We have 5 large blueberry bushes and three mini. They’re supposed to fruit early-, mid-, and late-season, but this year we’ve not had enough sunshine until the last few days so they’ve all ripened at the same time. The hubby and I spent about two hours picking them, then I washed them with a fruit and vegetable wash, picked out the debris, and then laid them out to dry off on cookie sheets covered in paper towels.
In the past we’ve made blueberry muffins, pie, and syrup, and we’ve frozen quart size bags for smoothies. But this year we’ve got too many or that so we’re having to come up with some other ways to save them. Freezing them is great, but the berries only taste good for about 3 months and then the berries have limited uses as frozen berries just aren’t the same as fresh.
My husband bought me some dried blueberries covered in dark chocolate the other day (the brand was Emily’s and they make cherries and strawberries as well). They were amazing so we’re going to give it a try with our berries. I’ve dried other things like apples and bananas when the kids were little and I used to dry a lot of flowers from the garden, especially lavender, so I’m excited to dust off the dehydrator do the blueberries.
Drying blueberries can be done several ways:
Sun Drying – this might work for those of you with hot summers, but it certainly isn’t going to work here in WA. Sun drying requires 3-4 days of at least 100 degrees in a row. Plus, you need a screen to lay the berries out on since air needs to circulate completely. Then there’s the problem of birds – you’ll need netting or another screen to cover them. Bring them in at night and return them when the sun comes out.
Oven Drying- Oven drying will work but it isn’t very energy efficient as you have to keep your oven below 200 degree F and you need to prop the over door open to keep air circulating. It’s best to have them on a mesh baking rack but you can use a cookie sheet as well. No matter which you choose, you’ll need to turn and rotate the berries occasionally to be sure they dry completely. You’ll need an oven thermometer to be sure you’re keeping the oven between 120 and 140 degrees F – start out at the 140F mark for about an hour and then turn down the oven to continue drying at 120F. It’s important that you keep the temp and optimal. Too low and you risk bacteria growth. Two high and you’ll be cooking the fruit, not drying it. Drying time 10-20 hours depending on the size of the berries.
Electric Dehydrating – This is the easiest method and the one that’ll give you the best result. New food dehydrators have temperature controls and fans. Unfortunately, mine is a 1990′s model so the temperature and circulation is managed by opening and closing vents on the top. Not the best, but I’m giving it a shot. If you have a newer model, you likely have instructions on how to dry berries and you should use those. If not, these general directions should work fine. Drying time 10-20 hours depending on the size of the berries.
No matter which process you choose there are some basic drying techniques.
Wash the berries and remove any debris like stems and wilted flowers. If you like, you can give them a lemon juice bath, but it’s not required. Fruits that brown easily like bananas or apples require this step.
Do a quick dry by laying the berries out on clean towels or paper towels. Handle the fruit gently. No matter which way you choose to dry them, be sure the fruit is in single layers.
Watch the temp – too high and you’ll cook it; too low and bacteria will grow. Over-dried loses its nutritional properties and flavor and under-dry it and you’ll risk losing your precious fruit to spoilage.
When’s it done? Look for the berries to be leathery with no moisture – pull a piece in half and check for beads of moisture along the tear.
Store the dried fruit in an air tight container. Keep the dried fruit in a cool and dark place where temperatures are a steady 60 degrees – a cupboard is generally a great place.
Food dehydrators come in all shapes, sizes and prices. From $30 to $250. If you’re not ready to purchase one, check Craigslist, or ask friends. I’m sure I’m not the only one with one stored away in a cupboard. Food dehydratorsmake great fruit leathers without all the additives and chemicals found in processed varieties and I’ll be trying cherries next summer. I fell in love the the Emily’s Dark Chocolate Covered Cherries and didn’t realize how delicious dried cherries are!
I have the first batch in the drier now. I’ll let you know how they turn out.