3 ways to store blueberries
Blueberry season is in full swing across the country. These sweet but not too sweet and tart but not too tart berries are one of our favorites. We love them so much that we finally added blueberries to our gardens this year, so we can have them on hand as soon as they ripen.
To prolong the harvest, we always make sure to freeze a few pints every summer. Frozen berries can be used in baking, added to smoothies, or simply enjoyed as a sweet treat (it’s one of my daughter’s favorite snacks).
To freeze blueberries, rinse them in cold water, strain and discard any that are bruised or damaged. Line a cookie sheet with a clean kitchen towel and arrange the berries in a single layer so they can dry completely. Once completely dried, transfer them to a large freezer bag (or a canning jar or plastic container with a lid), seal tightly, and freeze. As long as the berries don’t have moisture between them, they won’t stick together during the freezing process. This will allow you to easily scoop out the amount you want, without defrosting the whole container.
No space in the freezer? Wash the berries with a solution of vinegar and water to prolong their shelf life in the refrigerator. My aunt uses this method for all her fresh berries and swears by it. Fill a bowl with about 1 liter of cold water and mix in about 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar. Allow the berries to soak for 5-10 minutes. Discard bruised or damaged berries. Drain, rinse and strain, then spread them out on a towel-lined cookie sheet to dry them completely. Store in a paper towel lined container with a lid and refrigerate.
This process eliminates mold spores and bacteria that deteriorate them more quickly. The berries should last up to two weeks after the vinegar soak if done correctly. Refrigerating berries soon after harvest also plays a role in their longevity, as nutrients begin to deplete as soon as they are harvested.
Thinking beyond the fridge and freezer, I share three of my favorite ways to store blueberries: jammed, fermented, and infused.
Blueberry Jam, a classic flavor, is one of the easiest jams to make, ideal for the beginning canner. It’s delicious spread on toast, topped with a dollop of soft cheese on a cracker, used as a glaze on protein, or tossed with white wine vinegar and oil to make a salad dressing. If you don’t like canning, you can skip the boiling pot and make a refrigerator jam instead.
Fermented fruits and vegetables are also among the easiest preserves to make, often requiring just two ingredients: produce and salt (or a saltwater brine). Fruits ferment faster than vegetables due to their high sugar content. Sweet and tangy fermented blueberries can be used the same way as fresh or cooked blueberries – in yogurt, oatmeal, salads, etc. – but at home we prefer to use it as a condiment that we spoon over spicy, grilled jerk chicken.
Finally, there’s the blueberry infused gin – hello, happy hour. You’ll never buy infused alcohol again once you start making your own. Not only is it easier on the wallet, but the flavor is so much better when you use real, fresh ingredients. To enjoy this gin, simply add two ounces to a lowball filled with ice and fill the rest of the glass with ginger beer, tonic water, prosecco or sparkling water. Mix and serve. Garnishing the cocktail with edible flowers is not mandatory, but it is certainly a good idea.
Makes 4 jelly jars (8 ounces)
- 2 pounds fresh blueberries (about 6 cups)
- 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Wash the blueberries and remove the stems, as well as any bruised or defective berries. Add the blueberries to a large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive saucepan and use a potato masher to lightly mash them. Stir in sugar and lemon juice. Bring the ingredients to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer for 20 minutes until the jam begins to thicken. Stir often to avoid burning.
Instructions for canning in a water bath: Pour hot jam into hot prepared jars (jars that have been washed and kept warm before filling), leaving a 1/4 inch headspace (space from top of jam to rim of jar). Wipe the rims of the jars clean and place the canning lids on the jars. Screw the rings onto the jars until they are fingertip tight – just snug on the jar, not completely tight.
Carefully lower the jars into a tub of hot water so that they are completely submerged and covered with 1 to 2 inches of water, and cover with the lids. Turn up the heat. Once the water begins to boil, set the timer and cook in a double boiler for 10 minutes. Adjust cooking time based on altitude if needed.
After the water bath is processed, carefully remove the jars from the pot with canning tongs. Place the jars on a surface lined with towels for 12 hours without touching them. After 12 hours, remove the rings from the jars and test to make sure the lids are properly sealed on the jars. Label and date the jars. The jam will keep for at least a year in the cupboard. Refrigerate after breaking seal.
Instructions for the refrigerator: If you’d rather skip the water bath canning process, fill the jars with jam and let them cool on the counter. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean towel, add the canning lids and screw the rings on tightly. Refrigerate. For best flavor, enjoy the jam within a month.
Recipe adapted from “Can It and Ferment It” with permission from Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
Makes 1 pint
- 2 cups of fresh blueberries
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Wash and drain the blueberries and discard any bruised or imperfect berries. Add blueberries and salt to a clean quart jar. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean towel, add the canning lid and screw the ring on tightly. Shake the jar to mix the salt into the berries. Ideally, use a fermentation jar weight to push the berries down into the jar (not crush them) so that once the natural brine is created, it keeps the berries submerged. (Without jar weights, use a smaller canning jar that fits snugly into the mouth of the pint jar, filled with water.)
Store at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Once a day, unscrew the canning ring to “burp” the ferment, so that the accumulated gases created during fermentation can be released. Press down on the weight of the pot as needed to get the berries submerged again.
Fermentation for three days and taste test. If the blueberries have reached the desired tart flavor, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. If they still taste too much like fresh berries, let them ferment another day and test them again until they reach your taste.
For optimal texture and flavor, enjoy this fruity ferment within two weeks.
Blueberry Infused Gin
Makes 2 cups
- 1 cup fresh whole blueberries
- 2 cups gin of your choice (I recommend using a mid-range gin)
Wash and drain the blueberries and discard any bruised or imperfect berries. Add the blueberries to a clean pint jar and pour gin over the berries until the jar is full. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean towel, add the canning lid and screw the ring on tightly.
Store at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. (We store our infused liquors in the cabinet with the rest of our liquor.) As the steeping progresses, the fruit will lose color and turn pale, and the liquor will turn colored. Invert the jar every few days to mix the infusion.
Let the fruits infuse with the alcohol for at least two weeks before enjoying them. The longer it steeps, the tastier it will become. Once infused, you can either leave the fruit in the gin or strain it, it’s up to you. You can strain the brew through cheesecloth or a coffee filter for a cleaner end product.
If you want to experiment with other flavor combinations, I generally stick to the 1 cup fruit to 2 cups alcohol rule.
You can speed up the flavor infusion process by cooking the berries, but I much prefer the flavor of a slow infusion with fresh berries. When heated, the mixture begins to look more like jam than fresh berries.
Recipe adapted from “WECK Small-Batch Preserving” with permission from Skyhorse Publishing Inc.