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How To Save Berries For Later Preserving

Farmstead Berries

Our daily breakfast while at the Farmstead.

I have been spending a lot of time traveling back and forth between my 1/10th of an acre city homestead here in Los Angeles and my family’s 14-acre Farmstead in Northern California. Managing both properties has been a joy and a challenge. Now that it is harvest season, both gardens are bursting with flavor, but it is hard to keep up and preserve that flavor for later.

Of course this can be a challenge no matter what size garden you have. So I thought I would share how I do some of my preserving in stages – especially with berries.

On the Farmstead, we have rows and rows of wild blackberries lining all the pastures.

The fruit is super sweet and makes an incredible jelly or a pancake syrup. When I get really overloaded with berries, I knock out a few batches of Blackberry Liqueur too.

On this particular weekend, I was already busy making peach jam and apple pie. So I had no time for processing the berries into preserves! But that didn’t stop us.

How to Stay Sane When You have Too Much to Preserve:

The thing to remember when trying to preserve the harvest, is that you do NOT have to do it all at once!

If possible, let your freezer help you out.

If you are making jam, jelly, sauce or syrup with the fruit you are harvesting, you can freeze it before actually cooking it up into the final product. This is especially helpful with tomatoes and berries which always catch me at my most busiest time.

Freezing The Berries:

First, we harvested as many as we could…

And then I laid the fresh berries out on cookie sheets and frozen them for a few hours.

When the berries are frozen solid, you go back and bag them up into freezer bags or freezer containers.

Freeze berries on cookie sheets before bagging.

The advantage of this is that the berries won’t clump together into a giant lump. You can store them in baggies and pull out a few at time for pancakes, muffins, etc.!

Harvesting and Freezing Blackberries

On this particular day, we ended up with about 20 cups of berries divided into 2 cup baggies. And we still have a lot more berries coming on. I highly recommend that you go ahead and measure them into a convenient amount needed for your next recipe. That way, they are already measured out and waiting when you are ready.

On my next trip up to the property, I’m making jam!

 

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

20 Comments:

  • Oh, how joyous! Our Austin newspaper had a story on fun things to do with canning jars (along with canning food) and I thought of you! Happy berrying!

  • ChiotsRun says:

    This is exactly how we deal with all kinds of berries. Love that you’re picking with wine glass in hand!

    • theresa says:

      Tee hee – Yes, I have wine in my hand. I almost didn’t post it. But it was so hot and we were picking at 7 PM, drinking wine and eating cheese & crackers. It was a wonderful summer evening.

  • Patti Kafton says:

    I cooked the juice from our blackberries and it is eating up freezer space. What NOW in order to make jelly? Also, there are a few grapevines on our property. They are a dark red variety wit juicy pulp and I haven’t had any to preserve in so many years, I have forgotten HOW. I cut clusters yesturday from one side of ONE and have about 3-4 quarts already to work with. Washed and WAITING (for advice)……….

    • theresa says:

      Hi Patti-

      I use a fairly simple recipe for Blackberry jelly. If you already strained out the seeds from the juice then use this recipe from the “So Easy To Preserve” book:

      Blackberry Jelly:
      4 cups blackberry juice
      3 cups sugar

      Sterilize canning jars. Measure juice into a saucepot. Add sugar and stir well. Boil over high heat to 8 degrees F above the point point of water (whatever that is for you based on your altitude), or until jelly mixture sheets from a spoon.

      Remove from heat; skim off foam quickly. Pour jelly immediately into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

      —-
      As for your grapes, see my next reply to TeresaR

  • TeresaR says:

    We freeze our berries exactly like that although I’ve never thought to make jelly with them after they’ve been frozen. So do you just thaw them before cooking them up for jams/jellies?

    I tried making grape jelly again this year and again I bombed. Last year, my jelly over-jelled. This year, it under-jelled (which is fine as it is still a tasty syrup to use on our waffles, etc). I looked up 4 different grape jelly recipes and it seemed that they all called for different proportions of sugar and juice. Do you have a grape jelly recipe you recommend? Thanks!

