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Thursday, August 18, 2016

California Gourmet: Preserving Summer Berries (Strawberries; Bramble-berries; Currants; Huckleberries; Rosehips and more)


Golden currant (Ribes aureum): one of our tastier native berries

 
A number of native berry fruits come ripe in summer.  Many have singular flavors that truly represent the ‘taste of California’; their flavors work well in many types of recipes.   Included are the native strawberries (Fragaria species), currants and gooseberries (Ribes species), roses (rose hips – Rosa species), blueberries/huckleberries (Vaccinia species), Blackberries/raspberries/thimbleberries (Rubus species), wild grapes (Vitis species) and of course the Blue elderberry. 

We’ve already discussed the picking, preparing and saving of elderberries: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2012/08/picking-cleaning-and-processing.html.  But the others are coming in quickly, so we decided to share our experiences picking, preparing and storing some of the rest.  Here are some tips for saving the flavors of native berries and berry-like fruits.  We’ll provide recipes using these fruits in future posts.

Picking Blue elderberries
 

Picking the Fruits

First, some general rules. 

·         If possible, pick fruits that have not been sprayed with pesticides.  Many native plant gardeners never use pesticides, so this may not be a problem.  If you have used pesticides on fruits, be sure to follow the instructions on the pesticide package regarding safe use.

·         Pick only ripe, unblemished fruits.  Know what color fruits are when they a ripe (watch the birds; they will show you when a fruit is ripe),

·         If possible, pick in the morning (before 10 a.m.) when flavors are often the most intense.

Currants, gooseberries, bramble berries, blueberries

These fruits are mostly dark colored and slightly soft when ripe. Most detach easily from the branches.  Simply pull them off and drop into a bowl or small picking bucket.   If the bushes have thorns/prickles: wear long, leather rose-pruning gloves (well worth the investment).

Rose hips, strawberries

These are dark red or red-orange and slightly soft then ripe.  You can taste or smell the sweetness.  We cut off individual fruits with a kitchen scissors or light-weight pruner.

 
We cut off entire clusters of elderberries & grapes
 
Elderberries, wild grapes

These are either blue (Elderberries) or dark purple (grapes) and slightly soft when ripe.  We cut off entire clusters of fruits, put in a plastic bag, then complete the processing in the kitchen.

 

Washing native fruits using a colander
 
Preparing and Cleaning the Fruits

A few general rules:

·         Remove any twigs, leaves, etc.

·         Rinse the fruits in cool, running water.  We like to use a big, old-fashioned colander (see above).   Save the rinse water and use it to water plants in the garden (it’s perfectly safe).

·         Let the fruits drain/dry in the colander; or gently pat them dry with a paper towel

Strawberries

Remove stems and leaves from strawberries with a knife or strawberry huller. 

We wash entire clusters of grapes before removing the stems
 
Elderberries, wild grapes

For elderberries, follow the tips in our elderberry posting: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2012/08/picking-cleaning-and-processing.html.  

Wild grapes are small, soft and harder to remove from the stems. If you place the unwashed fruits in the refrigerator overnight (or even for several days), the fruits will come off easier.  We suspect that the cold triggers a chemical reaction that loosens the bond between stem and fruit.   

We’ve also found it easiest to rinse entire clumps of grapes first, before removing fruits from the stem.  Detach the fruits over a bowl or large pot; that way you’ll collect all the juice and smashed grapes as well as the whole ones.  And you will crush some!  Don’t worry; you’ll likely be making juice from them, anyway.

 

Most native fruits freeze well
 
Freezing Fruits

If you’ve room in your freezer, freezing fruits is a good way to preserve them for later use.  It’s also a good way to deal with fruits that have a prolonged ripening season (like Bramble fruits, which may have individual fruits ripening over a month or more).  Pick ripe fruits each day, then freeze them until you have enough to make jam, jelly or other product.  

Just be sure that fruits are fairly dry, place them in freezer-weight plastic bags or other freezer-safe containers, label with product and date, and freeze.  We like to double bag our fruits – helps preserve the flavor and prevent freezer burn.

When you’re ready to use the fruits, thaw and use.  Some fruits (Elderberries, Ribes species, blueberries and brambleberries) will freeze whole.  Others will be a bit mushy when thawed.  But all will be fine to use in most baked goods, jams, jellies, beverages, desserts, etc.

 

Dried fruits keep well, take little space and
 don't require refrigeration
 
 
Drying Fruits

Elderberries, currants, gooseberries, brambleberries, blueberries/huckleberries, rosehips and wild strawberries can all be preserved by drying them whole.  This is a convenient way to store fruits for future use; the flavors last for up to a year.  The dried fruits can be used for tea, ground dry (with spice grinder or mortar & pestle) for use in baked goods and desserts, or re-constitute them for use in many dishes.  

