Arts & Leisure

Ask a Master Gardener: How to savor fresh berries

NOTHING TASTES BETTER than a slice of buttered toast slathered with homemade raspberry jam. Photo by Joyce Amsden

What’s more delicious than a sun-warmed raspberry plucked from the bush and popped into your mouth? Hmmm. 

Keep that delicious flavor into the winter by freezing raspberries, adding them to your baked goods, smoothies or yogurt, or making a batch of freezer jam.

Here are some helpful tips for making raspberry freezer jam.

Do some research to learn when raspberries will be available in your area. The timing varies from early July to early fall depending on the varieties grown and the location of the berry farm.

Purchase fruit pectin. Several brands are available, but check that the brand you select offers a recipe for freezer jam. Some brands offer a reduced sugar version. Read the instructions and make sure you have everything you need.

Pick only ripe berries that separate from the core with a gentle tug. Avoid picking when the berries and bushes are wet with dew or rain. Wet berries mold very quickly.

The ideal containers for picking are shallow fiber or wood boxes that can be set into a basket hung from a belt loop. In a deep container, the berries in the bottom can get crushed and lead to rapid spoilage. Handle your berries gently.

If you travel a distance from home in a hot car, consider bringing along a cooler with ice packs and/or cool the car before heading for home.

At home, sort through your berries immediately, watching for debris and squashed or mushy berries. Place the fruit gently into freezer containers. Refrigerate or freeze within a day or two to preserve freshness. Immediate chilling can also prevent any problematic effects of spotted wing drosophila (go.uvm.edu/spw).

No time to make jam? It will be just as good made later with frozen berries.

Remember, successful freezer jam is dependent on accurate measurement of the ingredients. Follow the recipe exactly. Measure carefully.

Whether using fresh or previously frozen berries, crush a single layer of berries at a time with a potato masher and measure. A quart-size glass measuring cup works great for this. Measure the sugar into a separate bowl so that you can begin again if you get distracted or lose count.

Follow the package directions. This generally involves mixing the sugar and crushed berries, cooking the pectin briefly and adding it to the berry mixture. Portion the jam into containers, cover and let it sit for a time. Refrigerate or freeze. Your jam will keep several weeks in the refrigerator or a year (or more) in the freezer. 

Six months later as the north wind howls and blows, pull a jar of jam from the freezer, sit down with a mug of your favorite warm beverage, a slice of buttered toast slathered with raspberry jam and revisit the sweet sensations of summer. 

Joyce Amsden is a UVM Extension Master Gardener Intern from Sharon.

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