How to preserve Maine’s summer berries for enjoying all year long
In Maine fresh berries are available throughout the summer. With strawberries appearing in June, raspberries and blackberries in July, and blueberries rounding out the summer season in August, there is so much goodness available to preserve use throughout the whole year.
Luckily, there are several ways to preserve fresh berries while they are at their peak freshness. Freezing fresh berries is the simplest way to preserve them, according to University of Maine Cooperative Extension community educator Kathy Savoie.
Begin by washing the berries. Place them in a colander and rinse with cool water. Remove the stem and leaves and then dry them. Savoie recommends using a salad spinner to ensure that the berries are completely dry. If the berries are still wet when placed in containers or bags in the freezer they’ll freeze as a clump of berries. Spreading berries in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and freezing them before transferring them into bags or containers for long term storage also helps to prevent the berries from clumping together.
There’s no need to pack the berries with a sugar or syrup solution, Savoie said, as they will hold up just fine in the freezer as is.
For freezing, berries should be stored in airtight containers or plastic freezer bags. The containers should be marked with the contents and the dates they were stored. Frozen berries can be used for a host of purposes, from smoothies to jams and jellies. They should be used within eight to 12 months after being placed in the freezer, Savoie said.
Drying is another way to preserve summer berries. To do this, berries should be placed on a baking sheet in an oven set to a low temperature, around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake them until the berries are shriveled. A food dehydrator can also be used to dry berries. Dried berries are a great addition to granola or yogurt.
Perhaps the most traditional way to preserve berries is by making jams or jellies. Jams and jellies can be made with either fresh berries or berries that were frozen when fresh. Ingredients for jams and jellies are relatively simple, and recipes can be found on the University of Maine Cooperative Extension website (extension.umaine.edu) for both blueberry and strawberry jam. If you intend to store your jam instead of using it right away, for food safety purposes, the canned jam or jelly must be processed in a boiling water bath for 10 to 15 minutes, Savoie said. While shelf life of canned goods vary, they are generally safe for up to one year.
Choosing which method of preservation will work for you depends on your household’s tastes and needs, but regardless of how you preserve your summer berries, once February rolls around, you’ll be glad you still have the tastes of summer.
This originally appeared in Bangor Metro, August 2017. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.