By Sue Odland
As thoughts of lazy days at the beach and picnics under shady trees fill gardeners’ heads, how can they take a needed rest with the abundance of berries and herbs appearing in gardens, at farm stands and in local markets? Can summer sloth and blue ribbon goodness truly coexist?
Preserving excess organic strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and other sweet berry miracles can be intimidating for new gardeners and cooks. Many recipes call for large, labor intensive batches of heavily sugared preparations that all but obliterate the delicate flavors and natural sweetness of the actual berries.
Smart gardeners know that simple quick, small batch preparation of home-grown produce is the healthiest and most effortless way to enjoy nature’s bounty.
Experiment with any of the following ideas when facing a fruit surplus. All options are low or no sugar and can easily be made gluten free, dairy free or vegan:
Deep Freeze –
Add handfuls of frozen berries to your morning smoothies, pancakes or baking recipes with this simple freezing method.
Rinse berries in cool water, let them dry in a strainer or on a towel.
(Any type of berry will work. For strawberries – remove hulls/stems and slice)
Lay wax paper on a cookie sheet, then lay berries on wax paper.
Place cookie sheet in freezer. Remove 2-3 hours later, or when berries are frozen.
Place frozen berries in baggies or storage containers.
Return to freezer for later use.
This method keeps berries loose and easy to remove for recipes, whether a handful or a cupful is needed.
Quick Cook –
This creation resembles a thin jam. It’s a perfect addition for toast, almond butter sandwiches, scones, pancakes, crepes and more.
Quick Cooked Sugar-Free Strawberry Topping for One
Place 4-5 strawberries – washed with hulls/stems removed, sliced or chopped – into a small saucepan.
Cover with enough water to moisten berries. Berries should not be swimming.
Bring to boil for 5 seconds, then simmer for 1-2 minutes.
As berries simmer, stir and mash fruit with back of spoon, (wooden works best).
Remove from heat when mixture resembles a thin jam. Serve.
This recipe can be used with almost any berry or fruit. Create your own signature combinations such as Strawberry -Raspberry, Blackberry-Mulberry-Blueberry or Cinnamon Apple Plum.
Refrigerator and Freezer Jams –
Once you develop a taste for home-made jam, you may want to keep your favorite combinations like strawberry jalapeno or blackberry basil in stock.
Refrigerator and freezer jams are simple and convenient ways to preserve a single jar or small batch of jam without the heavy labor required by traditional preserving methods, such as a hot water canning bath or pressure canning. In the majority of refrigerator jam recipes, the fruit is cooked before refrigerating, whereas freezer jams utilize a no-cook, mix and freeze method. Either method produces fast jam that will last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator after opening.
For simple, low sugar refrigerator and freezer jam recipes, visit Pomona’s Universal Pectin www.pomonapectin.com. This company makes an excellent vegan, gluten free, gmo free pectin (an ingredient that helps jams to gel), and includes recipes and instructions on-line and in every box. It can be purchased on-line or at local health food stores.
For those ready to dive into traditional canning and preserving techniques, refer to the Ball Blue Book of Preserving or Rodale’s Preserving Summer’s Bounty. Both are informative, easy-to-follow resources for new and seasoned cooks alike.
The Dish –
Pies and crumbles are delicious options for excess berries. Pie fillings, which are simple to make, can be used immediately or frozen for future pie cravings. The following recipes are two personal favorites.
Anytime Summer Berry Pie
4 cups – fresh or frozen
(blueberry, mulberry, blackberry, etc.- mixed variety or one type only)
½ – ¾ cup honey, organic sugar or sugar substitute
(when using sweeter berries, sweetener can be eliminated)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 prepared pie shell with 2 shells – regular or gluten free
Preheat oven to 400°.
Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in berries, let sit for 2 minutes.
Pour into prepared pie shell.
Cover with remaining pie shell – crimp and seal edges of pie shells together using fingers or fork.
Make a few small holes with a fork in the top shell to allow steam to escape.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
Optional: Cover edges with aluminum foil to prevent over browning.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
2 cups strawberries – stems/hulls removed, sliced or chopped into small pieces
2 cups rhubarb cut into ¼ inch pieces
¾ cup honey, organic sugar or sugar substitute
(reduce sweetener to ½ cup for a more tart flavor)
¼ cup flour (regular or gluten free)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup melted butter or butter substitute – melted
1 cup flour (regular or gluten free)
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup honey, organic sugar or sugar substitute
Preheat oven to 375°.
Filling – Combine rhubarb and sugar in a bowl. Set bowl aside for 2 minutes.
Mix in strawberries, flour and cinnamon.
Place in a greased 8×10 baking dish.
Topping – In another bowl, combine all topping ingredients and sprinkle over strawberry/rhubarb mixture in baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes.
Serve with a warm scoop of vanilla ice cream or non-dairy frozen substitute.
Along with their abundance of fruit, gardeners often find themselves wondering what to do with prolific growing herbal plants. Teas made fresh from garden herbs are a wonderful complement to fruit creations. Basic herb gardens are an endless source of ingredients for refreshing and healing teas. These liquid pots of gold contain vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, enzymes, chlorophyll and numerous other compounds for increased health and wellness.
Familiar herb and flower choices for tea include: mint leaves, lemon balm leaves, dandelion leaves and blossoms, rose petals and leaves, nasturtium flowers and leaves, lavender blossoms and leaves, raspberry or blackberry leaves, basil, oregano and sage.
To make a garden tea:
Place a handful of leaves or blossoms into a clean tea pot.
Pour boiling water over your choice. Let mixture steep for 2-3 minutes, strain then serve.
More water can be added later to the same herbal mixture for a second round of tea.
For a single serving, the method is the same, simply reduce the amount of herbs to fit into a cup, cover, steep, strain, serve.
Simple cooking with fresh garden fare is quick, easy and rewarding. Explore these delicious ways to multiply the goodness of your garden. Make sure to include them in your relaxing day at the beach.
Sue Odland is a free lance writer and Midwestern gardener, who enjoys a good day at the beach.