June has me craving garden sweets. Rhubarb has been gracing my table for weeks; now strawberries are reddening to join it. In warmer areas, you’re probably anticipating blackberries, blueberries, and tart cherries before the month is out. As we roll into July, raspberries, apricots, and early plums will all start to appear. It’s hard to resist summer’s sweet bounty.
It’s also hard to overcome the desire for fruit out of season. Although American grocery stores stock nearly every vegetable imaginable all year, some fruits can be harder to come by outside their harvest window. Those that do appear year-round, or close to it, lack that fresh summer flavor that makes them so appealing. How they are grown is also of concern; more than half of the Dirty Dozen list (foods with the worst pesticide residue based on USDA and FDA data) is fruit. These are all good reasons to grow—and save—fruit yourself.
Fortunately, fruit is easy to save, and there are many ways to preserve it. Even if you don’t have a berry patch or orchard, it’s readily available when the season’s on: in stores, at farmer’s markets, on U-pick farms, and from CSAs. Sometimes friends, neighbors, and even strangers can be your best source of local fruit. In my area, fruit-heavy apple and pear trees attract everything from deer to bear, making unpicked trees a source of worry for their owners. Even berries left to spoil on their canes can attract wasps and other unwanted pests.
How to Pick
When sourcing free fresh berries and other fruit, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Ask. Always check with the owner before picking on someone else’s property, not just to gain permission but also to determine whether toxic sprays have been used on the trees or fruit.
- Look. Watch for excessive worm or other damage; your time will be wasted if you return home with boxes of inedible produce. Watch for wasps and other insects as well; what attracts you likely attracts them, and they may be hiding inside the apple or pear you’re about to pluck.
- Think. That dusty roadside tree or berry patch you drive by daily may look appealing but may not be the best source. In addition, wild vines like blackberries growing along public roadsides are often sprayed with undesirable chemicals. If you do pick along roadsides, ensure the produce is untreated and pick along the back, off the road.
- Use care. Most fruit-bearing plants are perennial, and overzealous harvesting can damage next year’s crop. By harvesting properly, you go a long way toward ensuring there’s something to pick next season. Take care of yourself as well; harvesting often requires ladders on uneven ground, fruit and branches that can fall from overhead, or brambles that can scratch your skin.
How to Save
Once a flat of berries or lug of peaches is sitting on your kitchen counter, it will look a lot bigger than it did when you were filling it. You’ll likely eat the first few pounds fresh on granola or pancakes and baked into a pie or scones. That still leaves nearly 20 pounds of fresh produce waiting for your attention.
Here are some of the primary techniques for saving the fruits of summer, listed from speediest to most time consuming to process.
Fruit freezes easily and can be used in endless preparations from the freezer. At its simplest, freezing means cleaning the fruit, perhaps preparing it by peeling and slicing, and placing it in labeled, freezer-strength bags or containers.
A few extra tricks and techniques can make it easier to use your frozen fruit. Delicate fruits, like berries, are best frozen on a tray before they are bagged; this helps to prevent clumping. If you plan to use set amounts in pies or other desserts, freeze them in those proportions—and label the bag accordingly. Fruit that is already soft and unmanageable can be pureed and frozen in cubes to blend into smoothies, stir into hot cereals, or muddle into cocktails. You can even freeze fruit in preparation for canning, as I’ll explain in this month’s posts.
- Pros: Quick and easy, with little prep time or effort
- Cons: A burden on precious freezer space
Dried fruits are ideal snacks from everyone from the on-the-go mom to the most dedicated backpacker. Intense flavor, light weight, long shelf life, and ease of transport are all bonuses for dehydration. Still, fruit has far more water weight than herbs and blossoms that can be dried on hangers or screens. Only those in the sunniest climates will be able to pull all the liquid from fruit naturally; the rest of us need to invest in a dehydrator.
The process itself is simple: clean, peel, and otherwise prepare your fruit, slice it uniformly, and lay it out in single layers on your dehydrator trays. Plug in the machine, and let it do its work for several hours. You can also puree the produce and turn it into fruit leather, a technique ideal for overly ripe and soft fruit.
- Pros: Limited slicing and dicing, with just a bit of time spent on filling and unloading the trays
- Cons: Special machine required and care needed to ensure the fruit dries evenly and completely
When most of us think of processing large boxes of fruit, we think of half-pints of jams and jellies and quarts of whole fruits. But that’s just the beginning for canning fruit. Marmalade, chutney, and fruit syrup, sauce, butter, and even salsa can be canned. Many canned fruit recipes are already on the blog, and I’ll add several more this season.
Although canning takes some practice, its advantages make it worth the effort. And fruit is among the easiest produce to process. It can be done in a boiling water bath, the least finicky of canning methods. Almost every fruit is high acid, with a pH of no more than 4.6, so you can’t get botulism even if you make a mistake. There is some special equipment involved, but once you learn how to use it, you’re set for an endless number of seasons.
- Pros: Suitable for any fruit, with shelf-stable results that are easy to store and gift
- Cons: Special equipment and techniques required to ensure proper and safe processing
Twice as Tasty
This month’s posts will focus on how to save and enjoy the fruits of summer. I’ll share recipes for syrups, sorbets, and jams that can be adapted to just about any fruit you may be growing or collecting from your local famer’s market or CSA. I’ll also discuss ways to make your bounty shelf stable while keeping the full fruit flavor and ways to enjoy your harvest that require little or no added sugar—and no artificial sweeteners.
To top it all off, this month Twice as Tasty turns one! To celebrate, there will be a gathering for locals (drop me a note if you have not yet received an invite). Special menu items created for the event will be posted on the blog so that even nonlocals can join in the celebration. Thanks for making this such a fabulous first year—I couldn’t have done it without you.
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