Berry Juice

I am up to my elbows in berries. I am not complaining. I don’t know what things are like at your house when it comes to berries, but at my house, we love them. We grow strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, and have access to local blueberries. I do freeze a lot of berries for winter use (It is super easy — click here to see how!) . I also make jam, conserves, and preserves. One more method of preserving berries is to make juice. Berry juice (especially blueberry juice) seems to be a hot health food item again. Berry juice is full of antioxidants and vitamins. However, if you purchase it in a store, it may also be full of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup.

Once you make the juice, you can freeze what you are not going to use immediately. There is no sweetener added when you first make the juice, so you can sweeten to taste, depending upon the sweetness of the berries using you sweetener of choice!

There are many “camps” when it comes to sweeteners and overall health. Most people agree that refined sugar is not very good for you, but what to use and alternative? There are as many options as there are opinions. As I always say, do your research and make an informed decision based on what seems best to you.

The Method

  1. In a large non-reacitve pot, put equal amounts of berries and filtered water.
  2. Bring the water up to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, mashing the berries as much as possible. Turn off the heat.

Straining Techniques

Using a funnel:

  • Put a large funnel over a container large enough to hold the amount of liquid in the pot.
  • Line the funnel with a coffee filter, multiple layers of cheese cloth, or a clean piece of old cotton sheet (I have several pieces from old cotton sheets that I use for this purpose).
  • Using a ladle, transfer the contents of the pot to the container. As the funnel empties, add more liquid. You may need to change the coffee filter/empty the berry mash from the cloth periodically.
  • BE PATIENT! This takes a while. Do not press the contents of the funnel. You could end of with bits of berry in the juice and may result in a cloudy final appearance.

Using a Sieve (mesh strainer):

  • Put a sieve over a container large enough to hold the amount of liquid in the pot.
  • Line the sieve with multiple layers of cheese cloth, or a clean piece of old cotton sheet (I have several pieces from old cotton sheets that I use for this purpose).
  • Using a ladle, transfer the contents of the pot to the sieve.
  • BE PATIENT! This takes a while. Do not press the contents of the sieve. You could end of with bits of berry in the juice and may result in a cloudy final appearance.

Finishing

Once you have strained out the mash, you have concentrated juice. It is all berry juice, and since most berries are tart, you need to taste it and adjust the sweetness. If you are going to use the juice right away, sweeten with your preferred sweetener.

If you are going to freeze the juice, choose containers of a size that will allow you to use all of what you are defrosting (for example, if you want to have enough juice for four servings at a time, choose a quart sized container rather than something larger). Be sure the containers you are using a freezer-safe. Label the containers with the contents and the date you are putting it in the freezer. Distribute the juice among your containers and be sure to leave 1 inch of headspace at the top of the container. DO NOT OVERFILL! When you defrost the juice, add sweetener to taste.

If I have a little more juice than will comfortable fit in the containers, I make ice cubes out of it and add them to smoothies, and sometimes sauces. But that is fodder for another post!

Using the Juice

Some people like the juice in this concentrated form. If that is you, go for it! If you are like me, I think it is a bit much and prefer it diluted, so I add water or seltzer.

The juice can also be used to make jelly, following the instructions on your preferred package of pectin.

Blueberry Conserve/Preserve

It isn’t every day and anyone ends up with more blueberries than she ever imagined would be sitting in her kitchen.  But that is where I found myself this year after having the excellent luck of a friend offering for me to pick at his family’s blueberry patch because nobody else would be using them.  I froze many for the winter.  I dried many more for the winter.  I then decided that maybe I would make some preserves and I tried a little experiment.  This takes a lot of blueberries and does not yield a lot of preserves.  However, the upside is that it uses only enough sugar to balance the tartness of your blueberries.  This is more of a technique than a recipe, and you can substitue any type of berries, or blend of berries.

