Freezing strawberries

When local strawberries appear in markets, and you buy more than you can use before they spoil, what do you do?

Maybe you make jam, pie or toss a shortcake party for two dozen friends. Or you freeze them.

You can freeze them whole, sliced, crushed, pureed, with or without sugar. Use frozen berries within a month for the best quality, said Elizabeth Andress, a University of Georgia professor who oversees the National Center for Home Food Preservation, a USDA-funded Web site (uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze.html).

Berries frozen "dry" (without sugar) will retain a good shape, but only "if you use them while they still have a little icy texture."

Gather: Pick glossy, ripe berries; they won't ripen after picking. Avoid bruised or mushy fruit. Refrigerate them unwashed.

Prep: Rinse with cool running water; drain in sieve. Pat dry with paper towels. Remove caps. Halve large berries.

Dry: Freeze berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet until firm. Put into freezer bags.

Sugar: Sprinkle ¾ cup sugar over a quart of prepared berries; mix gently. Let sugar dissolve (15 minutes); use the juice that forms to cover the berries. Use for smoothies, pies and sauces.

Pack: Put prepared fruit in freezer containers, label and store. "Your freezer should be at 0 degrees or lower," Andress said. Use small packages.

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