Most people think of pancakes, muffins, and oatmeal when they think of blueberries. We do, too, but we also use them in smoothies, as flavoring in frosting, and as snacks. Blueberries dry harder than a raisin but they still make excellent tasty snacks.
Sometimes we order blueberries in 10-lb boxes from a local food co-op, but most of the blueberries we dry are a wild berry that are locally called huckleberries. In other parts of the country, a huckleberry is more like a blackberry or black raspberry, but what they call huckleberries in Northwest Montana are actually a blueberry. We go up on the mountains around us and pick three to nine gallons of them every summer. Some of them are canned, but a lot of them are dried.
If you have picked wild berries you'll need to clean them first. Bits of leaves and sticks and sometimes bugs have to be picked out. Whether you buy or pick the berries you should wash them before preserving them. I pour water over them in a strainer basket and work the berries around with my fingers to make sure they're all washed.
Spread them on dryer screens or racks. Be sure not to crowd them too much so the air can circulate around them, and the moisture has room to escape. If you're using an electric dehydrator with a temperature control, set it at 135 degrees F. If your dehydrator doesn't have a temperature control, you may want to rotate the racks and watch for over-drying (if the dehydrator seems on the hot side). I once had some blueberries start to turn black and crisp on the bottom rack in this type of a dehydrator.
Blueberries can be air-dryed on screens if you live in a dry climate. Spread them on the screens and set them out of the way where they won't be bumped. Check them several times a day and stir them around gently with your fingers for faster drying, and to make sure none are spoiling.
A gas oven with a pilot light can be used for drying blueberries as well. The heat from a pilot light is warm and dry and provides a good environment for dehydrating. I like to drape a dish towel over the oven door, hanging over both sides of the door. This helps wick the moisture out of the oven and it's also a reminder to me that I have something in the oven, and I don't turn the oven on to bake something else and destroy the berries.
Whichever way you dry them, blueberries can take 12 to 20 hours to dry. Check through them when you think they're done. There will be the occasional 'gummy' one, sort of like a blueberry-raisin. Separate those out and use them right away or put them in the refrigerator. If all the rest are dried into firm blue balls, the gummy ones are as done as they're going to get. I don't know why some just simply don't fully dry. I've put those gummy ones back in the dehydrator for another day and they don't dry.
After the berries are thoroughly dehydrated and have cooled to room temperature, pack them into an air-tight container. I prefer glass since they are impermeable and glass doesn't react with the acids in the blueberries. Some metals can cause flavor changes in the berries. It's okay to use plastic bags or bottles for short-term storage of dehydrated blueberries, but if you're going to store them for longer periods, I recommend vacuum sealing them in the proper bags, or glass jars with air-tight lids. Some vacuum sealers have a jar attachment, which could be used to seal the jar even further.
Regardless of the container you use, storing them in a cool, dark place will give them the longest shelf life. Daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations can affect storage life, so the more steady you can keep the temperature, the longer your dehydrated foods will keep. I've put jars of dehydrated blueberries in paper bags and stored them under a bed, and kept one jar in the kitchen on a bottom cupboard shelf for handy use.
Rehydrate dried blueberries in luke-warm water for 15 minutes to half an hour. I start mine soaking before I mix up the pancake batter, muffin batter, or pie crust. The berries are re-hydrated by the time I'm ready to add them. Drain them well, and pat dry with a towel or paper towel if necessary.
Enjoy these wonderful, flavorful dehydrated berries all year round!
More information and pictures are available at Susan’s blog. This blog is a companion to several of her published books and centers around food preserving and food storage. Click here to browse her books.
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