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.

While the Blueberries Continue

While the blueberries continue to ripen, I continue to freeze, dehydrate, and cook down preserves.  But there are still lovely lettuces being harvested and carrots and cucumbers and early peppers — all of the fixings for a lovely salad.  And yes, we add fruit to our salads: first come our strawberries, then the first harvest raspberries, followed by blueberries.  Soon, there will be grilled peaches, followed by August apples, thinly sliced.

We make our own salad dressing, which is really an easy thing to do, and it tastes so much better than bottled dressing.  A simple and delicious vinaigrette can be made from a  good olive oil, and your choice of vinegar, a little salt, and a pinch of sugar for balance.

But while the blueberries are flowing, this vinaigrette is on our table

Blueberry Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T honey
  • 1/4 cup salad oil

Put the first four ingredients into a mini-processor and blend them all together.  Once the blueberries are liquified, begin to slowly drizzle the oil into the processor.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate.  This will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.

Other uses:

  • Mix 1/4 cup with 1T of mustard and 1 T honey and use as a glaze on grilled chicken or pork.  When your chicken or pork chop is nearly done, brush it with the glaze.  Applying the glaze sooner, or toward the beginning of the grill time, may cause the glaze to burn, which will impart an acrid flavor to the meat.  Be sure to allow enough time for the glaze to cook onto the meat, about 8 minutes or so, depending upon how hot the grill is.
  • Mix 1 T with 1 T of mayo and spread on a turkey sandwich (or that leftover chicken).
  • Dress coleslaw with this instead of mayo.
  • Use as a dressing for potato salad.

 

Living La Vita Locale: Blueberry Season is Here

Image result for blueberry whitesbog

My heart leaps when I see that little blue sign by the side of the road that says, “U-Pick Blueberries” with a bright orange arrow with “3.5 miles” stenciled across it.  It is the annual symbol that blueberry season is here.  The season for the most valuable crop in New Jersey, the official state fruit.  My little home state ranks fifth in the nation for blueberry production, behind Washington State, Oregon, Georgia and Michigan (not in that order).

Fun fact: The commercial blueberry was first cultivated in Whitesbog, NJ by Elizabeth Coleman White, and agricultural scientist Frederick Coville. The low-bush wild blueberries were very prolific throughout the Pine Barrens, and White read about Coville’s work on the  blueberry in an agriculture journal.  In 1910, she and her father, cranberry barron and landowner, Joseph White, convinced Coville to join them in Whitesbog to continue his work with the added efforts of White.  The result is the blueberry as we know it today.  If you are in the area, you can take a tour of the historic Whitesbog Village, and maybe even pick a few blueberries.

This year, I think I finally perfected a no-bake blueberry pie filling that set up beautifully in about an hour in the fridge.  It is a very straight-forward application that highlights the blueness of the berries, is low sugar, and gluten-free.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie Filling

  • 1 prepared 9-inch pie crust   (use whatever kind of prepared pie crust you like.  The recipe on the link is a traditional flour crust and therefore NOT gluten-fee)
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries, divided
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 T organic cornstarch*
  • 1/8 t sea salt
  • 1/4 C sugar**
  1. Put 2 C of the blueberries and the sugar in a saucepan.
  2. Whisk together the water, cornstarch, and salt until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the sugar and berries.
  3. Cook over a high heat until bubbles appear.  Reduce the heat and continue cooking, stirring constantly until the berries darken and the mixture gets thick (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let is cool for about 5 minutes.
  4. Carefully stir in the remaining 4 C of berries and continue mixing until all of the berries are well-coated.  Let the mixture cool a little more (about 5 minutes).
  5. Pour into your prepared pie crust.
  6. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to ensure the set.

For added pizzazz, top this with whipped cream, or serve next to a scoop of ice cream.

*I call for organic corn starch as a way to avoid GMO corn.

**You can use many types of sugar, but do not substitute with things like stevia or truvia.  The sugar is part of what thickens the mixture.

This will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.  I mix it in yogurt, top ice cream, and make a no-bake cheesecake with it as well.  So make a double batch!