by Amanda Rose Newton
Fortunately, with many native varieties present in our state, blackberries are a hard-to-go-wrong-with plant no matter how black your thumb is!
December is the ideal month to plant new blackberry bushes but for many, the bushes just ended their berry bonanza that can last all summer long! You really can not have enough blackberries (or raspberries) but in case you need a few suggestions on how to use those last remaining stragglers or if you tend to buy too many when they go on sale at the grocery store (those 5 for 5 deals get me every time), here are a few ways to get the most of your summer berries.
Both raspberries and blackberries feature a high-water content. That means they are easily damaged, crushed, become mushy, and mold easily.
Your best bet with last-minute saving efforts is to freeze. Wash, sort, and pick the best of the bunch, then choose one of the options below for putting them on ice.
- Sugar Packed – Mix a simple syrup of 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar and pour over your fresh berries in a sealable bag or container. Not only will this sweeten up particularly sour berries, but it will get around the mushy-when-thawed issue.
- Sugar-Free Packed – My favorite method to this day is to keep the tart and simply freeze in plastic containers or vacuum-sealed bags. Leave about ½ inch of headspace and your berries are ready to add directly to smoothies.
Pro tip: You can toss frozen berries directly into baked good recipes and they will cook up right in the batter! Better yet, frozen berries tend to sink less, making them perfect for muffins and quick breads.
- Pectin Packed – This method cuts down on the sugar and naturally controls the liquid content. This is also a great way to preserve the color and flavor with little alteration.
Canned berries, which you might have purchased in a pinch in the past or to use for pie filling, are simple to do at home! Just follow the instructions for your desired result.
- Intact Berries: Pick through and choose the best of the bunch and choose a liquid to store them in. Here, you can get creative and make a sugar syrup as in the sugar-packed method or use a fruit juice thickened with sugar or a substitute. Pour ½ a cup of the syrup into a clean jar and top off with raw berries. Cover with additional syrup and process as you would with any canned goods, in a hot water bath.
- Syrup: Cooking down your berries into a syrup makes a great addition to spritzers, shrubs, and cocktails. Take your lemonade up a few notches by adding fresh blackberry syrup! See below for an easy recipe.
- Puree: This can be stored much the same way as canned berries, or even frozen in a bag! There is nothing dreamier than pureed raspberries, blackberries, or a mix over ice cream, pancakes, or pie! To make, simply heat ½ cup of sugar with ¼ cup water and about a pound of berries over medium heat. As the mixture cooks, the berries naturally break down, reducing your workload! Pour into a jar and freeze or store in the refrigerator.
How to make Blackberry Syrup
(You haven’t lived until you have used it in fresh limeade)
8 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
2 1/2 cups cane sugar (can substitute 1 cup honey or maple syrup or agave nectar)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons pectin powder
- Bring blackberries to boil over medium-high heat.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until mushy.
- Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher to further break up the berries.
- Place the cooked blackberries in a fine-meshed cheesecloth to strain out the remaining juice. You should get about 3 cups total.
- Pour the juice into a pot with the sugar and lemon juice.
- Bring it to a boil for about 3 minutes. Once you remove it from the heat, stir in the pectin to thicken.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
TO CAN SYRUP: Pour the hot syrup into sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace and top with lids. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Let the cans rest undisturbed for about 24 hours. Keep in a dark, cool place for up to a year.
Bonus: Sugared Berries
So, what do you do with those less than perfect berries you plan on eating sooner than later? Hopefully, your go to answer from now on will be sugared berries. Just as delicious as they sound, these also look like they just received a light dusting of snow, making them the perfect winter holiday meal decoration.
To make, you will need about ½ cup of water, ½ cup of sugar and 3 cups of blackberries or raspberries. Melt the sugar in the water, and let the berries take a quick dip. Fish them back out with a slotted spoon and allow them to rest on the counter for about an hour (not touching). Pour another ½ cup sugar in a bowl and roll the fruit one piece at a time through the sugar for a sparkling finish. Use to garnish cupcakes, sponge cakes, hams, or anything that could use an extra touch of holiday magic.