We are enjoying a bumper raspberry season at home this year and I couldn’t be more pleased. We are eating many of them and freezing quite a bit for use in recipes later. However, this post is about the ever elusive strawberry. This delicate crop has struggled this season in the Midwest because of the late frosts and long, cold, and wet weather we had this spring.
I love all things fruit. I like eating fresh fruit, cooked fruit and I especially like preserved fruit! This past weekend we picked strawberries at a local farm that employs natural growing methods. Our small plot cannot afford the space it takes to grow an adequate crop of strawberries. We sometimes grow them in pots to have a fresh nibble, but to make anything substantial takes a large amount of berries.
Doran’s Farm Market is just outside of Columbus in New Albany, OH so it is just about 20 miles from my house. We picked on a nice cool morning, which is much better for us and the berries! We were fortunate to find a farm that had strawberries for the picking. Our long winter and our long, cool spring with late frosts did a lot of the crops in, but Doran’s placed a lot of straw on and around the plants, insulating them against the killer cold.
We picked about 16+ pounds of berries and bought another 16 already picked (we wanted to leave some on the vines for subsequent customers). Once home, we went to work; we froze 4 quarts to make ice cream later in the summer, gave one quart away and kept one fresh for pie and nibbling. The remaining 20 pounds was destined for preserves.
Now, this will put a lot of people off making their own, it is a lengthy process…but there is nothing better than homemade strawberry preserves. Traditionally, it is a three day process, but I have shrunk it down to two days by getting started early in the morning and shrinking the cooling/ resting periods to eight hours versus the 12 recommended by traditional recipes.
To make a dozen larger jelly jars of preserves, plus a large pot for us, it takes about 20 pounds of berries washed, dried, hulled and sliced.
I don’t want an overly sugary tasting jam, so I use about 12 cups of sugar across the 20 pounds of berries, plus the juice of 3-4 lemons. Strawberries do not have a lot of naturally occurring pectin in them, so instead of adding store bought pectin, I add about three to four green apples to the mix, there is a lot of naturally occurring pectin in the apples. If you are making a blended preserve, you can leave the apple pieces in, or fish them out after the first cooking for more beautiful preserves. Once you mix all of these together in a ceramic, non-reactive bowl, place a piece of parchment paper over the top and a plate to weight the mix down and place in the refrigerator for at least eight hours and up to over night.
After the waiting period, place the berries and juice in a large stainless steel stock pot or jam pan and bring to a simmer. Cover again with parchment and place in the refrigerator for another eight hours or overnight.
Before you begin cooking your jam, you will want to prepare your jars, lids and canning pot. I was my jars in the dishwasher with a heat dry setting. I don’t boil my lids, but let them warm thoroughly in hot water to warm up the gum sealant on the lids.
After the second resting period, pour the contents in a sieve to separate the berries from the collected syrup. This is the time you would remove the apple pieces if you choose to. I like to run about ¼ of my berries through a food mill to add additional substance to the preserves, but it isn’t necessary. Once separated, place the collected syrup on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once at the boil, us a candy thermometer to measure the temp and bring it to 221 degrees F, this is the jelly stage. I love my candy thermometer. It was my Grandmother’s and it is about 70 years old and still fabulously accurate. Don’t get worried if it takes an age to get past boiling, there is a lot of water in the juice and that has to boil away and the sugars must concentrate for the temp to rise.
Once the jelly stage is reached, add the solids back into the pot and bring back to the boil. Skim any scum from the top of the mixture and continue to boil for 5-6 minutes. At this point you can test for set.
Place a small plate in the freezer for at least an hour. When you are ready to test, drizzle a small amount of hot jam on the plate and put back into the freezer for a minute or two. Remove the plate and draw your finger through the jam. If it stays in place, you will have a good set, if it is still runny, boil your mixture for another 5 minutes and test again.
Ladle the mixture into hot jars, place the warm lids on top and secure with a ring fitting or rubber gasket (depending on the jar). Process for 5-10 minutes in boiling water. Remove the jars from the canner and place under a towel until completely cool.
Enjoy the fruits of the season and put some away to enjoy throughout the rest of the year!