also stocked up on peaches, pears and apples, green beans, broccoli,corn, tomatoes and cabbage for sauerkraut, and even plums for a canned Asian plum sauce.

 

You might be thinking,”How much did that cost upfront?” Yes, buying 60 lbs of cherries at once isn’t cheap. But when my husband and I committed to buying this way early in the year, we also decided on ways we could cut back so we would have room in our budget for the bulk purchases. For example, not eating out as much, making more foods from scratch, eating simpler meals and learning to use what we already had in the pantry.

Even though we spent a lot of money up front on bulk fruits and veggies, we found our grocery bill during the winter went down considerably. We weren’t making as many trips to the grocery store which not only saved on gas, and time, but also meant we weren’t wandering around the grocery store,buying things we didn’t need. And you know what that means? We don’t have to cut back as much this year as we prepare to shop this way again! Now we have MORE money available to eat out at our favorite local restaurants! Which means an even bigger local win!

Come back throughout the year to follow my family as we once again buy as much local produce as we can, and share ways we put up the food for the winter when local food is hard to find.

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In the meantime, let me entice you with this “rainbow smoothie” using the cherries, strawberries, blueberries and spinach we have in our freezer from last year’s growing season. Even in writing this, I’ve decided to make changes. I’ve come across a great family farm called Small House Farm that makes their own ground flaxseed meal. I plan to swap out my store bought flaxseed with their ground flaxseed. Oh, and I should say, I say “recipe” but it’s very versatile, based on whatever fruit we have left. I do, however, stand firm in using a juice that’s acidic like orange juice for the base. Otherwise you get a smoothie that’s a little overwhelmingly sweet. I will let you know if I find a good substitute for orange juice. I also don’t skip the frozen banana. I’ve tried other foods, but the smoothie is much creamier in texture with the banana in it. Until then, for me it’s worth it to keep those non-local ingredients since my kids will actually drink it.

Rainbow Smoothie Recipe

(makes 3-4 servings)

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup cherries
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • A handful of frozen spinach
  • 1 cup other liquid (water, coconut water, almond milk, or other juice)
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 2 T. Ground flaxseed
  • 1-2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

Blend until desired consistency.

Notes on kitchen products:

We love this blender. We tend to destroy our small appliances since we use them so frequently. I like that this one has a glass pitcher that won’t stain. And you can buy replacement pieces easily online. It made this blender a good economical purchase for us, especially compared to the much more expensive blenders you can find on the market these days. This one is awesome for the price. Best part is the “Frozen drink” setting. You know, just for the smoothies. (Wink wink, nudge nudge).

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I recently purchased these straws from Seraphina’s kitchen because I hate using disposable straws and it drives me batty when my kids chew on and ruin straws. These straws are awesome because if you’re kids do chew on the end, you can cut that part off! If you don’t like the bend in the straw,you can cut the bend off. They also come with little brushes to clean the inside of the straw!! Then you know the inside is actually getting clean.

This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you should make a purchase, at no cost to you. 

Maple Balsamic Roasted Carrots

One vegetable you can buy from a local source year round is the humble carrot. Head out to the Muskegon Farmers Market on a Saturday morning (YES! They still have the market in the winter. Inside, of course) and you will be delighted with the variety of local produce available from one of our favorite vendors, Crisp Country Acres. Luckily for me, my children can’t get enough carrots, so we love the year round availability of this tasty and versatile root vegetable.

One way to turn carrots into a delicious and nutritious weeknight side is to prepare maple balsamic roasted carrots. Roasting carrots with balsamic vinegar and pure maple syrup brings out the sweetness in the carrots, almost resembling a sweet potato, minus some of the carbs. I will tell you this:my youngest gobbled these up at dinner, disregarding table etiquette and eating them with his fingers. He even said,”Yum!” People, if this picky eater says,”Yum!” I’m pretty sure they will please every palette imaginable.

To get this side dish on the table faster, I prep a bunch of veggies on the weekend. This also makes packing lunches and making dinner salads a lot faster. A tip for keeping the prepped veggies fresher for longer: these Rubbermaid Freshworks Produce Saver containers. By some packaging miracle (that I’m sure my packaging engineer husband can explain a whole lot better than I can), the veggies really do keep for longer. Better on the wallet and better on the garbage can. If veggies are prepped in the fridge, my family actually eats them. It’s an amazing thing.

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Once you have grabbed your carrots, toss them in the balsamic vinegar, pure maple syrup, and olive oil.  Using good quality pure maple syrup really gives these carrots a special flavor and sweetness. Spread the carrots on a foil lined pan and pop them in the oven at 425 degrees for 15 min. After 15 minutes, flip them over and let them cook for another 10-15 min or until cooked through.

These carrots are great with pork chops or ham, and even better with some homemade apple sauce or warm cinnamon apples. You can even use this recipe around the holidays in place of your calorie laden sweet potato recipe, since they offer that same sweetness as a sweet potato, but are easier on the waistline.

Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Medium Carrots
  • 1/4 Olive Oil
  • 3 T. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 T. Pure Maple Syrup
  • Salt to Taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Peel and cut carrots into spears (if you haven’t already). Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup to a bowl. Add carrots to the bowl and toss in the olive oil, vinegar, syrup mixture until evenly coated. Place carrots on the lined pan. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cook for 15 minutes in the oven. Remove the pan from over and flip the carrots over. Return the pan to the over for 10-15 more minutes, or until carrots are cooked thoroughly.

Enjoy! 

Don’t forget to leave a comment below if you loved this recipe.

This post may contain affiliate links which may earn me commission if you choose to make a purchase, at no extra cost to you.