Bear Bones Berries

It’s berry season here in zone zone 4. Strawberries, blue berries, raspberries, black berries. When the glut hits, I take advantage and stock up and preserve. Preservation doesn’t have to be hard, or tricky.

Freeze them. As easy as it sounds. You need to wash them, remove the bad ones, remove stems, toss them in a freezer bag and into the freezer. I’ve tried the Ball freezer jars, I didn’t like them. They got brittle when they froze, and of the original 4 only two survived the first year. So, my go to is still freezer bags. Cons: This uses a lot of freezer space if you try to put up enough to keep a family happy. If your freezer is powered by the grid, there are obvious problems when the grid is down.

Dry them. Again pretty easy. I found our dehydrator at a garage sale for 5$. It’s of the cheaply made, round with a hole in the middle style. I was sure I’d overpower it in a week. To my surprise it’s taken everything I’ve thrown at it. I did have to make some screens for drying the small stuff. That was as easy as tracing the outline of the tray onto a bit of window screen and cutting it out. Of course you can throw more money at the problem and buy one of the super fancy, efficient dehydrators. I won’t tell you not to, I hear good things about them, but if you don’t have the time or money, you can take the easy route and still get a lot of fruit added to your storage. My goal this summer is to try making a solar dryer with an old window, again to avoid the obvious problems of relying on grid electricity for my berry storage needs. Drying has a plus of making the fruit smaller and lighter, so it requires less storage space. I have dried berries in all our BoB’s.

Berry jam. If you want to be adventurous, this third method offers some fun challenges.  This requires sugar, a large pot, possibly some spices and lidded jars to hold the finished product in. There are lots of recipes out there for berry jams. Use them if you’re a recipe type of person. I’m not. I tried to follow recipes and I ended up with 2 years of berry syrup. Not a disaster by any means, which is a positive for this method, it’s hard to go wrong with berries and sugar. But, as soon as I started doing it by feel, I got jams that were much firmer and just as tasty. “By feel” means, I use what I have, and just cut it all up and toss it in the big pot. I pour in the sugar, dusting everything thoroughly, it’s probably between a half cup and 2 cups, depending on how much fruit I’m trying to cook. (I’m usually making small batches with around 1-3 pounds of fruit.) Once the fruit and sugar are in the pot, turn on a med or med-low heat, you want this sugary goodness to simmer down, quite a bit, until the juices are syrupy and the volume has at least halved. Once the jam feels like the right consistency, I do a few taste tests and then pour it into clean, hot jars. (Hot so that the hot preserves won’t crack the glass jar.) Don’t rush the simmer, it can take a few hours. That brings me to the con of this method, it takes a lot of heat. If done indoors it can heat up the house, if done outside, it can use a lot of fuel. Once in jars though, you could can them to seal them for longer life. Canning requires it’s own post though, so to keep it simple you can just put a lid on the hot jam and let it cool. Keep it in the fridge and it will last for a few months. If you want to get adventurous, spices like cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg go well with berries. Toss them in during the simmer for good effect.

If you like berry juice, you can often find growers with buckets full of “seconds” that they are willing to offload for sharp discounts. Also, watch for gleaning programs, some fruit growers participate in them. To make the juice, basically you just boil with a little water and sugar then strain through a cheesecloth. I find my food mills make this step easy. Berry juice is great for flavoring storage water.

Remember, stock up when they’re cheap, buying in bulk can get you cheaper prices from some growers.  I get better results with locally grown berries, less travel makes them sweeter.  And if you think you’re going to be foraging enough berries to can, hopefully the guest post yesterday has removed that silly thought from your head.    Cultivate a friendship with, and financially support the local berry growers in your area.  Growing a few canes yourself can be a lot of fun, and ahem, fruitful.