My favorite part of summer is the berries. Raspberry, blackberry, black raspberry, wine berry – you name it, I’ll go pick it. And now is the time to begin. The wild ones are coming in now around much of the country. You could just eat them as-is, and be quite happy. But if you come into a wealth of berries, it’s nice to know some other uses for an excess of these sour/sweet gems. These are just five of the things I do with my berries, when I’m not eating them right off the canes.
Wild Kool-aid is what I call my concoction of water, berry juice and a touch of sugar. For purists, you could also skip the water and sugar in favor of pure juice. To make a drink from your berries, collect them, wash them, and drain them for a few minutes. Mash them in a pot and bring the mixture to a brief boil to kill any bug-related pathogens. Chill and drink as is, or chill and dilute to make it go farther. For a field expedient version of berry juice, place the rinsed berries in a clean bandana. Close and twist the bandana, so that the berries are enclosed. Mash the bundle a little with your hands, and twist the bandana to squeeze out the juice. Repeat the mashing and twisting until the juice doesn’t run anymore. Drink and enjoy.
2. Dried Fruit
Your dehydrator trays are the easiest place to make dried berries. Use a little heat from the unit to hasten the process and reduce the risk of spoilage while drying. You could also dry them outdoors in the sun on window screens or dehydrator trays. Store your finished dried berries in a cloth sack or paper bag to allow them to breathe. They can be eaten as-is once dried, but a better use is to grind them up and incorporate them into baked goods.
Follow your classic family recipe, or start your own tradition of making jam from berries. You’ll almost feel like you’re back in summertime, when eating your own jam in the dead of winter. Blend raspberries and blackberries together for a tasty sweet spread, or keep the flavors separate, it’s your call. Just make sure you use enough pectin to create a thick preserve consistency, or you’ll end up with a jar of syrup (though that’s not a bad thing either).
Remember that juice we made? Take it a step further and turn it into wine. Mash 2-3 pounds of berries in an enamel or stainless steel pot, bring to a boil and add 2 pounds of sugar (or honey). Add a quart of water and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid into a clean one-gallon jug, and top off with clean water. When the liquid temperature is below 80 F, add some red wine yeast and plug the jug with a wine lock. Ferment in a dark spot for a month, then pour off into smaller bottles for aging.
5. Medicinal Syrup
This is even easier than wine. Mix equal weights of sugar and berries together in a pot. Mash them up and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Strain the resulting syrup and pour it into bottles for use as a food product, which is great on pancakes. For a medicinal syrup, add tinctured or powdered medicinals to the syrup and store it in the fridge. Slippery elm bark powder turns the syrup into a cough and sore throat remedy. Tincture of burdock and/or dandelion root makes a great liver tonic, and the sweet syrup hides the bitter burdock and dandelion taste.
What can you make from your local berries? Let us know you use them by leaving a comment.