The Complete Guide to Preserving and Using Preserved Blueberries

The Complete Guide to Preserving and Using Preserved Blueberries: How to dehydrate, freeze, can, and make jam from blueberries. | Whole-Fed Homestead
If necessity is the mother of invention, a trunk-load of blueberries is the mother of this blog post.

We were fortunate enough to be invited to pick til our heart’s content at a local blueberry orchard. Located on tree-lined rolling hills in the countryside, on a perfect dewy morning- we picked over 70 pounds of berries in a couple hours. And then we got home, and I had 70 pounds of blueberries staring me in the face. A good problem to have, of course…

Are you wondering what to do with all those blueberries?
Maybe you still have blueberries in the freezer from last year to use up?
Or a great big blueberry patch brimming with blueberries?

I’m covering all the bases of preserving fresh blueberries- from freezing to canning and dehydrating. And not only that, I’ve put together a ton of ideas on how you can use your berries after they are preserved!

General Blueberry Prep & Tips
The first step after picking is to wash and sort- that is, pick out any stems, rotters, leaves and bugs. For washing, I fill my huge harvest bowl with water and swish the berries around in it. Stems and junk float to the top and can easily be removed. After they are clean, I scoop the berries out into a strainer to drain, and then into another large bowl for holding until I am ready to use them.

Don’t wash the berries until right before you are ready to use them.
The Complete Guide to Preserving and Using Preserved Blueberries: How to dehydrate, freeze, can, and make jam from blueberries. | Whole-Fed Homestead

And like with any produce, the shorter the time between plant and preserved, the better the flavor and nutrients. Little ticking time bombs, they are.

Freezing Blueberries
My favorite method of blueberry preservation, if you’ve got the freezer room for it! Ours easily last 2 years in our deep freezer.

How to Freeze Blueberries
To freeze blueberries, dry off as much water as possible and load into zip-top quart freezer bags (not just “storage” bags) or my favorite freezer-safe, BPA-free, reusable freezer containers (love ’em!). The drier they are, the less they will stick together. Remove as much air from the bag as possible, seal, and freeze. My mom uses a straw to suck out air and then quickly seals it. I prefer to just gently squeeze out the air with my hands.

Some people might be inclined to freeze the berries individually on a baking sheet and then put them in zip-top bags for storage in the freezer. (And by the way, if you choose to do this, make sure to use parchment paper on the baking sheet, or the berries might freeze right to it). Frankly, this method is a waste of my time. Blueberries are so small, that even if frozen together in the bag, a light wrap on the counter edge is all you need to break them apart.

How to Use Frozen Blueberries
Smoothies| Obviously, I know…

For Making Jam Later| Did you know that if you don’t have time to make jam or preserves right away, you can freeze the berries until you’re ready? Jam sounds like a good middle-of-winter project to me!

Baking| To prevent baked goods from turning completely blue from blueberry juice, first thaw the blueberries and then rinse them in a colander several times, until the water is noticeably more clear. Then, dry the berries before using them. Use in muffins, cakes, quick breads, cheesecake… anywhere you would use fresh berries, you can use these.

Crisps, Cobblers & Pies| Blueberry cobbler on a cool fall Sunday morning is a mighty nice treat, or try my super-healthy version: Simple Baked Fruit.

Blueberry Syrup| Frozen blueberries, thawed and then cooked make a great blueberry syrup topping for ice cream, pancakes, french toast, etc. Just boil and mash until they release their juices, then add sweetener to taste. And cinnamon. And butter. Or orange zest…

On Oatmeal & Yogurt| Take a handful of frozen berries out of the freezer and let them thaw overnight. By morning you’ll have blueberries ready to be stirred into whatever breakfast awaits you!

Blueberry Applesauce| I love fruity applesauces! Break out a bag of frozen blueberries during apple season for some homemade blueberry applesauce! Use about three or four parts apples to one part blueberries.

Ferment Them| Add good bacteria to your body by fermenting blueberries (you can use frozen or fresh!). Follow this guide over at Oh Lardy!

Blueberry Lemonade| Gently cook the berries, smash them and strain the juice for refreshing blueberry lemonade.

Sorbet, Ice Cream & Popsicles| The best part of summer.

Canning Blueberries
Canning is a great way to preserve blueberries! And there are several roads you can take.

