My husband has been bringing home cukes and zucchini from a generous co-worker, and the prices at the farmers markets are amazing — we hit up Pickette’s Curbside Market several times a week to stock up on peaches and watermelon, among other veggies.
But the one fruit I can never have enough of in our house are blueberries.
A couple weeks ago I picked up a pint of blueberries from The Produce Wagon at Downtown after Sundown in Oxford. Less than two hours later, the kids had devoured every single berry.
So when I saw that three u-pick blueberry farms were now open in our area, I planned a trip the very next day. I wasn’t picky about which farm to go to — they were all about an equal distance from my house, so I chose Jerry’s Berries in Jacksonville because it’s fun to say. I almost picked Craft Farms in Eastaboga because I also like that name. And coincidentally, I passed Faye’s U-Pick on Alabama 204 in Jacksonville on the way.
Although it was sunny and dry when we left Anniston and when we returned two hours later, we were soaked to the bone from picking blueberries in the rain. But I didn’t drive 20 miles into the county to come home empty-handed. It was a warm rain at least, and the kids had a good time stuffing their mouths with handful after handful of berries straight from the bush.
My very full gallon bucket yielded about 15.5 cups of blueberries, making them about 64 cents a cup — a steal compared to even the farmers market prices, which are $2-$3 a pint.
After sorting and washing the berries, I immediately dispensed with 2.5 cups by spreading them on a cookie sheet and popping them in the freezer. I used another 4 cups to make Blueberry Leather and the remaining nine cups were stored fresh. About half of those were eaten within two days — raising some concerns from my son’s daycare teacher when she changed his diaper — and the rest will be eaten, frozen or dehydrated.
I’m learning all sorts of techniques for saving my fresh food by reading “Put ’em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook” by Sherri Brooks Vinton. The book covers canning, freezing, pickling and drying for all sorts of fruits and vegetables. The Berry Leather recipe below was found in the book, and my first batch turned out so well I pulled the book out again to make a batch of Peach Leather a couple days later.
When most people think about food preservation, they are turned off by the time, effort and materials needed to can .. or jar, since that’s really what it is.
But as “Put ’em Up!” shows, food preservation is so much more than just canning. The book is divided into two sections; part one covers food preservation techniques — refrigeration, freezing, infusing (flavored vinegars and booze, anyone?) and drying. Part two is an alphabetized list of common fruits and vegetables and tons of recipes for preserving them, using all of the aforementioned techniques. The simplest techniques, freezing and oven drying — don’t even take any special equipment, just a big pot for blanching the produce before you preserve it.
The recipes and techniques are written so they are easy to understand and follow, which helps make the task of canning seem much less daunting. If you have any sort of garden (or a neighbor who has too much), this a great resource to have.
4 cups berries, any kind
½ cup water
¼ cup sugar
Wash and dry the berries. Combine them with the water in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer until the berries begin to break down, about 5 minutes. To puree the fruit, mash it with a potato masher or stick blender, or run it through a food mill.
Preheat the oven to 170 F. Line a jelly-roll pan or a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat and set aside.
Return the berry puree to the pan and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until it thickens to the consistency of baby food. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
Spread the sweetened puree onto the baking sheet, tilting it to create an even layer about ⅛ inch thick. Dry in the oven until tacky to the touch, about 2 hours.
Cool to room temperature. Slide the parchment paper onto a cutting board and roll the leather into a tube. Slice it into 2-inch strips and store in a covered jar for up to 1 month.
Features Editor Deirdre Long: 256-294-4152. On Twitter @star_features.