Beaucoup Blueberries

blueberries in bowlBetween June and July chances are pretty good that you can get your hands on fresh blueberries, whether from a grocery store, a farm market, or your own backyard. People increasingly like blueberries for their nutrition and health benefits, but people have liked them for a long time just because they taste so good! Whether you prefer the larger, commonly cultivated highbush blueberries or the smaller, wild lowbush blueberries, you have many options for preserving the blueberry bounty.

Canning Whole Berries

If you like to add whole berries overtop oatmeal or if you haven’t decided exactly how you’ll use them later, then you might want to simply can Berries – Whole using a boiling water canner. You have the option to add a sugar syrup or juice to further sweeten or flavor the berries, or you can just add water, as specified in the directions.

Canning Berry Syrup

Berry Syrup can be made with or without the inclusion of whole berries, as recommended in 3crushedfruitthe directions. First you will crush then strain a juice made of the berries (setting aside 1 or 2 cups of berries to add whole, if desired), then you will heat it with sugar into a thickened syrup.

Canning Blueberry Pie Filling

For a pie filling that’s ready-to-go into the oven any time of year, prepare and can Blueberry Pie Filling. For this recipe, you will need to plan ahead to make sure you have Clear Jel® available.

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Blueberry Jams

Blueberries are lower in natural pectin than is needed to form a good gel-structure, so you’ll add commercial pectin or combine blueberries with another, more pectin-rich fruit to make blueberry jams. There’s nothing wrong with a plain Blueberry Jam, but you could also try these varieties of blueberry jam jarsBlueberry Jams combined with other fruits and flavors: Blueberry-Spice Jam, Spiced Blueberry-Peach Jam, and Blueberry Currant Jam.

Freezing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA simple way to make those sweet berries last longer and remain versatile for purposes to be determined at a later time is to freeze them. Freeze blueberries using the tray pack method for best results. Blueberries freeze well even without sugar added, and then you don’t have to calculate that amount of added sugar into your final recipe if you decided to cook or bake with them. Remember these General Freezing Tips for Packaging and Labeling Frozen Foods.

Drying

Last but not least, you could dry blueberries into a lightweight trail-side snack or granola ingredient. Just be sure to puncture the side walls of the berries so that they do not trap in moisture and get case-hardened (use a toothpick to poke all the way through each berry before drying).blueberries on a dryer tray

To learn more about blueberries, visit our University of Georgia blueberry page, and for even more about blueberries, check out the national eXtension blueberry site.

Roll Up the Flavor!

P1010165Making fresh Fruit Leather is an easy way to extend the flavor of the season (and a great use for leftover fruit pulp from making jelly).  If you’re looking for something to do with your kids or grandchildren, making fruit leather roll-ups is a fun activity with tasty rewards.

What is fruit leather? Fruit leather is pureed fruit that has been poured in a thin layer and dried on a flat surface. If it is then peeled from the surface and rolled into a tube-shape, then we call it a roll-up.fruit leather rolled up

What equipment do I need to make it? In addition to whatever you need to prepare the fruit (e.g. knife and cutting board), you’ll need a blender, food processor, or food mill and

  • a dehydrator with specially designed solid plastic tray inserts, or fruit leather on tray
  • an oven that registers 140°F, cookie sheets, and plastic wrap.

Why bother making it yourself? In addition to getting to pick your favorite fruits and have fun in the process, making your own fruit leather can save you money as compared to store-bought versions. Even better, homemade fruit leather can be made without the added sugars found in commercially made varieties (although you have the option to add sugar, corn syrup, or honey to sweeten if desired).

leather roll upsWhich fruits should I use? Apples, apricots, berries (with seeds), cherries, nectarines, peaches, pears, pineapples, prune plums, and strawberries are all excellent choices for making fruit leather. Citrus fruits, cranberries, guavas, papayas, and blueberries will hold up best in combination with other fruits from the above list or applesauce. Combining applesauce with any of these fruit purees works very well to extend the product, decrease tartness and make the leather smoother and more pliable.

Are there any fruits I should not use? Avocados, currants, melons, olives, persimmons, and pomegranates are not suitable for making fruit leather because of fat content, seeds, low acidity or high moisture content.

For complete directions to make your own fruit leather and tips for adding flavor and interest with spices, flavorings, garnishes, and fillings, follow these instructions on the National Center website.

Brrrrr Berries

various frozen strawberriesDo you like berries in pies, on top of oatmeal, in baked goods, in smoothies, in sauces, or as a refreshing snack?  By following proper preparation steps, you can freeze berries so that they maintain flavor, color, and nutrients for all of these uses and more.  Remember the idea of “quality in, quality out” in selecting fully ripe, firm berries that are not too soft, under-ripe or damaged.

Depending on how you plan to use the berries, you might want to use any one of these packing methods:

A dry pack is simply placing clean berries in freezer containers, sealing the container, and freezing. Unless they are tray packed (see below), they most likely will clump together and be difficult to separate into individual berries. Note: Dry blueberries completely after rinsing, or else the moisture on the blueberry skin will cause tougher skins.

A tray pack works well to help maintain the shape of each individual berry and keeps them easy to tray pack strawberriesremove from the container and separate from each other. This method is called a tray pack because after rinsing and completely drying the berries, you spread them in a single layer on a shallow tray (like a cookie sheet), then carefully lift the tray into the freezer without causing berries to touch each other. As soon as they freeze, seal the berries in an airtight container and place them back into the freezer so they don’t get freezer burn.

Okay, we know not every source recommends washing blueberries before freezing them. It is your choice; we just like them to be as clean as possible and completely ready-to-eat when it’s time to take them out of the freezer.  But, they do need to be completely dry before freezing for best quality.

A sugar pack is like a dry pack but with one extra step – gently mix ¾ cup sugar per 1 quart (1⅓ strawberries with sugarpounds) clean berries. Let sit a short time until the juice is drawn out and the sugar dissolved before filling into freezer containers, sealing, and placing in the freezer. You can view step-by-step directions and photos for a sugar pack by selecting the PowerPoint presentation under “Strawberries” on the National Center’s ‘Freezing’ page.

A syrup pack surrounds the berries in a sweetened liquid, changing the sweetness and texture of the berries quite noticeably. Based on the natural sweetness of the berries and your own preference, you can decide the proportion of sugar to water from very light syrup (10% sugar) to very heavy syrup (50% sugar). More tart berries may produce the most desirable flavor from using a 40%-50% syrup. Exact proportions for the range of syrups are listed on this Syrups chart, along with directions to make the syrup and notes about replacing part of the sugar with corn syrup or honey.

Crushed or puréed is an option for berries like blueberries and huckleberries that you might use an ingredient in other recipes. The berries can be crushed, pressed through a fine sieve or puréed in a blender or food processor. Mix 1 cup (or 1⅛ cups) sugar with each quart (2 pounds) of crushed or puréed berries.

If you add sugar to the berries before freezing (as in the sugar pack, syrup pack, or crushed/puréed), then label the container with exactly how much sugar you add, so that you can include that quantity as part of the amount of sugar called for on the ingredient list of your final product recipe.  If you know you will use your berries for a jam or other recipe, you can mix just the right amount of fruit and sugar together before freezing.

For all types of pack, remember to leave at least ½-inch headspace (more for some styles of pack; see chart for exact measurements) between the berries and the lid of each container so that the containers don’t break open while expanding in the freezer. Also make sure the sealing surfaces of your lid and bottom are completely clean and dry, if you don’t use a plastic bag. Any trapped food, sugar or syrup can expand when frozen and separate the tight seal that should be in place.

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Fresh, Not Frozen

frozen lettuceSome foods just don’t freeze as well as others. Why not? Crispy, crunchy fruits and veggies like celery, lettuce, cucumbers, and apples that we usually eat raw are more likely to disappoint when frozen because they will be much softer and limp when thawed. These foods have high water content combined with fragile cell walls in their tissue, and when they are frozen the water expands, breaking cell walls and turning the texture to mush. Similarly, citrus fruits, watermelon, grapes, and tender-leafed herbs like basil also become unpleasantly mushy after thawing. (Frozen grapes, however, are worth trying as a sweet frozen treat, yum!)grapes

Cooking fruits and vegetables also softens cell walls, so foods that we are used to eating cooked are good candidates for freezing, such as tomatoes (so long as you aren’t planning to slice them onto a sandwich after freezing).

High-starch vegetables like corn, peas, and lima beans are less affected by textural changes from freezing.DSC_0122

Undesirable flavor changes also occur in some foods when they are frozen. Green peppers and garlic become overly strong and even bitter, whereas onion tends to lose flavor. Spices and seasonings may also be affected; for example, cloves, pepper, and celery seasoning get stronger and bitter, curry develops and off-flavor, and salt loses flavor. Adding salt also runs the risk of increasing rancidity if added to foods containing fat. To avoid these flavor changes, season prepared foods when reheating for serving instead of prior to freezing, or just season them lightly before freezing.

For much more information about freezing foods, visit the NCHFP website, General Freezing Information.