If grinding dried fruits for use in beverages or baked goods, we suggest (based on experience) that you strain out any large, hard seeds before adding the mixture to your recipe.  Use a mesh kitchen strainer; the small, good stuff will go through, leaving the seeds in the strainer (discard the seeds).

We have given detailed instructions for drying fruits in our Elderberry posting.  We use these drying methods for all the fruits discussed above.   If your strawberries or rosehips are large, you may want to cut them in half before drying.

 

Straining is the last step in making kitchen extracts
 from native fruits & berries
 

Making Kitchen Extracts

A good way to capture the flavors of summer fruits is by creating kitchen extracts.  We discussed kitchen extracts, in more detail, in a past posting: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/04/california-gourmet-making-flavored.html. Alcohol extracts can be used just like purchased extracts (vanilla extract, etc.).  Kitchen extracts allow you to create berry-flavored dishes all year long.

Creating kitchen extracts is simplicity itself.  Place cleaned, crushed fruits into a clean glass container with a lid (we use canning jars with plastic lids, but any glass jar with a lid will do).  Cover the fruit with vodka, making sure that all parts of fruit are covered (cheap vodka work just fine).  Cover and place jar in a cool dark place (like a cupboard or pantry).  If your lid is metal, place a double layer of plastic wrap over the opening before you screw on the lid.  Be sure to label the jar with the fruit type and date.

Swirl the fruits every other day.  After one week, strain out the fruits.   If you want a stronger extract, add more prepared fruits and proceed as above.   When you’ve completed the last extraction, strain out the fruits, then filter the extract though a coffee filter (our favorite) or several layers of cheese-cloth.   Bottle the extract in a clean (washed just before bottling with hot water) glass bottle, cap and label with product and date.   Store with your other extracts in a cupboard or pantry.

 

You can make delicious freezer jams or traditional jams
 using California native fruits and berries
 

Making Jams from Fresh or Frozen Fruits

Native currants, gooseberries, brambleberries, blueberries/huckleberries and wild strawberries can all be used to make delicious jams.  Just follow a standard recipe for the type of fruit you’re using.  Be sure to follow the directions carefully, particularly if canning the product.  Good instructions/recipes are available with the canning jars, with most canning pectin products, and on-line.

 

Making juice from 'Roger's Red' grapes
 

Making Juice from Fresh Fruits

All of the berries and berry-like fruits can be used to make juice.  The juice can then be drunk fresh, frozen for later use or used in cooking or making jelly or syrup.  Fortunately, making juice is really easy once the fruits have been cleaned.

Place clean fruits in a heavy saucepan (non-aluminum is best). Crush the fruits with the bottom of a glass or metal measuring cup (don’t worry about crushing them all). Add water to about ½ inch over the level of the fruits.  Heat the fruits on the stove over medium heat until the water begins to simmer.  Turn down the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the fruits have released most of their color and flavor into the water.
 

Jelly bag (jelly/juice strainer) with frame
 

Remove from heat, let cool, then strain out the skins, seeds, etc. using a jelly bag (see above), mesh strainer or several layers of cheese-cloth lining a colander.  Recycle the skins/seeds in the compost pile or as mulch in your garden.  Don’t worry about the seeds sprouting – they don’t survive the heat!

Use or store in the refrigerator (use within 3-5 days).   We prefer glass beverage containers with lids for storage.  You can also freeze the juice in freezer-proof containers for later use.

If using the juice as a beverage, you may want to add a sweetener of choice.  Taste and see – you may like it just as is.

 

Equipment we use for making jelly
 

Making Jelly from Berry Juice

Use your favorite recipe for the appropriate type of berry.  Good recipes for grape, elderberry, rose-hip, bramble-berry and other jellies are available in the pectin box or on-line.  The native fruits make fantastic, unique jellies that are great as gifts.   You may even want to combine several type of juice – or add some favorite spices like cinnamon or ginger to your jelly.  Follow the canning recipes to the letter; you don’t want your canned jelly to spoil.

 

Canned syrups from native fruits last several years
 at room temperature
 
Making Syrup from Berry Juice

Native fruit syrups are a wonderful way to preserve the tastes of summer.  They can be used in so many ways.  And you can even can them, if so desired, so they won’t need refrigeration.   We find we use the flavored syrups all the time!

We discussed making syrups in a previous posting, and refer you there: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2015/01/california-gourmet-flavored-syrups.html

 
 

Enjoy your preserved native fruits & berries! 
   They'll bring back summer, all year long
 

 

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We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at : mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

 

 

 

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