Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Preserving Floyd: Blueberries, Frozen and Dried

We still have several jars of various blueberry products sitting on the shelf from last year, so I'm not canning bloobs this year.  Instead I decided to freeze the majority of the berries I picked since it is quick, easy and frozen blueberries are nearly as versatile as fresh.  I also dried two quarts as an experiment.
Freezing blueberries is ridiculously easy.  Especially if you get your berries from Eggers where they are grown completely pesticide free.  You don't even have to wash them.  Just go over them lightly picking out any stems and leaves.  If you get your berries somewhere else try to determine if they've been sprayed.  If they have been or if you don't know, fill your sink or a large bowl with cold water and add the berries.  Swish them around and then let them settle.  Lift the berries out of the water and into a colander to drain, then spread them out on a clean towel to get as dry as possible.  You can place a desk top fan to blow on them to help evaporate the moisture.  The drier the berries are going into the freezer the better they will store with less chance of freezer burn.

Once the blueberries are dry spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  I sit jars in each corner of the sheets so I can stack another tray on top and go vertical in my freezer.
In a couple of hours when the berries are frozen hard, I scoop them off the sheets and into quart freezer bags.  Press out as much air as possible or use a straw and suck the air out of the bag while zipping it shut.  Label, date and return to the freezer.  Later when you are ready to use them you can just measure out the quantity of individually frozen berries you need.

Preparing the blueberries for drying is a little more complicated.  Well, not complicated but time consuming and mind-numbingly boring.  If you're doing a large quantity of these have an audio book playing and a friend to share the misery chore with.  Wash, drain and dry your berries as above if necessary.

To dry blueberries and other thick-skinned berries you must "check" them first.  "Checking" is nipping or piercing the skin so moisture can escape while the berries are drying.  I know the blueberries I picked were large for blueberries but when it came to checking two quarts of them suddenly they looked a lot smaller.
See the little stabby marks?
My method of checking them was to lay a small quantity on the dehydrator screen, stab the little buggers, and roll them over to the side. When the screen was full it went into the dehydrator.

I set the dehydrator at 135F and 8 hours of time.  Then another 8 hours of time.  Then another 4 hours.  Finally they were dry.
From 2 quarts of fresh berries I got 3 cups of dried.  I don't think it was worth the trouble when I can get dried blueberries at the Bread Basket for what works out to be nearly the same price.  Someday when our own blueberry bushes start bearing, if they're putting out bumper crops, it may be.  Unlike other preservation projects, drying blueberries was tedious and not fun.  Especially compared to easy frozen blueberries.  But in a post-apocalyptic world, I'll know how to prepare blueberries for the solar dryer.

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