Thursday, August 19, 2010

Berry Preserves, the Blueberry and Strawberry Varieties

In the backyard of the house I grew up in there were these blackberry bushes. Every summer they would produce buckets and buckets of blackberries. Now these berries, well, words fail me... suffice it to say, they were perfect. And what better thing to do with perfection than eat it? And what better to do with the buckets that you cannot cram into your mouth? Preserve them.

While those blackberry preserves were my go-to for biscuits, toast, and peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches for the past four years, a week ago, tragedy struck: I just got to the end of my last jar. My parents have moved, so those blackberry bushes of gold were out of reach. What was left for me to do but make my own preserves with, gulp, store-bought berries?

things worked out.

Just look at how gorgeous these blueberry preserves are.
And they taste gorgeous as gorgeous as they look.

According to my father, and I quite agree, all you need for really terrific preserves are good berries and a little sugar. No mounds of sugar and no pectin. If you have those gorgeous berries, why not let them sing?

To make berry preserves, you obviously need to start with berries,
and start with good berries. (Oh, summer, the ways I love thee).
Now, get your berries into a pot with a wide mouth. I like to use my Dutch oven for this.
Pour some sugar over them.
And, now for my favorite part. with your hands, squnch the berries and the sugar together. This will reduce your cooking time a bit, as you don't have to wait for the heat to burst the skin of all the berries. And it is so fun.
Once everything is suitably squnched, bring your berries to a simmer over medium heat.
(How stunning is that purple, just starting to peep through?)

Cook for about 25 or 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to make sure that nothing gets stuck to the bottom. Towards the end of the cooking time, you may need to stir more frequently.
This process is exactly the same if you use strawberries instead of blueberries, except for the fact that you need to hull the strawberries first.

But from that point on, it is the same: strawberries in pot, add sugar, squnch, and simmer.

So, how do you know when they are done? If you are like my father, you just know. If you are like me, you need a test. Enter: the plate test. At the beginning of the preserving process, put a couple of plates in the freezer. In order to check to see if your berries are done, take a plate out of the freezer and put a small spoonful of syrup on the plate. Pop it back in the freezer for another 3 minutes. Take it out and run your finger through the middle. If the two sides very slowly move back together then you have a soft-set preserve on your hands. Now, you can cook it a bunch more to get those preserves firm, in which case the lines won't move at all, but I prefer to cook as little as possible, to retain the fresh taste.
If you are going to put the preserves up in cans, let me introduce you to your new best friend.
Meet the jar lifter. If you are at all interested in canning, buy one of these. It is a life/burned fingers saver. To seal your jars, add preserves to sterilized jars. Add the seals, screw on the tops, jar-lift them into a pot of boiling water, and boil for 10 minutes.

And there you have it: completely delicious homemade preserves.
Good on biscuits, good on toast, good straight from the jar.

Berry Preserves (adapted from my father and Jamie at Home)
2 lbs fresh berries (blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
1/2 cup sugar

Sterilize jars* and put a couple plates in the freezer.

Wash and dry the berries. Pour the berries into a 10-inch wide pot. Pour the sugar on top of the berries. Squnch the berries with your hands until all of the sugar has dissolved. Put the pan over medium heat, and simmer the berries for 20-30 minutes. Skim off the foam and stir every five minutes. Stir more frequently towards the end.

In order to test for doneness, remove the pot from the heat. Then, take the plate out of the freezer and put a small spoonful of the syrup on the plate. Put the plate back in the freezer for 3 minutes. Take the plate out and draw your finger through the middle. If the two sides of the syrup slowly come back together, then you have soft set preserves. If the two sides do not come back together at all, then you have medium-firm set preserves. If the lines quickly run together, return the pot to heat and continue to simmer until done.

Ladle the preserves into the sterilized jars, and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

*In order to sterilize jars, wash the jars and then place them in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Leave the jars in the hot water while your berries are cooking down.

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