The Technique

Put enough blueberries in a stainless steel (non-reactive) pot to fill about half way. Add about an inch or two of water and the juice of one lemon.  This will help prevent scorching as you begin to cook the berries.  Over medium heat, bring the berries up to a low boil.  Reduce the heat to low simmer, stirring frequently, until they have decreased in volume by about a third.  The fruit will be mushy and the mixture will look runny.  Add more blueberries until you have a little more than the original volume in the pot.  Cook these down until the volume decreases by one third.  Repeat the process until you have use all of your berries.

At this point, you need to watch the berries carefully and stir the pot a lot to prevent scorching.  Continue cooking the berries until mass becomes thick and spreadable.  If you are using honey to sweeten this, remove the preserves from the heat and add the honey to taste.  If you are using sugar or other sweetener, add it to taste, and continue stirring until all of the sweetener is dissolved.

Put the hot preserve into freezer-safe jars*, and cap it.  When it has cooled, put the preserve in the freezer, or store in the refrigerator, where it generally keeps well for 3-4 weeks.  Once it is defrosted, the jam keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.

Freezing Jars

Glass jars may crack in the freezer, so take some precautions:

  1. Use freezer-safe jars! These have straight sides (“jelly jars,” regular mouth half pints, wide mouth half pints, wide mouth pints).
  2. Leave more “head space” at the top of the jar.  When liquids freeze, they expand — the reason ice floats in your drink is because between the temperatures of 34 F and 32 F, water actually expands as its structure changes from liquid to solid.  Therefore, whatever you are freezing will take up more space in the jar than it did as a liquid.  If you do not give the liquid room to expand, it will break the jar as it freeezes.
  3. Be sure that the jar is completely cooled before moving it to the freezer.  I do this by allowing the contents to come to room temperature and then putting it in the refrigerator overnight before moving it to the freezer.

*Not all canning jars are freezer safe, so read the label of the case to be sure.

Foraging in my Yard

It has been a while since I had time to work on my blog, which was a sadness.  But now Summer has begun and with it a bit more flexibility in my schedule.  For the past few days, I found myself awake at 4:30 AM, not able to fall back to sleep, but not thinking about lesson plans or Student Growth Objectives, which is a nice change.  Instead I was thinking about blog posts, berry picking, staking tomatoes, and what to do with the mint that had gotten out of control!

Clearing Space

I have two varieties of mint growing on the side of my house: peppermint and spearmint.  They seem to get along with the raspberries, but this year, when I went out to start picking, I couldn’t get down the rows because the mint was out of control.  I started pulling it out and ended up with three enormous bunches of mint.  It hurt my heart to just throw them in with the chickens, and then I had the “A-ha” moment: tea.  This was way too much mint to put in my dehydrator, so I just tied it up to my clothes line.  I took it down at night and hung it back out the next day.  It took three days until it felt like it was really dry.  Then I just stripped the leaves from the stems and stuffed them in a jar.

This coming winter, I will happily drink mint tea from these dried leaves.  It also makes a nice iced tea, but I generally use the fresh mint for that in summer, since we have so much.

Storage Space

The fun part of this is that all of that mint, when dried packed into a quart jar.  In the winter, when I use the mint, I will put it in the mini-prep (a small food processor) to chop it up and release the oils from the leaves. Otherwise, I think it has a little bit of a “grassy” taste.  Sometimes I will mix it with loose black tea; sometimes I just make the mint.  Other dried herbs that make a nice tea with mint are lemon balm and chamomile.

This time of year, a lot of perennial herbs, like mint, sage, and oregano are going a little crazy.  Cut them back before they flower and dry them.  Any dried herbs you have left from last year should get thrown in the compost (or give them to the chickens!), as they have probably lost their potency.

