Blueberry Season 101: Picking, Freezing & PreservingKelsey Banfield
On Saturday I brought home three quarts of blueberries from the farmer’s market. They were plump, ripe and a pretty dusty blue. The white powder-like substance on the outside was a good sign, it indicates freshness. When my daughter went down for her nap that afternoon I took stock of our wares and set to work. I froze a huge bags worth for fall baking, made a few jars of blueberry pie filling (recipe to come on Thursday) and preserved the rest in syrup. Did I mention I also ate several handfuls right then and there while I was doing all this?! Here are my tips for making the most out of your blueberry season:
Picking Blueberries: Only pick berries that are a true deep blue color. Berries that are red, purple or white are not yet ripe and they will not sweeten or ripen after picking. To pick a blueberry, hold the fruit between your thumb and forefinger and gently roll it to one side, the blueberry should come off easily. If you need to pull hard the berry is probably not ripe yet.
Washing & Storing: To wash blueberries place them in a colander in the sink. Run lukewarm water over them and gently swish the berries with your hands to loosen any leaves or debris. Drain the berries and pat them dry with a kitchen towel. Remember, do not wash your berries until you intend to eat them or cook with them or else they will rot quickly.
Freezing Whole Without Sugar: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the clean blueberries on it, spacing them apart a little. Slide the sheet into the freezer and leave them there until they are frozen solid. Mark a freezer bag and pour the berries in it. They will last in the freezer bag for up to 6 months.
Preserving in Syrup: Blueberries are great for canning and one of the ways I like to do so is by adding in vanilla syrup. Pack the washed blueberries into glass or plastic jars so that they are full, but the berries are not crushing each other. Make sure you pack the berries in because they will float a little in the syrup. Over low heat dissolve 3 c. of water with 1 c. of sugar and a vanilla bean* to make a simple syrup. Cool the syrup to room temperature, or chill it in the fridge. Transfer the syrup to a cup with a spout and pour it into the jar of berries. Fill until there is 1³ of air space before the lid. Close the lid tightly and freeze. To thaw, place the jar on the counter top and allow it to come to room temperature. This blueberry syrup is delicious served over ice-cream, pound cake, cheesecake or stirred into cocktails. *If you want, you can substitute citrus zest, mint leaves or a warm spice to alter the flavor of the syrup.