One of the best aspects of early fall is the abundance of fresh produce available. Most of us don't have the time or inclination to grow our own fruit or berries, but it's still nice to have the opportunity to harvest some of our own food. Berry picking is a fun and tasty way to participate.
Berries are a great fruit to gather for yourself since you can often find berries locally, either around the neighborhood or from a local u-pick berry farm. Once you've picked your berries there are lots of things you can do with them -- if, that is, you can get in enough into your basket without their taking a detour into someone's mouth.
The first thing you need to know before going berry picking is which berries are in season. Each type of berry comes into season at a different time, and the weather plays a crucial role in the growth of the berries. The most common berries you can pick are blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.
Raspberries usually have two crops through the year. The first crop normally comes into season between June and July; the second crop commonly matures sometime between late July and August. Raspberries are especially susceptible to differences in the weather. If it is too wet they can get fungus.
Blueberries come into season in October unless there is uncommon frosting. Blackberries grow like weeds in certain areas; they usually ripen sometime between July and August. Strawberries come into season earlier than the other berries; they can be ready for picking between April and early June, depending on your location.
When you are picking berries, you need to pick plump, firm, and ripe berries. You want to make sure the berry is ripe before you pick it, since they don't ripen off the vine. Strawberries don't ripen at all after they are picked. You also don't want the fruit to be over-ripe, since they spoil much more quickly. The best berries are those that are just ripe, still firm and bursting with their berry flavors.
Once you have your berries there are many things you can do with them. You can eat them plain, since they taste great fresh, or you can cook with them. Fresh berries make great jams. They also make fabulous deserts, and there are ways to use berries in savory dishes as well. If you are really adventurous you can theme entire meals around a single ingredient, like berries. If you don't want to use your berries right away, you can freeze them for future use. Freezing your berries is the best way to keep them as fresh as possible for the longest period of time.
Strawberry Freezer Jam
You can make freezer jams from any type of berry. Making freezer jam is simpler than it seems and freezer jams, keep well for a long time. To make strawberry freezer jam you will need:
1 quart strawberries, washed, hulled and mashed (about 2 cups)
4 cups sugar
3/4 cups water
1 box pectin
Combine the fruit and sugar in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Allow the fruit and sugar to stand for ten or so minutes. Mix the pectin and water in a small saucepan. Boil the water for one minute, constantly stirring. Stir the water and pectin into the fruit mixture right away, while still hot. Stir the fruit with the pectin in it for a few minutes. Then ladle into jars and cover with tight lids. Allow the covered jam to stand overnight, then store in the freezer, or keep a small amount in the refrigerator to use right away. You can also make freezer jam with different types of berries. The ratio of berries to sugar changes with each type of fruit. You will also find helpful information on making jam on the box of pectin.
Picking you own berries and using them in your culinary creations is a great way to spend a day and stun your family with your culinary prowess. Choosing your own place to pick berries gives you much more control over the quality of berries you eat. Many local growers do not use the same chemicals you find on supermarket berries. Berry picking during each berry's season is an exciting way to take part in the year's bountiful harvest.