It’s hard to believe summer‘s winding down, especially after such a long, cold winter last. It was cold well into spring, and now fall’s on our heels. This summer’s been mild, with few “dog day” temperatures. July was wet followed by lots of sun, perfect for open windows. All that rain and sun was the ideal combination for an abundance of berries…
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries…I love them all. I’m blessed to have all these varieties growing on my property.
I planted blueberry bushes last year. It was exciting to see berries growing, right outside my window. Then POOF! The berries disappeared right before I wanted to pick them. The culprit? A hungry chipmunk!
All was not lost…we went blueberry picking at a local farm; a great family day with friends. We couldn’t believe the blueberries…large and small, all sweet. We picked over nine pounds!
Berries, especially blueberries, are an extremely healthy food. Studies show they aid memory, boost the immune system, are low in fat, high in fiber, and contain more antioxidants than any other fruit or veggie. We love blueberries as a snack, raw in a bowl. Of all berries, I find blueberries freeze best. Washing berries before placing in the freezer can result in globs of ice, so make sure that your washed berries are drained and dried well before freezing.
At home, an army of chipmunks couldn’t have put a dent in the amount of raspberries and blackberries dripping from the branches of our bushes this season.
It was a banner berry year! We picked and picked! Every day, we picked several pounds. Raspberries grow wild in our area, but at the end of each season, we prune the bushes back, just like cultivated plants, resulting in fuller, more prolific bushes each season (and it aids the yard from looking wild).
For raspberries, instead of buying pre-sweetened yogurt (check the sugar content on labels, there’s so much sugar with little fruit), we buy cheaper-by-the-ounce, whole-milk plain organic yogurt, and mash raspberries right into it. (If it isn’t sweet enough, add a drop of Agave).
I do love a good, quick cobbler, hot from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and my favorite baked goods all use berries in them. Most of all, my favorite thing to do is make jam. It’s relaxing to make, and I use the jars as gifts, tuck-ins, and thank you’s all year long. Jam’s become my “calling card”, and making it has long been a favorite hobby. Check out my past blog for how-to jam basics here: http://www.farmgirlbloggers.com/1102 and for step-by-step on how to make Sunshine Dandelion Jelly: http://www.farmgirlbloggers.com/1197#more-1197 .
- Make jam only in small batches. If you have more berries than what your recipe calls for (my favorite one uses six cups of fruit), make additional batches. Don’t double the recipe.
- I prefer jam “gelled”, not runny. Whether using MaryJane’s wonderful Chill-over, or regular or low sugar pectin, I add one-half additional amount than the recipe calls for. (For example, a box and a half, as opposed to one box). I love the texture, yet it doesn’t yield preserves that are “gummy”.
- Unopened, jam can store a year. Opened, consume it quickly for best taste and freshness. Leftovers need refrigeration. Storing opened jam in the fridge with the metal ring and lid used to seal isn’t a good idea. Plastic, screw-on lids are sold next to canning supplies. I prefer regular-mouth canning jars for jams. Whether using half-pint, pint, or larger mason jars, a screw-on plastic lid from an empty standard mayo jar will fit regular-mouth canning jars. Repurposed, the lid keeps opened, refrigerated jam fresh.
- When in doubt, throw it out! However much work, time or expense it took, if opened jam (or any home-canned product) smells, tastes, or looks “off”, toss it. Remember, botulism has no taste. Better safe than sorry.
- For a quick and easy, pretty appetizer, serve a round of your favorite cheese (goat, cheddar, brie…) topped with homemade jam and organic crackers.
- Jam’s a great start to canning…a perfect beginner project to get your feet wet. Vegetables and meats should always be made with a pressure canner. Jam can be done on the stove in a big pot, using the “water bath” method.
- When boiling jars of jam using the water bath method, always make sure water completely covers the jar tops. I boil my jars at least twenty minutes before removing them to cool.
I’ve made blueberry, raspberry, and three-berry jam so far, and a couple of cobblers. The vegetable garden’s also been spoiling us, too, with a later and longer harvest. Tell me, how’s your season been? What are you canning? Do tell in comments!
Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole