Soft berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are best frozen in single layers so individual berries will stay separate. After they’ve frozen, store in freezer bags.
Canning a great way to preserve many fruits such as peaches, pears, and apples. Can the fruits in a raw pack with their own syrup, or add sugar and spices.
Come August the fruit harvest is on. While raspberries and blackberries are still ripening in some parts of the country, blueberries, figs, peaches, pears, and early apples are starting to make their way to the kitchen. If you've never grown berries and fruit trees, you should give it a try. Some, such as blueberries and cherries, are beautiful plants in the landscape. But the best part is that a few bushes or trees will yield an amazing bounty of fruit. I remember tiring of picking from my three blueberry bushes in late August only because I had eaten, baked, and frozen more than enough blueberries to satisfy me for the winter. What my family and I didn't eat, the birds and wildlife were glad to clean up.
That leads us to the topic at hand — what to do with a fruit bounty. Picking a few quarts of blueberries or gooseberries is great for fresh eating. It's when you have baskets of fruit and you don't want to waste it that you need to get creative. Luckily, there are some preserving techniques you can use to process and store your fruits for the fall and winter. Let's take a look at canning, freezing, and drying fruits with various processing techniques and the fruits that are best suited to each. I won't be touching on making specialty items such as applesauce or pear butter in this article.
Before you even get the canning jars and drying racks ready, you'll need to know a few things about harvesting. Always harvest disease and pest free fruits. Wait until fruits are ripe but not over mature for best flavor. Some fruits, such as apples and pears, continue to ripen after harvest while others, such as grapes, need to fully ripen on the vine. Pick in the morning while the temperatures are cool for best flavor, and process your fruits as soon as possible. Okay, time to can, freeze, and dry.
I love to can tomatoes each year, but many fruits are suitable for canning as well. Firm fruits, such as peaches, nectarines, pears, and apples, are easiest to can, but softer fruits, such as plums and figs, can well too. Peel the fruits. For peaches remove the skin off the fruit by dipping it for 30 seconds in boiling water, then dipping it into cold water. The skin should slip right off. Slice the fruits into good sized chunks. Apples and pears are best cut into halves or quarters. While many gardeners will cook the fruit at this point and make what is called a hot pack, I like to place the chunks of fruit into canning jars, add certain sweeteners or spices and create a cold pack. For apples and pears consider adding a little cinnamon. Sugar is often added to hot packs to preserve the color and texture of the fruits and increase the sweetness. It's not needed for preservation. Make sure the liquid covers the fruits or they might discolor in processing. Boil the jars for the appropriate time per canning instructions. Some fruits, such as apples and pears, may color the water red or pink depending on the variety. Use all canned goods within one year for best quality.
You can also make jams and jellies from soft-fruited berries such as raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and plums. Follow the canning instructions for each fruit. Check out the websites mentioned at the end of this story for specific recommendations.
Preserving fruits by making sauces, jams, and jellies are another good ways to save summer's bounty.
Freezing is my favorite way to preserve fruits. It's especially a great way to save soft berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I often use these fruits all winter in smoothies and to add to cakes and pies. To freeze soft fruits, such as cherries and grapes, I like to spread single layer of berries on a tray. This way the individual fruits freeze and maintain their integrity and don't create a lump of berries in the freezer. It also makes it easier to remove just some of the fruits when you don’t want to use the whole container. Freezing preserves much of the flavor and nutritional quality of the fruits. The texture may get softer, so the fruits are best used in cooking or blending.
Gather glass, metal, or firm plastic containers for freezing. When freezing berries whole, I use plastic freezer bags as well. Some fruits, such as cherries and berries, should be frozen right after harvest, while others, such as peaches and plums, should be held until a batch is fully ripe. Some fruits will need an ascorbic acid or lemon juice treatment to prevent discoloring. While I like to create what's called a dry pack without sweeteners and additives, some people like creating a sugar pack or a syrup pack with sweeteners added. These work well if you plan on cooking with the fruits in winter. Eat all your frozen fruits within 12 months for best quality.
When I'm trying to dry fruits, I often wish I lived in the Southwest. The dry desert air and heat is perfect for drying berries and fruits for later use. If drying outdoors in the sun, you'll need two to four days of 100 degree F temperatures and a breeze. Turn slices halfway through the drying process. While laying out sliced fruit in the sun sounds romantic, for most of us, drying fruits means using the oven or a dehydrator. Most fruits are best sliced into 1/4 inch wedges for drying and need to be dipped in ascorbic acid for about 10 minutes to prevent darkening and slow bacterial growth.
You can either slice and dry individual pieces of fruits or create a fruit leather by blending together fruits into a slurry and drying the slurry on parchment paper. Dry in the oven (convection ovens are best) or dehydrator at 140 degrees F with good air circulation. Keep the oven door ajar to let steam escape. Drying times will vary from six hours for apples to 36 hours for whole peaches. Watch the fruits carefully because they may scorch towards the end of the drying time. When the fruits are leathery and pliable, they're dry. Continue to let them dry in glass jars in a cool, dry location for 10 days, then store for up to 12 months.