Fresh berries are in season here in the Pacific Northwet. Driving pretty much anywhere, you’ll come across roadside stands offering blueberries, strawberries, raspberries – Not to mention cherries as well. While you might think you’d be better off in a store, it ain’t necessarily so. Stop by a few of these stands and you’ll quickly learn to spot good from bad, (and most are quite good). A roadside table put out by the growers themselves is almost always a sure winner for price, freshness, and truly supporting local small businesses.
Of course, the chief and oft unspoken danger of such stuff is not being prepared to store, preserve, or use what you buy – I don’t know how often I hear about great produce going to waste, but it’s all too often. As such, have a plan or plans in mind for what you intend to do. Canning, freezing, and quick use are all good ideas, but be sure you have the time set aside, and the equipment you’ll need – Last thing you want to do is find that you’re out of rings and lids after doing up a batch of preserves, right?
We freeze a lot of berries, because it does a good job of preservation, is relatively easy and quick to do, and lends itself to spur of the moment use down the road. Keeping in mind that berries are quite delicate, here’s what we do to get the best quality out of a batch.
Gently rinse berries in cool water, then place them in a colander lined with clean paper towels and allow them to dry a bit.
Cover a clean baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper, gently spread the berries evenly across the sheet.
Put the sheets into your freezer and allow a nice hard freeze before removing them, at least 3-4 hours, or more. Transfer berries to hard containers or plastic bags, mark them with the date, and you’re done.
We do different sized containers based on the amount needed for intended use – enough for a pie, a batch of ice cream, etc, and mark that volume on the bag or container as well. If you have a vacuum sealer, you certainly can and should package hard frozen berries that way, as it will minimize air contact, freezer burn, etc. if you don’t have one of those toys, sucking the air out of a filled ziplock will do a pretty good job as well. Carefully packaged and sealed berries will last 6 to 9 months in a freezer, no problem.
So, what about that immediate use? Try this amazing ice cream recipe – You can thank us later. The bourbon, for the record, adds a nice little hint of smoky, woody sweetness, but more to the point, it’s a fantastic little trick for home ice cream makers – The little bit of high proof booze keeps your scream from turning into a frozen brick, that all too common malady.
Blueberry, Vanilla & Bourbon Ice Cream
1 Quart Heavy Cream, (at least 30% milk fat)
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons local Honey
1 Quart fresh Blueberries
1 Tahitian Vanilla Bean
2 Tablespoons Bourbon
In a sauce pan over medium heat, add the berries, 2 tablespoons honey, and the scraped seeds from the vanilla bean, (put the remaining bean in some sugar, or vodka, and let it steep for future projects).
Stir steadily as the berries begin to simmer and pop. When roughly 3/4 of the berries have burst, remove the blend from the heat and transfer to a blender, (or use a stick blender if you prefer). Pulse until you have a smooth, uniform purée.
Pass the purée through a single mesh strainer into a smaller mixing bowl; send the skins, etc to your compost bucket.
Place the purée bowl in larger bowl 1/2 filled with ice and water, and allow it to sit, stirring occasionally to aid cooling.
In a large mixing bowl, combine cream, 1/2 cup honey, and bourbon. Whisk briskly until uniformly incorporated.
Process the cream mixture in an ice cream machine or churn. When the ice cream is well formed, slowly add the puréed berry mixture. When it’s uniformly incorporated, send it to the freezer.