 

Living La Vita Locale: Plums

When I was little, I remember going to this farm stand on Route 130, on the North-bound side, that we accessed from a dirt driveway off of New Albany Rd.  I don’t know who owned the farm, but the driveway cut through fields of vegetables.  The thing I remember most was when the corn was there.  It could be the hottest of hot afternoons, and my mom would pull into that driveway and the corn towering up on either side created this shady lane.  There were trees toward the back of the property and at a certain point in the summer, there were little boxes of plums.  They were very dark red and the flesh was red on the very outside, but turned to bright yellow closer to the pit.  They were sweet and tart and I loved them.

One day, I was out walking one of the dogs and I saw all of these plums all over the ground and I thought, ‘Oh, how sad.  Someone dropped their plums.’  The next day, another neighbor asked me if I thought the guy who lived in the house was ever going to pick the plums.  I looked up from the fruit carnage and saw this little plum tree that was heavy with fruit.  We left a note in his mailbox, and he responded that we could pick the fruit.  So we did.

I dried some, made fruit leather out of some, and ate some fresh.  The next year, my neighbor had moved away, so I picked plums, more plums than I knew what to do with – dried a lot, made a lot of fruit leather, and then started experimenting with Plum Sauce.  This version is very good for quick Sweet and Sour sauce of an Asian-inspired flavor on chicken or pork, works as a dipping sauce for Chinese dumplings, and a base for Barbeque Sauce and Steak sauce (think that kind that has a letter and a number in the name).

Plum Sauce

  • 4 lbs. of plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 C cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ C honey
  • ½ C molasses
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced fine (you can cut back on this if you aren’t that fond of ginger)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 t mustard
  • 2 jalapenos (seeded or not, depending on how hot you like things)
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT the plums in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and boil hard 1-2 minutes.  Reduce the heat and add the plums.  Cook until the mixture is thick and syrupy, about 1 ½ hours.
  2. Prepare canning jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Ladle plum sauce into prepared jars and process for 20 minutes.

This yields about 4 pints, but I generally process it in ½ pint jars because I usually use a cup at a time.

How can I use this?

Chicken or pork glaze, mix the sauce with an equal amount of soy sauce.

Quick BBQ Sauce, use ½ C Plum sauce, ½ C ketchup, ¼ C soy sauce, and 1 T of bourbon.

Steak sauce, use ½ C Plum Sauce, ½ C ketchup and 1 T of Worcestershire Sauce.

Using Kim Chee

Oddly, I find myself using kim chee frequently.  Maybe you attended my lacto-fermentation class, or read an old post of mine, Anticipation,  where you learned about it.  You got a bunch of napa cabbage, and kohlrabi, and various other greens, and you made a lot of varieties.  And it is all in your fridge.  You aren’t eating Korean food every night, so now it is just sitting there.  In this world of diversity, there is more to do with this spicy side dish than merely pairing it with bulgogi!  You can mix things up and put some on a burger or hotdog.  Not things we would normally put kim chee on, and I do not know what possessed me to try it, but I did and both were really great.  Scrambled eggs benefit from a dollop, as well.

Here are some other recipes I came up with that use kim chee as an ingredient:

Kim Chee Slaw

  • 1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup of kim chee

In a large bowl, mix this all together.  I know, I know.  It sounds gross.  Mayo and kim chee.  Please trust me on this.  It is the best slaw.  So, so good!

Changed Overs

Do you have members of the family who won’t eat leftovers?  Here’s a way to recycle leftovers:

  • 2 cups leftover meat, cut up in bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 cups leftover vegetables
  • 1 cup of kim chee

In a large bowl, mix all of this together.

If your family prefers hot food, you can put this in a casserole dish and heat it in the oven, just until it is heated through.

In the summer we like this room temperature or cold, served over hot rice, or tossed into pho (rice noodles) that have been soaked in boiled water for about a minute.

Don’t think about kim chee as a stand alone side.  Think about it as a way to flavor other things!  In the winter, I love to heat up some stock (make your own — Stock Going Up!) and add about a 1/4 c of kim chee.  Fast, easy, delicious and really good for you!