Berry season is drawing to a close. Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries season is done, except for a few overlooked berries. We have highbush cranberries, lingonberries and rose hips still on the horizon.
These berries are usually sweeter after the frost, which is why we wait till later to harvest them. These great tasting nuggets are nutritional powerhouses with high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants.
Berries are often frozen for longer term preservation. If they are to be used in jams or jellies, freeze them in the quantity required for your favorite recipes. For instance, my favorite blueberry jam recipe calls for 4½ cups of berries, so that is what I put in each bag. Berries that will be served over cereal can be placed on a cookie sheet and put in bags when completely frozen.
For many of us, there’s nothing to compare with berry jam or jelly on a freshly baked biscuit or toasted bread. I love to make jam or jelly, put it in jars and process it in a hot water bath for long-term storage. But if you are looking for a quick and easy way to make a jam that won’t be stored at room temperature, there are ways to do it.
A freezer jam is jam made from fresh berries and stored in the refrigerator or freezer for longer storage. It is a little softer (less jelled) than traditional jam, but it has a great flavor that comes from the freshest of berries.
Make yours by mixing 2 cups of crushed berries and 4 cups of sugar, and stir occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. Meanwhile, dissolve one package of powdered pectin in a cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute. When the berries have dissolved the sugar, stir in the pectin. Pour into jars and let the mixture set at room temperature for 24 hours, then refrigerate it until it is eaten — which won’t be long.
I’ve also been experimenting with a completely different type of jam made with chia seeds. Chia seeds are the darling of the nutritional world right now. They have omega-3 fatty acids, lots of fiber and protein. These little grey seeds absorb several times their weight in water and create a thick jelly-like substance, perfect to make jam.
It couldn’t be simpler to make. Mix 2 cups of crushed berries, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of honey or sugar. Taste and make sure it is sweet enough for your taste. Stir in 2 tablespoons of chia seeds. Wait about an hour and make sure it is jelled enough to suit your taste. If it is still too soft, add more chia seeds — 1 teaspoon at a time until it is thick enough. Pour into jars and refrigerate until used.
One of my favorite simple jams is what I call the 3-2-1 jam. It takes 3 cups of sugar, 2 cups of rhubarb and 1 cup of crushed berries. Mix the sugar, rhubarb and berries in a saucepan and cook until the mixture is a soft set, probably 15 to 20 minutes. Place in jars and store in the refrigerator.
If you are interested in a traditional jam or jelly, go to the Extension website at www.uaf.edu/ces and check out our many publications that will tell you how to make all types of fruit spreads. We also have online lessons at www.uaf.edu/ces/preservingalaskasbounty/ that will give you safe ways to preserve everything from herbs to smoked salmon as well as some great fruit spreads.
Berries are a great addition to our family meals and are a powerhouse when it comes to nutritional values. Enjoy them while they are fresh and preserve more for your winter enjoyment.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at email@example.com or by calling (907)474-7201