The Complete Guide to Preserving and Using Preserved Blueberries: How to dehydrate, freeze, can, and make jam from blueberries. | Whole-Fed Homestead

Blueberry Jam
Blueberries have enough natural pectin (when cooked down) that they don’t need commercial pectin to thicken. Plus, cooking down the fruit that much develops a lot of wonderful flavors that you won’t get when using pectin. For more inspiration in that department, check out: Northwest Edible Life’s How to Make Pectin-Free Jam: Ditch the Box and Increase the Creativity in your Preserves.

For regular-old, always delicious, reliable Blueberry Jam made with honey, not sugar, and without added pectin (with canning instructions!), I recommend following this recipe —> Honey-Sweetened No Pectin Blueberry Jam. 

Spice up your jam with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Blueberries go great with citrus- try adding the zest and juice of lemon, lime, or orange. Or get really creative with jalapeño, lavender, or even thyme.

Try fermented blueberry jam! Follow the instructions at Cultures for Health for this easy Lacto-Fermented Blueberry Jam (it will last in the fridge for months).

If you’re looking for a recipe with more sugar than actual fruit, and with added pectin, consult the Ball Book of Canning (which is actually a great resource for safe canning practices).

How to Use Blueberry Jam
Blueberry Cake Glaze| Whisk 2 cups powdered sugar (I use maple sugar, that I powder in the blender) with 2 Tbs blueberry jam, a couple drops of vanilla extract, and 2-3 Tbs milk or water to create a glaze frosting for cakes.

Standard Breakfast Preparations| English muffins, toast, crumpets…

Blueberry Margarita| I don’t know why strawberry gets all the margarita love… blueberries go just as well with citrus! Add 1 Tbs of jam to each serving of margarita you’re making. Yes, seriously! This works best with the blended kind.

Thumbprint Cookies| Whether you make them Vegan, Paleo, or “normal,” thumbprint cookies are a great way to use blueberry jam.

Pastries| Use blueberry jam for tartlets, Rugelach, or even to make filled doughnuts. Try Deliciously Organic’s recipe for Grain-Free Raspberry Crumble Bars (but with blueberry preserves instead, of course).

In Savory Sauces| Try whisking a spoonful of blueberry jam into your pan sauce and serve on top of pork chops or pork tenderloin.

Canned Blueberries in Syrup or Juice
Canned blueberries in syrup are a great addition to the canning pantry, and have different uses than blueberry jam does. Blueberries can be canned in heavy or very light syrup, or even water if you don’t want to add any sugar at all. At Simply Canning, you’ll find information on How to Can Blueberries. She uses white sugar in her “syrup” recipes, but I’d just sub in good-quality honey instead.

Or try Blueberries Canned in Apple Juice from Creating Nirvana!

How to Use Canned Blueberries
Use canned blueberries in the same way that you would use frozen. To prepare them, drain from the syrup (but save the syrup, I bet it’s yummy!) and dry the berries before using.

Dehydrating Blueberries
Dehydrating is one of my favorite preservation methods- probably because it is easy, the end product always turns out good, and I love that it doesn’t take additional energy to store dried goods.

About Dehydrating Blueberries
There are generally two main options for the simple dehydrating of fruit. One is to dehydrate them on low to keep the fruit in a “raw” state, and the other is to dehydrate at a higher temperature, which will inhibit enzymes and allow you to store your dried fruit without discoloration or spoiling for a lot longer. For blueberries, if you want to dehydrate them “raw” you’ll need to cut them in half or they will never finish. Raw-dried foods don’t last more than a month or two, in my experience.

Of course, this kind of control is only possible with a higher-end dehydrator. Buying an Excalibur Dehydrator a couple years ago was one of the best preserving investments I’ve made. It really is a game-changer, and I can’t imagine harvest season without it! —> Find it HERE!

I’ve tried three different methods of dehydrating blueberries over the past few years, and have settled on a favorite. The first method I tried was just to throw the blueberries in the dehydrator as-is, no prep. They turned out good- more on the flat, papery side… and they took a long time to dehydrate.

The second method I used was to cut the blueberries in half and then put them in the dehydrator. Besides taking a lot of time to prep, they turned out similar to the first batch: thin. And since they were cut in half they were also small pieces, and harder to eat. However, they did take about half as much time dehydrating. Use this method if dehydrating the berries on a “raw” setting.

