Sunday, July 10, 2011

Preserving Summer

It’s high black berry season here in Tennessee and that means our second annual trip to Beechgrove, TN for some wild black berry picking. If you recall from last year I ran into some trouble with chiggers and was embarrassed to wear shorts for roughly a month. After much anecdotal research Andy and I learned that the best way to avoid chiggers while berry picking is to either wear kerosene soak rags around your ankles or use bug spray. Despite my grandpa’s logic we settled on the latter and geared up for berry picking.

These wild blackberries grow at the farm of one of Andy’s coworkers, he just lets people show up at his house whenever and pick to their hearts delight. Another lesson we learned from last year is to go early, because the heat will knock you out quicker than the chiggers or flying beetles. So we roused ourselves early this morning, doused ourselves in bug spray, tucked our pants into our socks and we were on our way. Before the heat got to us we managed to pick enough berries for one batch of preserves (which is like jam, but without mushing the fruit).

Our blackberry hosts last year let me know that a good way to clean the berries was to soak them in water. All the leaves and unwanted stuff will float to the top (last year this included an inch worm) and can be simply swept off the top.

Making preserves is quite easy. All you need is half the amount of sugar as fruit. For us that was 8 cups black berries and 4 cups sugar. Stir it all together and let it macerate for about 10 minutes. This lets the juice from the fruit seep out and it becomes the cooking liquid. While that’s going on you prepare the canner and jars, we had about 5 half pint jars. Once the maceration has happened stir the fruit up and boil hard for about 10 to 15 minutes until you reach gel stage. Then take your preserves off the heat, skim off the foam and pack into hot jars. Process for 15 minutes, let rest for 5 and you’ve got a delicious treat!

Andy is currently making biscuits for us to try out our newest batch of canning delights and I can’t wait to taste it in action. So far neither Andy or I show evidence of chigger bites (knock on wood). I hope that means when we go white water rafting later this summer I won’t have to explain away the rash on my legs like I had to last summer. I’ve learned that it’s not a good way to make a first impression by first saying, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.”

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