Best Food Forward: Preserving summer berries

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The berry season is upon us. First were the strawberries, now raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and many kinds of wild berries such as Oregon grapes, gooseberries and huckleberries.

Canned Blackberry Pie Filling

Yield: 7 quart jars of filling

6 quarts fresh blackberries

7 cups sugar

1¾ cup ClearJel

1 teaspoon cinnamon

9⅓ cups water or juice

½ cup lemon juice

Mix ClearJel, sugar and cinnamon well in large pan. Add water and juice and mix until smooth. Heat until mixture bubbles, stirring constantly. Add berries and fold in. Remove from heat. Fill seven quart jars, leaving 1 inch head space. Process in boiling water-bath canner 35 minutes.

Syrup from Fruit Puree

Source: WSU Publication EB 0976 – Syrups from Washington Fruits

12 cups boiling water

4 cups ripe fruit or frozen, unsweetened fruit, crushed

4 cups sugar

½ package or less of powdered pectin

3-4 tablespoons lemon juice

Sort, stem and wash ripe fruit or thaw frozen, unsweetened fruit; crush fruit thoroughly, and measure it. Add 12 cups boiling water to 4 cups crushed fruit and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to soften, about 5 minutes for soft fruits and about 10 minutes for fruits like cherries and grapes. Press through a sieve.

Mix 4 cups of the puree with the sugar, pectin and lemon juice.

Bring to boil and stir for 2 minutes or until jelly thermometer registers 218 F.

Remove from heat, skim off foam, and pour into ½ pint or pint canning jars to within ½ inch of top.

Adjust lids and process in boiling water-bath canner for 10 minutes.

This is such a glorious time of year for the small sweet berries and the products you can make with them. The berries are wonderful fresh, but if you are like me you want to preserve some of that summer taste for cooler winter months.

Purchase or harvest berries in the morning. Keep them refrigerated until you are ready to eat them or preserve them. Berries that are warm are softer and will spoil more quickly.

All berries freeze pretty well. If you plan to freeze the berries, do so as soon after picking as possible. Wash them well in cool running water and then dry and drain well. Get as much of the water off the berries as possible. Extra water will form large ice crystals and soften the berries.

Freeze whole berries by placing them on a cookie sheet and placing the cookie sheet in the freezer. As soon as they have frozen solid, package them in freezer bags or containers. Do not use plastic storage bags or containers. They are not air- or moisture-tight and will not protect the flavor or prevent freezer burn.

Blueberries, elderberries and huckleberries have a skin on them that can become tough when frozen. You may want to consider steaming these berries for 1 minute and then cooling immediately in ice water. This will tenderize the skin. When freezing them, just barely cover them with medium syrup (3 cups sugar to 4 cups water).

If you plan to sweeten the berries before freezing, place cleaned berries in a shallow baking pan. Sprinkle sugar on them and gently mix. The shallow pan allows the berries to lie in single or double layers and prevents them from getting crushed in the mixing. Then place sugared berries in the freezer bags or containers and freeze.

For crushed or pureed berries, sort, wash and drain. Crush berries and add sugar to taste. Stir gently until the sugar is dissolved, pack into containers, seal and freeze.

Jams and Jellies

Outside of freezing, the most popular preserved products to make with berries are jams and jellies.

To make successful jellied products, you need sugar, acid and pectin. When these ingredients are used in the correct proportions they form a gel that holds the fruit pieces, puree or juice in a thickened jam or jelly.

Because the proportions are so crucial, you should never double a recipe for jams or jellies.

It takes a lot of sugar to form a gel. If you use too little, you will end up with syrup or a very soft gel. If you use too much, sugar may not dissolve. These crystals will leave a sandy or gritty feel in the mouth.

If you want to make a low-sugar jam or jelly, be sure to use a pectin product for low sugar or sugarless jams and jellies. The pectin is designed to gel the fruit with less or no sugar. Many of them are formulated to use with artificial sugar products as well.

Jams and jellies are most successful if you use commercial pectin and a mixture of over-ripe and under-ripe berries. The under-ripe berries provide more of the natural pectin, and the over-ripe berries provide added flavor.

Berries, especially strawberries, have more natural pectin early in the season. So jams and jellies that are made later may need a little more pectin or more under-ripe berries to set up.

Lastly, don’t forget to process all pints and half-pint jams and jellies in a boiling water-bath canner for 10 minutes.

Syrups

Many of us may have syrups on our shelves that were jams gone wrong. Some people, however, intentionally make syrups that have great flavor, color and consistency. Syrups can be made with or without pectin and lemon juice. Lemon juice may improve the color. Pectin is used to control the consistency of the syrup.

Syrups can be made with fruit puree or with fruit juice. Those made with fruit juice can be from fresh fruit in which the juice has been extracted or from commercial juices. If you use commercial juices, you should use some pectin.

Syrups do need to be processed for 10 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner in pints or half pint jars.

Pie fillings

Berries can also be made into pie fillings that are heat-processed or frozen. This allows you to make a quick pie in the winter to remind you of summer.

Clear Jel should be used in pie fillings that you are going to preserve using a water-bath canner. It makes a nice clear, thick filling that preserves well and, if frozen, doesn’t separate when thawed for serving.

Each canned quart of fruit filling makes one 8-inch to 9-inch pie. Fillings can also be used as toppings on desserts or pastries.

We recommend that you first make a single quart of filling, make a pie with it, and serve it. Then adjust the sugar or spices in the recipe to suit your personal preferences. The amount of lemon juice should not be altered, because it aids in ensuring the safety and storage stability of the fillings.

If you have questions about preserving food or food safety, call the Food Safety and Preservation Hotline at 360-397-6060 ext 5366 and leave a message for the Master Food Preserver. Also, check out our website — http://clark.wsu.edu — for upcoming classes and gauge-testing events!

Sandra Brown is the food safety and nutrition expert for the Washington State University Cooperative Extension in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. Reach her at 360-397-6060, ext. 7712 or browns@wsu.edu. The WSU Cooperative Extension in Clark County is at 11104 N.E. 149th St., Building C-100, Brush Prairie, WA 98606.