This week, Sept. 9-15, is 5 A Day Week. The National Cancer Institute encourages everyone to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day to help reduce the risk of getting cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.
In Alaska, we are fortunate because we can turn to "nature's pantry" to help us get our 5 A Day. Because Alaska has an abundance of numerous types of wild berries there is a "wild side" to our 5 A Day. Wild berries can be preserved for long-term storage, are of excellent quality, cost only the money for gas to get you to your favorite picking spot, are nutritious and the picking gets you outdoors for exercise and quality time with friends and family.
Fresh berries are perishable. However, properly preserved berries help ensure a plentiful supply of these healthful foods throughout the year. The choice of preservation methods is determined by the planned use of the berries. Methods include freezing, drying, canning and preserving as jellied products.
To freeze berries without added sweetener place dry, fresh berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer. When the berries are frozen, pour them into plastic bags or containers. Seal tightly and label with berry name, amount of fruit and date.
Berries frozen this way will retain their shape and remain separated. Frozen berries have multiple uses such as in muffins, breads, pancakes, pies or (in the case of blueberries and raspberries) eaten with yogurt and granola for breakfast.
To preserve berries where whole, separated berries are not important, place dry, fresh berries in plastic freezer bags or containers. Seal tightly and label containers with berry name, amount and date.
If berries are frozen before use they will produce more juice than fresh berries and recipes will need to be adjusted accordingly. For example, if frozen berries are used to prepare a pie, increase thickener (cornstarch, flour, tapioca) by approximately one-half.
To can berries, wash and rinse jars. Prepare lids according to manufacturer's instructions. Berries in jars may be covered with your choice of water, apple or white grape juice or syrup (very light, light or medium).
To can berries in water or juice, bring 10 1/2 cups of water, apple or white grape juice to a boil. Place berries in boiling juice or water and boil 30 seconds.
Fill clean, hot jars with hot berries and juice or syrup, leaving one-half inch head space. Wipe sealing edge of jars with a clean, damp paper towel. Attach prepared lids and screw bands, hand tighten. Process in a boiling water bath -- 15 minutes for pints or quarts.
For more information on preserving berries for your wild 5 A Day cache, contact the Cooperative Extension Service at 262-5824 or drop in at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A.
Linda Athons is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs.
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