Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dehdrating blueberries and huckleberries

Just-washed blueberries

Most years we pick wild blueberries, known as 'huckleberries' in our area, on the mountainsides around our valley.  This year because of the wildfire, the roads were closed even though most of the berry patches were lower down on the mountains.  I ordered a ten pound box of blueberries through our local food co-op and in the picture above I'm putting washed berries onto dehydrator racks.

My husband, Steven, picking huckleberries
It's about a 12-mile drive to the turn-off up to the berry patches, then seven miles on a dirt road, winding ever upward.  We cross several small, clear streams cheerfully splashing over rocks as they tumble down to meet the river in the valley floor.

Seven picking berries alongside a long-fallen tree.
Blueberries and huckleberries have to have the right conditions to grow, including acidic soil.  Our pine forests are a great habitat for the berrries, but they only grow on certain hillsides in a certain elevation range.  They're around 4,000' to 5,00' elevation in our area.

Huckleberries on a bush
It's a long, slow process to pick the gallons of berries we use every year.  Depending on the size and amount of berries in a given year, we pick from three to nine gallons a year.
Susan, the author, gazing with binoculars
It's usually pleasant to be up on the mountainside.  We can hear the stream below us and the sound of the wind whispering through the pine needles, and feel the warm sun on our backs.  Sometimes the flies or mosquitoes drive us nuts, and sometimes it's rained recently and the underbrush soaks our legs. Our backs get tired bending over and our legs get achy standing on the slope all day.  But mostly, it's nice to be there.

Sometimes we look out on the scenery and appreciate it.
Sometimes the scenery runs past us! 
We've seen bears a few times too.
Huckleberry stains.  Usually our hands are worse than this after
a day of picking berries, so this must have been a light day.
Berries being cleaned.
Now it's time to wash the berries.  We usually fill the buckets with water full enough to cover the berries.  Running our fingers through the berries, up and down and around, we bring sticks and leaves to the surface where we pick them out.  Bugs sometimes float to the surface too.  It takes a while to really be thorough and get all the sticks, leaves, and bugs out.  It's also a good time to pick out unripe or overripe berries.
Next they're spread on screens.  There are going to be air dried.
Ignore the bowl of peas!  They're not relevant.
Although, dehydrated peas and dehydrated blueberries look much alike
except for color.  I used to put the jars side by side and tease people that
the purple ones are an exotic pea.

These berries are on dehydrator racks from our Nesco dehydrator, but they are being
air-dried in our gas oven over the pilot light.
Here are the dehydrated berries.
This is another type of dehydrator we own.
We live off-grid with solar electric power.  On a long, clear summer day I can run one dehydrator for several hours during the middle of the day, after our household battery bank is fully charged.  On those days it's sometimes charged by 10 Am.  While the air-drying berries were in our oven I ran this dehydrator pictured above) off the solar power.  I didn't have enough hours of power to finish them, but when it approached evening I unplugged the dehydrator and spread the racks out across teh counter to keep them from spoiling over night.  We live in a very low humidity climate, which helps with air-drying.
In an electric dehydrator it will take anywhere from 12 to 20 hours to fully dry blueberries or huckleberries.  If your dehydrator has a temperature control, set it at 135.  Otherwise rotate the racks every few hours for even drying if you can't adjust the temperature.  Watch for excessive heat and scorching of berries.

Sorting through dried berries.
When the berries are dry I dumpe the into a cake pan or in (pictured above) a pizza pan, and sort through them.  I break apart any that are stuck together, and I look for soft or gummy berries.  Some berries just simply won't dehydrate, even if you put them back in the dehydrator.  I pluck those few out and put them in a cup in the refrigerator and use them soon.
Berries ready to store.
The jar on the left is a gallon jar..  The other jars are here to show scale.  I prefer to use glass jars with tightly-fitting lids to store dehydrated huckleberries and blueberries.  You can use plastic but I would not consider that long term.  If you vacuum-sealed them in vacuum sealer bags they would keep longer.  Even better would be to toss in an oxygen-absorber packet (or Co2) and then vacuum-seal it.  Better than that would be to put your vacuum-sealed bags in a mylar bag-lined bucket and seal that, for really long-term storage.
Some metals can have a chemical reaction with the berrries an give them an 'off' taste.  If you must use metal containers, try lining it with a bag and putting the berries in the bag.  Make sure it has a tight-fitting lid to keep moisture from getting in.  Instect infestation is another, but less likely, possibility if it's not sealed well.
Store them in a cool dark place.  Daily or seasonal temperature fluctuations can also shorten the shelf life, so try to find a place with as stable a temperature as possible.  A bedroom closet or under a bed are places to consider. 

Dehydrated berries about to be rehydrated for pancakes.
To rehydrate berries, soak them in luke warm to almost-hot water for 15 minutes to half an hour.  You can just toss the dry berries into pancake or muffin batter and they'll slightly rehydrate and be a blueberry-flavored chewy bit, which is also fun.  Our grandkids like that bettter than fully-rehydrated berries.
Testing a rehydrated-berry pie on my son.  I bribed him with the ice cream.
The pie passed his taste test!
More ideas for preserving and using blueberries and huckleberries can be found in my book, Preserving Fruits, Nuts, and Seeds.  In the book there are also directions for canning and freezing blueberries.  A delicious condiment can be made by pickling blueberries but it is a short-term storage food.
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Thank you!


1 comment:

  1. Baby wipes remove blueberry stains out of cloth and off people!