By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension
This is the last in a series of 6 Food Preservation articles
Strawberries are nearing the end of their season in Johnston County, and several farms no longer have strawberries for sale. There is good news, however, for fruit lovers like myself! Blueberry, blackberry, and peach season is on the horizon. If you are interested in buying from Johnston County growers, don’t forget to check out the NC Farms App and www.jocogrows.org.
I love eating fresh fruit and incorporating it into my breakfast. Locally grown berries have the sweetest and most delicious taste, so I often buy them by the flat. While I love having what seems like temporary unlimited access to fresh berries, it is inevitable that some will go bad. For fresh berries, avoid washing them until time to eat. This helps to reduce mold growth and spoilage. You may consider freezing them, which you can read about in an earlier article. These are not your only two options! Fruit leathers, a.k.a. making a homemade fruit rollup, and freezer jams are two of the simplest methods of home food preservation!
Fruit leathers are sheets of fruit puree that has been dried to remove moisture for longer shelf-stability. We call them leathers because the final product’s texture is shiny, sleek, and chewy. You can create leathers using any fruit, but it is a good idea to add two teaspoons of lemon juice or 1/8 tsp. of ascorbic acid per two cups of fruit puree to prevent browning. Two cups of fruit puree yields one 13”x15” sheet. Be sure fruit is washed and the seeds, peel, and stems are removed prior to pureeing. Fruit leathers can be made without added sugars, making them a healthy and fun snack for children. These homemade fruit rollups lend the option to add sugar if you prefer. Honey is the best sweetener to use to prevent crystals in your leather and produce the smoothest fruit leather. You may use fresh, frozen, or (drained) canned fruit. Applesauce is a great addition to fruit leathers as it extends the fruit puree and cuts the tartness of fruit, reducing the need for added sugar.
To prepare trays for fruit leathers, use plastic wrap to line a 13”x15” inch cookie sheet or dehydrator sheet. To make a fruit leather, you can use a dehydrator or your oven. Keep in mind that drying requires several hours of low heat and proper circulation. Dehydrators will use less energy and are a bit easier. If you don’t have a dehydrator, set your oven to 140 degrees (F). Fruit leathers will take between four and ten hours to dry out. If using the oven method, you’ll need to leave the oven door cracked two to six inches to allow for air circulation. You may also set fan nearby to enhance circulation, however, you’ll want to ensure your oven is maintaining the proper temperature for drying. Of course, never leave home while your oven is on. These fruit leather will dry from outside to inside. Therefore, the edges will dry first. Periodically check your fruit leather by touching the center of the leather. Your fruit leather is properly dried once you can touch the center without leaving an indentation or fingerprint. Finally, cut the sheet of fruit leather into strips. Fruit leathers keep about one month in a sealed container at room temperature. Another option for storage is to wrap tightly and freeze up to one year for best quality.
Food preservation is a great opportunity to teach children where food comes from (before it is shipped to a grocery store) by taking them to a farm or farm stand followed by hands-on experience turning these foods into delicious recipes and watching food science happen before their eyes. Freezer jams are the perfect opportunity to watch chemical reactions such as powdered pectin turn from powder to a sticky gel formed in boiling water and mixed with crushed fruit and sugar to form the texture of jam. Freezer jams do not require processing in a boiling water bath canner. Because they are not processed in a canner, they are not shelf-stable products. Heating up a lid and placing it on a jar does not mean you have canned or sealed a product, even when you hear it “pop” (refer back to a previously written article for more information). We call this product a freezer jam because it is stored in a freezer until time to consume. For consumption, store in the refrigerator. This product typically keeps in the fridge about 3-4 weeks. If you store at room temperature, the product will mold or ferment in a short time.
To make freezer jam, select ripe, disease-free berries that are of good quality and show no signs of bruises or spoilage. Be sure your freezer container or jars have been washed. Wash, cap, chop, and crush (using a potato masher) strawberries or blackberries until you have 2 cups. Using a blender or food processor will create air bubbles in your product. Typically, one quart of berries will yield two cups of mashed berries. Next, mix in four cups of sugar, stirring occasionally, and let sit 20 minutes. Then, bring one cup of water to a rapid boil, mix in powdered pectin, and boil for one minute while stirring to prevent pectin from sticking to the bottom of your small pot. Combine pectin with berry-sugar mixture and stir two minutes. Pour mixture into freezer safe containers or jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Headspace is the air gap between the top of your food and the rim of the jar or container. This is necessary as the food will expand in the freezer. Let jam stand at room temperature for 24 hours in order for the gel to set. After 24 hours, store in the freezer until you are ready to consume and transfer the jam to the refrigerator for storage. This recipe yields about 6 half-pint jars.
Four cups of sugar may seem like a lot- and it is! Sugar, however, is necessary to bind with the pectin and form a gel. For freezer jam, you may choose to purchase reduced-sugar pectin which usually comes in a pink box. When making freezer jam, you may use this special pectin and follow recipe guidelines inside the box. If you are making jams to be canned and made shelf stable, however, this is not recommended without other modifications. Please see previous articles to understand safety and spoilage risks when making shelf-stable, home-canned products. If you are new to food preservation, food preservation supplies are usually found in the home-section of Walmart and sometimes available at grocery stores and hardware stores. Safe recipes to follow for canning and making reduced-sugar products are So Easy to Preserve by University of Georgia Extension, Ball Blue Book, or the National Center for Home Food Preservation website (https://nchfp.uga.edu/). If you are interested in Home Food Preservation workshops, please visit https://johnston.ces.ncsu.edu/2020/06/home-food-preservation-online-series/. This series begins June 27th and participants must register for the first workshop by June 25th.
May 15th Article: Gearing Up to Preserve Local Foods
May 22nd Article: Dos and Don’ts of Freezing Produce
May 29th Article: Handling & Freezing Meats, Eggs, & Dairy
June 5th Article: Water Bath Canning Explained
June 12th Article: Pressure Canning Vegetables & Meats