The Great Blueberry Experiment, Dehydrating Blueberries and Blueberry Cream Cheese Recipe
In the South, blueberries are readily available in the local market because the soil is very acidic, which blueberries love. The soil and water in our new location is very alkaline, which blueberries hate. But I love blueberries, and want to grow my own because we try to eat as locally as possible, starting in our backyard. The less time that passes between harvesting a food and it entering your belly, the more nutrients and flavor you get. Because I’m a hopeless experimenter, I searched and searched for ways to grow blueberries here, and I found it.
A man named Pete Tallman has been running a blueberry experiment in Colorado, which has similar soil. He dug a hole and buried a bag of peat moss, which is very acidic, and planted the blueberry bush directly in the bag. He ran a drip line under the plastic of the peat moss bag and poked drainage holes in the bottom. Peat moss holds moisture, so it has to remain wet or it will wick water from the blueberry roots and kill them. You can read more about his experiment on his website. This is a copy of his presentation. So I’m trying it! I love doing things that can’t be done. So far my blueberry bushes are growing beautifully. I have five, and if these go well, I’m going to add a few more.
I exchanged some emails with Pete, and one thing he said he wished he would have done differently is space them 4 feet apart as is recommended. His were much closer together. I chose Reka, Nelson and Elliott varieties based on his recommendations of best flavor and production. Those were also based on choosing one variety each of early, mid and late varieties so I can get a crop all summer long. Since I live in a colder climate I need high-bush varieties. Those who live in warmer climates would choose from low-bush varieties.
Last year I wanted to preserve some blueberries while they were at their peak flavor. I bought 5 flats from a local stand who orders them from Oregon, which is far, but less far than South or Central America. I froze a bunch in 2-cup portions that I’ve used all year in smoothies, crepes, pancakes, yogurt and muffins. I also dehydrated some. I put on a pot of boiling water and dipped the blueberries in with a metal mesh strainer to check them (break the skin), then put them on the dehydrator tray. It was my first time drying blueberries, and the most important thing I learned is they are done sooner than they appear to be. I over-dried some of them, but my kids don’t seem to care.
I store them in spaghetti sauce jars in my cabinet. As with everything you put up, heat, light and air are the enemies, so aim for cool, dark and sealed. Once they’re dry, put them in containers with lids and leave a few inches of headspace. For the next 2 weeks, you’ll shake your jars once a day. This is called conditioning. It allows what little moisture is left to redistribute evenly among all the pieces. If you get condensation inside your jar, they’re not dry enough and will mold, so throw them back in to dry some more.
I love cream cheese. Those fruit-flavored cream cheeses are oh-so-good on a bagel. The problem is they are more expensive and don’t really have fruit in them. I find that disturbing. You can make your own fruit-flavored cream cheese. One way I do it is my mixing in some jam like peach or strawberry. If you have fresh fruit like blueberries, add about 1/4 cup of fruit to 1 cup of cream cheese. You can mix by hand or in a food processor. If you want more intense flavor, add more berries. You could add sugar if you want, but if you have local, fresh berries, they will be naturally sweet and flavorful, and won’t need it.
*I am currently without computer. My computer is less than a year old and the hard drive has now failed twice. I sneak a minute or two on Adam’s computer when I can, so sorry for no posts. Toshiba has the absolute worst customer service ever, and I will never buy one of their computers again. Ever. So I typed this post on my phone, just for you. That does mean no pictures to tantalize you with. Sorry. I will come back and add some later, if Toshiba ever returns my computer.