Last year, I jumped head first into processing and preserving some of the wonderful summer and fall fruits Oregon has to offer. In fact, wanting to remember all the tricks I used doing it was part of the original idea behind this blog. This year, I processed even more fruits, and in more different ways, (2011 was mostly jam) and I loved doing it. Here’s a review of the first part of the season, and some notes for next year.
- U-Picked these on a lovely mid-July day in Hood River. Not sure of the varieties — I think I picked serveral different ones, but then promptly mixed them all together.
- Fresh Uses: Used some right away in a blueberry-cherry crisp (basically unseasoned and unsweetened and still delicious!) and in a blueberry-basil salad dressing (blueberries, basil, olive oil, salt, blender.)
- Preserving: No blueberry jam this year — I dried almost all of the rest. A great space-saver! Turns out 15 pounds of fresh blueberries can fit in a couple Ziploc bags once they’ve been dried. Dip them in boiling water first to check the skins and let the berries release moisture in the dehydrator. Since then, I’ve eaten some as snacks, put some in granola, and soaked some in water before adding them to smoothies. I’ll be interested to see if what other uses I put them to this winter.
- Notes for Next Year: Depending on how much I enjoy the dried ones over the winter, I may want to make some preserves next year, and/or find a way to freeze some.
- U-picked some beautiful Bings at the same Hood River U-pick I visited last year. That time we picked a bunch of Raniers as well, but this year I decided they weren’t sufficiently more delicious to justify the extra $2/pound.
- Fresh Uses: Some of these went into the above mentioned blueberry-cherry crisp and some were eaten. Used a friend’s four-cherry cherry-pitter this year, which was very efficient, though last year’s pitting method of wearing a pastry-bag tip on my finger like a thimble and spearing the pits out was also very effective.
- Preserving: The rest were dried. I also managed to freeze about a cup of cherry juice that settled to the bottom of the tupperwares where I stored the cherries before drying them — I’m sure I’ll find something fun to do with that. (Interesting side note — I froze it in an ice-cream tray and the cubes didn’t cohere very well, unlike when I freeze chicken broth or pesto. I wonder why?)
- Notes for Next Year: Pitter vs. pastry bag tip? We’ll see what’s available next year, and what kind of volume I’m working with. Also, I need to remember that cherries are a fairly early fruit — I was lucky to catch the last weekend of the season at that Hood River farm. I should be thinking about them by the Fourth of July.
- I picked a bunch of Italian plums with The Portland Fruit Tree Project, a fun and practical organization that I very much appreciate. From an orchard whose owners’ weren’t harvesting it, we harvested over a ton of perfect plums for the Oregon Food Bank, and each got to take home forty pounds of mid-grade plums, as well. PFTP put me in this overwhelmed-by-plums situation last year, too, though, so I had some ideas up my sleeve.
- Fresh Uses: Obviously, plums are delicious as they are. But they also do well in a variety of baked things. Two of my favorites here:
- Just Google “Rosemary Plum Upside-Down Cake” for variations on this fabulous idea. Much of what you’ll find, like this post is based around another Mark Bittman recipe. Whichever version you follow and whatever basic yellow cake recipe you use to top the plums, I don’t think you can mess it up as long as you get the upside-down plums right. Put butter in the pan first, with some sweetener of your choice, then try to arrange the quartered plums attractively. Add the rosemary underneath them so that the speckles don’t announce the herb’s presence – it’s better as a surprise
- The other plum discovery I made last year is Honey Roasted Plums with Thyme from Epicurious. This is, hands-down, the best ten-minute dessert I’ve ever had. Cutting up the plums takes as long as the whole rest of the process, and the reward is an amazing bowl of saucy, flavorful, sweetness that goes perfectly with whipped cream or Greek yogurt. For maximum caramel effect in the sauce, I suggest following the recipe exactly. Or if you’re not too concerned about the thickness of the sauce, just wing it.
- Preserving: The bounty of last year’s plum harvest inspired/forced me to buy a basic food dehydrator, and I made good use of it on this year’s plum harvest, as well. I dried a lot of these, but I did some small-batch canning, too. I made a spicy plum sauce (something like this) and some spiced plum jam with cardamom (along these lines) on the recommendation of one of the Harvest Leaders, who said plums and cardamom are a winning combination. Another fun plum project was Plum BBQ sauce, in which I used a basic barbecue sauce template (tomatoes, pickling spice, vinegar, season to taste), threw in a bunch of plums in place of tomatoes, and then spent entirely too long over the pot adding seasonings, tasting, and adding more seasonings. Turned out pretty well! Since it wasn’t even remotely based on a canning-safe recipe, though, I froze it.
- Notes for Next Year: Make sure I get in on another big plum harvest! I love these guys. I love them so much, in fact, that a good note for next year would be to make sure I have enough patience for them to reach their maximum ripeness/deliciousness before eating them fresh. Another note is that my plum research last year really paid off, because I already had some ideas ready to go. Hopefully, this project will help me be in that situation with more fruits this year!
That’s a lot of fruit, huh? And it’s only the beginning. Still to come: Apples, pears, Concord grapes, figs, and a summary of findings on low-sugar canning.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy these fruits? Any suggestions for fresh eating or baking? How about preserving? Oh, and what am I going to do with all this dried fruit over the winter? I could use some suggestions on that, too.