And you thought raspberry season was in July…
By By Diane Wright Hirsch - Extension Educator/Food Safety
Featured Article - posted Mon., Oct. 7, 2013
It’s raspberry season - again! To me, raspberries are the eighth wonder of the world. Just the fact that they grace our table not once but twice each summer makes them especially wondrous - unless you have an everbearing bush that sends forth at least a few during most of the summer. But raspberries are also precious. I am not referring to the first definition in the American Heritage dictionary, “Of high cost or worth (though they often are high cost!); valuable,” or even as the second definition, “Highly esteemed; cherished,” or third, “Dear; beloved,” though they may be considered beloved by raspberry aficionados. Consider definition number four: “Affectedly dainty; refined.”
Raspberries are certainly dainty…and refined (except for all those troublesome seeds). They spoil easily. You must treat them with care.
Buying locally-grown raspberries, or, better yet, picking your own raspberries at peak harvest time may just turn you into a raspberry snob. Freshly harvested raspberries are far better than those you buy at your supermarket - often brought in from California. But, I must confess, I have succumbed to these on occasion in an especially unpleasant winter.
Ripe raspberries are fully colored and will separate easily from their cores. If you can pick the berries early in the day, before the heat settles in, all the better. Pick berries every two or three days, unless it is very hot - then you might need to pick every day. Avoid any berries that are moldy, too soft, or that do not hold their shape. Too many of these might lead to a soggy mess in just a few warm hours.
Gently place them in your harvest container - and do not fill the container too full, those on the bottom might be crushed. Harvested berries should be handled as little as possible and kept in the shade until they can be placed in cool storage.
When buying berries at a farm stand or market, look at them carefully. Seek out those that are fresh looking, plump and colorful. Avoid those with even the least bit of mold or mushiness. This can be difficult if the harvest season is plagued with too much rain. Sometimes I have purchased berries that looked fine and then it seemed that by the time I got them home they were moldy.
Whether you pick your own or buy them in a container at the farmers’ market, get them home quickly and right into the refrigerator. Do not wash them before storing in the fridge. Washing them before storage will only increase the chance for molding and spoilage.
Moisture is not a friend to these berries. In the refrigerator, the maximum storage life of raspberries is two to three days. Remember, however, to always wash berries before eating. Place them in a colander and run cool water over them, giving them a shake to make sure that all are washed well.
If you cannot use the berries up quickly, or if you want to enjoy the taste of summer berries in December, you can freeze or can them - or make jam. Keep in mind that when you preserve raspberries, you are never going to produce a frozen or canned product that is better than what you start out with. Avoid moldy, overly soft and ripe berries when preserving at home. If try to make jam with overly ripe berries, you may end up with raspberry syrup!
If you plan to use the berries in a recipe or to make ice cream, sauces or jam, then freeze the berries without added sugar. Simply wash the berries, drain them a pat them dry, and throw them (gently!) into a freezer bag or plastic freezer container. If you know the recipe you are using, say, for jam, then measure out and freeze one batch per container. You can then be ready to thaw and pour the berries into the jam pot along with sugar, pectin and lemon juice.
You can also freeze them individually on a tray. Once frozen, place them in a freezer bag or other freezer container. If you do this quickly, the berries will not be as likely to stick together and you can pour out what you need rather than defrost the whole bag if you do not need a whole bag.
If you will be eating the berries as is, you might want to consider either a sugar pack or syrup pack, both of which will improve the taste, texture and color of the raspberries.
A note about washing berries before freezing: One berry grower I know informs customers not to wash raspberries before freezing. However, if you try to wash them after freezing, you will be rinsing a lot of tasty juice down the sink drain! Just be sure that you make every effort to dry your berries well before freezing.
It is possible to can raspberries, but the resulting product will probably best be used in syrups or sauces. Find directions for canning-and freezing- at the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.uga.edu/nchfp.
Or, you can make my favorite, raspberry jam. Here is a simple recipe. It is simple, but so much better tasting than what you will find in the grocery shelf. Be sure to process your jam in a water bath canner or store it in the refrigerator for a few months. You would not want them to mold or spoil - these raspberries are far too precious to waste!
Note: berries should be ripe, but not overripe, a few underripe berries will not hurt the jam, but too many overripe berries might lead to syrup!
Yield Makes about seven1/2-pint jars
• 5 cups (about 2 quarts) crushed raspberries (I use a potato masher to do this)
• 1 box (1 3/4 ounces ) powdered pectin
• 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice (I like frozen bottled lemon juice)
• 6 1/2 cups sugar
1. In a large, heavy bottomed pan, mix raspberries, lemon juice, and pectin)
2. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
3. Quickly add sugar, still stirring.
4. Return to a full rolling boil; boil, stirring for one minute (use a watch with a second hand for this)
5. Remove from the heat. Skim off any foam.
6. Ladle into hot, sterilized jam jars; wipe rims; apply lids and screw bands.
7. Process in boiling water canner for 5 minutes. Or, if you wish, in lieu of processing, you can store in the refrigerator for about one month or freeze up to one year.
For more information about growing, harvesting, and storing raspberries, call the University of Connecticut Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.