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Sharon Kitchens

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com. When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse. In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more. Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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The Root with Sharon Kitchens
Posted: July 8, 2014

Make-your-own trail mix and oven-dried wild blueberry recipes

Just picked wild blueberries in Washington County, Maine.

Just picked wild blueberries in Washington County, Maine.

Can you believe we are already a week into July? Days are jam-packed with outdoor chores, writing assignments, and social activities. This is the time of year when I forget to eat, and then all of a sudden it hits me – I’m hungry.

Maybe because I’ve been known to get hangry (when hunger takes over and you become super frustrated) I stash food in my purse. A handful of almonds is enough to keep me from turning into a T-Rex and wanting to chew on a tire – no, I’m not kidding.

Not being a drive-thru or vending machine gal can make it difficult to find food when I’m out and I don’t often have time to spontaneously enjoy a sit down meal, plus I might reach the too irritable stage before the nice waiter or waitress can deliver the bread plate.

Whether you’re hiking or just on the go for the day, having something lightweight on hand to keep you fueled is a smart thing to do. Energy bars are terrific (I’m a big fan of Larabars and Kind bars), just be sure to read the label. Some resemble candy bars more than healthy bars! With this in mind, I’m featuring a few tips on how to make your own trail mix and one of my favorite recipes from Teresa Marrone’s new book “The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods: Preserve Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, and Meat with a Dehydrator, a Kitchen Oven, or the Sun.”

Three healthy trail mix suggestions:

Almonds, peanuts, banana chips, granola, dried blueberries, coconut flakes

Cashews, almonds, pretzels, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, air-popped popcorn

Walnuts, unsalted and sweetened peanuts, dried cranberries or raisins or dried blueberries

A few additional notes:

Store the mix in an airtight container in a cool, dry location and it should last a few weeks.

If you have kids consider adding Cheerios (natural kind preferred), raisins, and Goldfish (a processed food weakness of mine).

During the summer, especially on hot days, avoid chocolate in your mix. Speaking from personal experience it turns that lovely mix into a gooey mess.

If you love salt toss in a little sea salt.

Movie night in or screening in the park combine M&Ms with hot air-popped popcorn and sea salt. This is one of my favorite treats! The M&Ms soften and oh my gosh that sweet salt combo – so good. Way healthier than a bucket of movie theatre popcorn.

Truly homemade trail mix, drying your own berries:

Embrace dehydration and – among other things – you’ll add nutrients to your diet and save money (the bulk food aisle is not exactly cheap). Teresa Marrone’s new book “The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods.”

Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that you do not own a manufactured food dehydrator and are using your oven – which may or may not have a built-in convection system (you can try sun-drying, but with all the humidity we’ve got in Maine it’s a little iffy). Best to stick with a recipe with a short dehydrating time.

For information on using your oven check out the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension site.

I’m a huge fan of wild blueberries from Maine. In the middle of winter they are as delicious as when freshly picked in a field.

A handful of wild Maine blueberries.

A handful of wild Maine blueberries.

Recipe for drying blueberries adapted from Teresa Marrone’s new book “The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods: Preserve Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, and Meat with a Dehydrator, a Kitchen Oven, or the Sun.”

Use wild blueberries, they are smaller than the conventional ones. You can find them in the section of the market where the frozen fruit is kept. I believe Wyman’s only sells wild, but check the package to be sure. During August you can find freshly picked wild ones in certain markets and well you could always pick your own. Ask if they are wild and/or give them the eyeball test – dark and small – probably wild.

Choose well-ripened but firm berries. Discard any that are soft of mushy (if you have chickens they’ll love them, mine do).

Wash the berries in cold water just before using; they may begin to spoil if washed in advance.

You want the skins to be torn a little. Marrone suggests cutting each berry in half, but realizes this can be time-consuming depending on how many you are processing.

She notes brief syrup-blanching checks the fruit and also improves the taste and texture. Syrup-blanch by simmering (not boiling) for two minutes (three for larger blueberries).

For best results, Marrone suggests using a wire-mesh strainer and a pot large enough to allow the bottom of the strainer to be immersed in the water. Place about 1 cup of berries in the strainer; set aside. Heat the water to a full, rolling boil, then immerse the bottom of the strainer into the water so the berries are covered by an inch or so. Blanch for 30 second; the berries should al float, a sign that the skins have split.

Immediately plunge the berries into a large bowl of ice water, and stir gently until the berries are cool; drain and spread on trays.

Use screens on racks; coat with cooking spray. Stir and rearrange berries several times during drying. Cook at 135 for around hours depending on the size of the berries.

Marrone’s doneness test – berries should be pliable and slightly sticky but no longer moist inside; they should have flattened some.

Yield: 1 pound fresh berries yields ¾ to 1 cup of dried berries, depending on the size of the berries.

If you Google “oven-dried blueberry recipes” several reliable looking ones come up – including this one from the now defunct Whole Living magazine.

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