Late summer and early fall means berry season, one of my favorite times of the year. I freeze bags of berries for smoothies and I process jars and jars of jam. But, when my freezer’s packed and I’ve had my fill of jam, I look for other ways to use berries. Read on for some of my favorites:
Blueberry Pancake Syrup
Forget commercial blueberry syrup, which is short on real blueberry flavor and long on high-fructose corn syrup. This syrup is unbelievable delicious and all natural. Use it for pancakes, ice cream, yogurt, smoothies, or add a bit to homemade salad dressings.
- 6 cups blueberries, washed and picked over (or huckleberry, serviceberry, currant…you get the idea)
- 1 cup water
- 1 lemon
- 1 cup sugar
Combine the blueberries and water in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the blueberries soften and the skins split. At this point, you can strain the fruit pulp out to use in a smoothie, or you can leave the fruit for a “chunky” pancake syrup.
Use a peeler or paring knife to remove a few ¼ inch slices of lemon peel, along with some of the white pith attached. Add this to the syrup, along with the sugar, and bring to a boil. The pectin in the peels effectively thickens the syrup. Finally, squeeze the lemon and add the juice.
Pour the syrup into a plastic container and refrigerate or can it in pint jars. Remove air bubbles, add the lids and rings, and process in a water-bath canner for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your altitude.
Berries are packed with antioxidants known to reduce the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases. According to the University of Alaska, drying fruits preserves more of those antioxidants than other home preparation methods, including canning or making the berries into jams. Dried berries also take up little room and are a great snack alone or combined with nuts and other dried fruits. Add dried berries to yogurt or stir them into granola or oatmeal.
To dry bramble fruits and round berries, drop them into boiling water to burst the skins so moisture expels. Drain and rinse. Halve strawberries, but don’t drop them in boiling water. In a small saucepan, heat 3 cups water with 1 cup sugar. Add 1 cup honey and stir well. Drop the fruit in the honey mixture to coat. Drain well and pat dry. This honey dip sweetens tart fruit and helps preserve flavor and color.
Lay the fruit on a cookie sheet so the pieces don’t touch and dry in a slow oven (150 degrees) for 5 to 24 hours, or until the fruit is dry, but still somewhat pliable. Place in a bowl and store in a dark place for two weeks to completely dry the fruit before storing it in plastic bags.
Raspberry Fruit Leather
Much healthier than those fruit snacks you find at the grocery store, berry leather is a great choice for lunchboxes, picnics, or anytime snacks. Store them in a cool, dry place so they don’t become sticky.
- 4 cups raspberries
- 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees or the lowest temperature your oven goes. Puree the raspberries in a blender and strain through a sieve to remove seeds. Add honey to taste and stir well. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour the raspberry mixture on the parchment paper and spread it out, leaving ½ inch of parchment paper exposed around the edges.
Bake in the slow oven for 6 to 24 hours, leaving the door open so air circulates. Check the leather frequently. It’s done when no dark spots remain or no indentations remain when you push it gently with a fingertip. Cool the leather for 30 minutes. Cut the leather and parchment paper into strips 4 inches by 4 inches. Roll up the fruit leathers and store in a plastic bag or air-tight container for up to six months. For longer storage, place in the refrigerator or freezer.
Use unsweetened applesauce in any fruit leather recipe to stretch the fruit and give a smooth, supple texture.
- 2 cups blueberries
- 1 cup applesauce
- 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
Puree the blueberries in a blender and strain through a sieve to remove seeds. Combine with the applesauce and honey and spread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees or the lowest temperature possible. Bake for 6 to 24 hours, or until the fruit leather shows no dry spots and leaves no indentations when you touch it. Cool for 30 minutes and cut into squares, leaving the parchment paper intact. Roll up the leathers and store them in a plastic bag or air-tight container.
Grow your own.
The most obvious source, of course, is your own yard. If you have a bit of space, plant some bramble fruits or a few berry shrubs. Raspberries and blackberries are among the simplest to grow, although they do require annual pruning.
Plant berries that grow well in your climate. Blackberries aren’t reliably hardy in my region, and even summer-bearing raspberries often get nipped by late spring frosts. I grow only fall-bearing, or primocane, raspberries now. I mow the canes down in the fall after harvest and fruit grows on new canes the following fall. No more confusing pruning regimens or worrying about winter weather.
In addition to bramble fruits, try growing chokecherries, serviceberries, elderberries, currants, or gooseberries, depending on your climate. Some elderberry varieties are for ornamental purposes only and don’t produce edible fruit. Gooseberries, currants, and elderberries don’t tolerate hot, dry climates, but are ideal if you live in the frosty north.
Pick your own.
Visit a pick-your-own farm like the Berry Patch Farm in Brighton, Colorado. Berries at these farms are often organic and of very high quality. Prices are reasonable, although I go as much for the experience as the low cost. I can’t think of a better way to spend a crisp autumn day than picking berries with friends.
Forage in the wild.
Edible berries grow in almost every region of the United States, and they’re free for the picking. In the Rocky Mountains where I live, I find chokecherries, wild grapes, and serviceberries, which resemble blueberries. My sister in the Pacific Northwest harvests huckleberries—which also resemble blueberries—and even wild blackberries, which many people consider weeds.
Talk with your county extension office to learn about berries in your area or ask a few old-timers. Just remember to positively identify any berry and plant before you eat the berries, since some berries are toxic. Get a good guidebook or download an app to your phone .