This year I did some research and found that the way to end up with round, chewy, dried blueberries was to heat them first. The directions I read wanted me to boil the berries for 30 seconds and then shock them in an ice bath. Let me tell you, I loathe putting things in ice baths. We don’t have an ice maker, plus it takes extra time and extra dishes- so this method just doesn’t work for me. I decided I would use the same idea, and use the steamer instead! Turns out that this worked really well. And in the end, I really didn’t need to cool the berries in an ice bath, because they were just going to go into the dehydrator on the high temperature setting for fruit anyways.

How to Dehydrate Blueberries (my preferred method)
It is important to start with room temperature berries. To steam the blueberries for dehydration, I got my steamer pot rolling. Four cups of blueberries went into it at a time (this was a nice amount that didn’t over-crowd the steamer basket, and was also the perfect amount for one dehydrator tray). I steamed them for one minute, then jostled them around and steamed for another one to two minutes. It’s a fine line between steaming to soften the skin and turning the berries into mush. This is what they should look like after steaming: still intact, more maroon in color, and plumper.
The Complete Guide to Preserving and Using Preserved Blueberries: How to dehydrate, freeze, can, and make jam from blueberries. | Whole-Fed Homestead

Then I dumped them right onto the dehydrator tray, spread them around a bit, and put them into the dehydrator. For my dehydrator, 4 cups of berries fit on each tray, times 9 trays = 36 cups of berries are able to be processed at a time, if you’re wondering. Mine took about 24 hours to dehydrate.

The reality is that when dehydrating, the food won’t all finish at the same time. At about the 3/4 done mark, I check the berries and remove any that are done, so that they don’t over-cook… because they can and will. Many of my blueberries had puffed out skins, but were plenty done on the outside (initially it appeared that they weren’t done) so make sure and feel them. This is the best way to tell doneness- a tiny bit of squishy is okay, but anything that feels like an earlobe (sorry, but it’s the most accurate description!) needs more time. If you’re not sure about one, eat it. This will also help you learn doneness!

How to Use Dried Blueberries
Granola & Granola Bars| Just one word of caution: if making granola, don’t cook the blueberries with the rest of the mixture, add them at the end when the granola is done baking.
The Complete Guide to Preserving and Using Preserved Blueberries: How to dehydrate, freeze, can, and make jam from blueberries. | Whole-Fed Homestead

Trail Mix| We always have a homemade fruit and nut mix, or two on hand. A mixture of large flake coconut, almonds, chocolate chips and home-dried blueberries sounds great to me!

Pancakes & Muffins| For the best results, rehydrate for an hour in warm liquid before using.

On Salads| Dried fruit is a great addition to fresh green salads!

Blueberry Fruit Leather
Blueberry fruit leather is one of my all-time favorite leathers because it only requires a touch of honey. No need to add any other fruits like apples- blueberries are great in leather on their own!

How to Make Blueberry Fruit Leather
Start by cooking the blueberries in a large pot, and add just a little water to the bottom to help the berries get going and prevent them from burning. Cook the berries until they are bursting, releasing their juices and turning into a sauce, approximately 12-25 minutes. Use a potato masher to help them along.

When the berries are thoroughly cooked, taste them to determine their baseline sweetness, and add honey until your desired level is achieved. I usually end up using about 1 Tbs per 2 cups of berries. The last step is to puree the berries- and the easiest way is to use an immersion blender, because then you can leave them right in the pot. Otherwise, allow the berries to cool for a bit and transfer them to a blender or food processor to puree.

Ladle the sweetened, pureed blueberries onto a dehydrator leather sheet, and use a spoon to spread it around. I like my leather to be like a Fruit By the Foot, so I spread mine out into a large square that I will later cut into strips.

Dehydrate until it is no longer tacky on top, usually around 12 hours. I don’t flip my leather during dehydrating, simply because I don’t need to with the Excalibur. I’m not an expert on oven-dehydrating, but I know that it can be done successfully if that’s what you have to work with.

When finished, carefully peel the leather from the sheet and place it on a large cutting board. I like to cut the wavy edges off, so that my fruit leather strips are square. A pizza cutter is the absolute best tool for this job! After cutting into 1.5-2″ strips, I roll them up and place into a large mouth jar (so I can get my hand to the bottom!). I pack them in like sardines so that they stayed rolled up.

I won’t tell you how to use blueberry fruit leather, as I think you can figure that one out!

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