Its wild blueberry picking season here in Juneau and I’ve snagged a friend for a sociable evening pick. It’s been an amazingly sunny summer and blueberries are plentiful and huge this year. Even shady areas that usually have wormy, small, pithy berries are yielding large, plump, tasty berries! We meander along the roadside between berry patches, chatting amiably as we go. Elsewhere I’ve seen bear poop full of blueberry seeds but this patch is unmolested, probably too much human activity. After a pleasant couple of hours, the gathering dusk encourages no-see-ums and mosquitoes to unbearable levels and we pack Ziploc© bags of blueberries into buckets and head for home at about 9:00 p.m.
There are five species of Vaccinium, commonly known as ‘blueberries’ in Southeast Alaska, each with distinctive flavor, fruit size, color, bush size, and habitat: early blueberry Vaccinium ovalifolium; Alaska blueberry, Vaccinium alaskaensae; alpine blueberry, Vaccinium uliginosum L.; dwarf blueberry Vaccinium caespitosum and red huckleberry, Vaccinium parvifolium. The most commonly picked species in Southeast Alaska are the early blueberry, Alaska blueberry, and red huckleberry. Tonight, I’m targeting the early blueberry! Since retiring I’ve switched from picking by hand to picking with a plastic berry rake. Although I miss the sensual experience of hand selecting each berry, I love the fact that its increased my production by about 50 percent! This is a slightly misleading estimate because using a berry rake adds an additional step of removing leaves with a filter tray back at home, but I find de-leafing frozen blueberries an enjoyable winter task.
I used to use all my berries for cobblers, jams, and pies, but I’m finding that I don’t need to eat that much sugar. This kombucha recipe is a great use for my frozen blueberry surplus, domestic blueberries can be substituted but wild berries have a higher antioxidant and vitamin content.
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. It originated 2000 years ago, in China where it was called ‘The Tea of Immortality’. From China, it migrated to Eastern Europe and Russia, and more recently to Western Europe, and the U.S. Anecdotally, it is thought to have a broad spectrum of health effects, but western medicine has not yet verified or disproved them. Being well-versed in the health values of other fermented foods, I am inclined to believe the anecdotes, and am anxiously anticipating reading the results of future studies of kombucha health effects.
I discovered kombucha a few years ago, when a friend gave me a bottle; I was surprised how much I loved this trendy drink with its slightly vinegary flavor. After getting tired of shelling out $4/bottle at the grocery store, I got a mother or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) from a friend and started making my own. After an initial false start (involving a moldy slimy putrid mother) I am now producing several gallons a week and have shared my own mother with several friends. Here is my favorite recipe for blueberry-ginger kombucha!
2 gallon jars
large rubber band
hot water bath
Large sauce pan
6 18-oz swing-top bottles
canning jar grabbers
6 black tea bags
1 c granulated cane sugar
¼ c vinegar
1 c unflavored kombucha
6 c blueberries
1 c water
½ c sugar
4 T grated ginger
Add sugar to gallon jar. Brew tea, and pour into gallon jar while warm to dilute sugar. Add room temperature water to almost fill jar, leaving room for kombucha mother, vinegar, and kombucha. Do not overfill jar, there should be considerable air space between kombucha mother and cheesecloth cover. Cover jar with cheesecloth and secure with rubber band. Set kombucha in warm area (65 to 70 °F) out of direct sunlight and cover with towel. Brew for 7 to 10 days until desired sweet-sour balance and light carbonation is achieved.
Sterilize swing-top bottles, funnels, and gallon jar in hot water bath, remove and cool. Add blueberries, sugar and grated ginger to sauce pan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then strain mixture through cheesecloth-lined large funnel into second gallon jar. Fill each swing-top bottle with ½ cup sweetened blueberry-ginger juice. Top off with kombucha and cap. Secondary ferment at room temperature for 3 days or until lightly carbonated, then refrigerate and enjoy at your leisure! A secondary ‘mother’ will form in each bottle, it is edible but slimy and flavorless, and can be strained out when the bottle is poured.