    Because we had such a dry summer, neither our wild blackberries or wild black raspberries did well. I’m so bummed. Your basket o’ berries photo is making me drool!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Teresa,

      So sorry to hear you had a bad year with the berries. Our wild blackberries were not as juicy, but the flavor was intense. So I think it will make a nice jam or jelly this year.

      As for making the jam/jelly, you don’t even need to thaw. I freeze in measurements for my recipe and then just dump the pre-measured berries into a pot and go on with my recipe. Easy-peasy!

      Grape jelly can be tricky sometimes because the grapes can have varying degrees of pectin (the substance that makes it gel) based on the variety and the ripeness. If you use a fruit (grapes or otherwise) that is not over-ripe, you have more pectin. So perhaps last year, your grapes were under-ripe and this year they were over-ripe.

      So how do I get a perfectly gelled product? Well, I tend to go with cooking it to the proper “stage” of gel based on how it looks while cook. Not an easy thing to describe and it doesn’t always work (I have been known to give grape syrup at Christmas too. LOL) I dip a cool metal spoon int the boiling jelly and lift it out so the syrup runs off the side. It starts off like syrup, but as you reach the proper “stage”, it will run off in two thicker drops. When the two drops form together and “sheet” off the spoon, you have reached the jellying point.

      A second way to test is with a candy or jelly thermometer. When you reach the proper stage, you should be 220 degrees F (or 8 degrees above boiling for your altitude if you are above 1000F). When you reach that temp, you turn off the heat and fill your jars.

      Hope that helps!!

      My recipe for Grape Jelly:

      4 cups grape juice
      3 cups sugar

      Sterilize canning jars. Measure juice into a large pot. Add sugar and stir well. Boil over high heat to 8 degrees F above the boiling point for water. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam. Pour jelly immediately into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process 5 min in a boiling water bath.

      • TeresaR says:

        Thank you!!! I don’t remember what i did last year but, if anything, the grapes were more ripe last year than they were this year. I’ll try your recipe next year provided I can get my hands on fresh concord grapes again (my friend’s mom, who owns the grapevines, died and they’re selling her house). But thank you for such a detailed description of how to do it and what to expect! 🙂

  • Sandra says:

    I want to use my raspberries to make jam but I don’t have the time now. I think my mom used to mash the berries, measure into 2 cup portions, and freeze (uncooked) to use for jam at a later date. Is this method acceptable as my freezer space is limited and using a tray to freeze the berries whole is not a possibility.

  • Joya Ellertson says:

    We are a small raspberry farm in Pennsylvania. We are learning as we go. My question is, if we pick the berries,juice them and freeze the liquid can we use the thawed liquid in jellies and such. We already freeze the Berry itself, but was wondering if this is another option.

    • theresa says:

      Oh yes! You can freeze the berries or juice and defrost later to use in preserves. I mention it in other places on my site, but should have mentioned it here. I do it all the time and is one of my time-saving tips as well.

      So yes – freeze away!

  • Kat says:

    You mentioned freezing tomatoes. Do you blanch them first and remove the skin then freeze on cookie sheets?

  • Na says:

    I want to freeze some wild blackberries. Do you wash your berries and dry them before putting on a thin sheet layer for freezing? the drying part might take few hours in the kitchen, so I don’t want to attract food flies.

    or your just slowly defrost berries overnight in the fridge and then wash them?

    • theresa says:

      Excellent question – I wash and dry them first. I am usually doing this in the heat of summer, so my berries dry quickly. If you need to set them out for a long time, I would cover them with tea towel or cheesecloth to keep any bugs out.

  • S Wright says:

    My blackberries are frozen in bags and I’m ready to make jam. What’s the best way to thaw them – and how long does it take to thaw. Or do I not have to thaw?

    • theresa says:

      You do not need to thaw them. If you measured them before freezing, you can add them to your recipe and go from there. I usually freeze in small quantities so I know how many cups I am adding. Or I freeze the exact amount I need for my favorite recipe. They defrost when you start cooking. However, if you need to measure the fruit, you can defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours or on the counter for 1-2 hours and then measure. The only problem with that is that the freezing process ruptures the cells and a lot of the juice runs out of the berries. Be sure to stir the defrosted mixture before measuring so you get a little bit of juice with the berries in each cup.

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