...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What to Do with Six Quarts of Strawberries

Strawberry season brings an aroma to the kitchen that catches the children's attention as they march through sweaty from baseball or mowing or bike riding and seeking cold water by the quart.

"It smells wonderful in here!" they say as the berries cook into jam or a pie. I love that one of the things I've "taught" them about life is that early summer should smell GOOD, and six quarts of strawberries go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Six quarts is what I started with this week. I made a pie along the recipe guidelines given http://suburbansettler.blogspot.com/2011/04/one-more-time.html recently, allowed some grazing by those young hands that cleaned the strawberries for me, and still had the bowlful you see above. Had the berries been bigger, I'd have taught the boys to hull them; but these were the small, sweet variety, and we savored every bit of them!

The pectin box recipe I had gave me two recipe options. I could make no-cook jam from this one package of pectin, in which case I'd use 2 cups of crushed berries with 4 cups of sugar and get 6 cups of jam. Or, I could make cooked jam using 5 cups of crushed berries, 7 cups of sugar to yield 8 cups of jam. I chose more jam!

If you have a food processor, crushing berries is easy. Without one, the process requires a potato masher and a little more elbow grease, but is still quite doable. Generally, you'll need two quarts of berries to get 5 cups crushed. (You can even use 3 10-oz packages of frozen berries if you must, but add two tablespoons of water if you do.) When the berries are crushed, measure the 7 cups of sugar into a bowl and set aside. I included a pic of the sugar bowl so you don't faint at the idea of putting 7 CUPS of sugar into anything! Remember, you don't eat the jam by the jarful. It's not quite the risk of sugar coma that it appears to be.

If you started canning with me last year, you likely have jars ready for recycling. That means sterilization of those empty stored jars is very important! Since I won't be using the canner at all today, I chose to sterilize in the oven. It is a simple process of "cooking" clean jars and rings at 225 degrees from 10 to 25 minutes. (Lids really should still be put in boiling water for sterilization.) Tips on oven-sterilization: put the jars in the oven before heating it. Putting cold jars in a hot oven can cause the jars to explode--not a part of any recipe! Keep the jars in the oven until ready to fill so you have hot jars for hot food. Again, averting explosion problems. Finally, take care in handling the jars. Even at this low temperature, the jars will be HOT to the touch.

While the jars are in the oven and the lids are in the boiling hot water, you cook the jam, mixing the fruit with one box of pectin and 1/2 tsp of butter or margarine, which cuts down on the foam. Stirring constantly, bring the jam to a full, rolling boil--the most tedious part of the process. When the rolling boil is established, add the sugar all at once (hence the need to pre-measure) and continue constant stirring as the boil is re-established. When the boil is rolling again, boil for one minute exactly, stirring constantly. Stirring, stirring, stirring...

After that one minute of boiling and stirring (and thinking: this smells heavenly!), remove the jam from the heat and begin to skim as you continue stirring. Skimming removes the top layer of foam so your jam isn't covered in a layer of tiny bubbles. The jam is just about ready to go into the jars at this point, so remove them from the oven and have the lids and rings handy.

Now here's a neat new trick I just learned. After you've filled the jars to within an 1/8 inch of the top, wiped the rims and applied lids and rings, invert the jars for five minutes. After five minutes on their tops, set them upright again. Check them after about an hour. You'll find most of them have sealed beautifully! I was amazed at what a slick trick this was for sealing jam jars! Of course, if the jam is heading straight to the freezer and was of the no-cook variety, no such sealing is attempted. Just as a reminder--a jar is "sealed" if its lid has no "give" when you press it in the center but is flat and unmoving. Dont' check the seal, though until the jar is cool. Generally, 24 hours is a safe time frame before checking the seal. If it is not well sealed, the food should be frozen, re-canned, or refrigerated and eaten quickly.

Want to see a candid? A photo that hasn't been "arranged" but shows the reality of my kitchen stage's "green room" life? Well here it is:

After making the jelly, we had left overs: that skimmed-foam for one, and a cup or so of crushed berries that didn't go into the jam, so we celebrated our efforts in that hot kitchen with some strawberry smoothies. Ice cream, crushed strawberries, a little flax seed to make it feel healthy all got dumped into the blender...and voila!

A tasty smoothie for an afternoon break, complete with a book of happy little poems in the cool of the living room.

Jam-making day came none to soon! We'd just opened this last jar of last summer's jam.

Now, for the last jam-making tip of the day:

If you notice, I rushed a bit last year and failed to stir and skim for the recommended 5 full minutes after boiling. When you just give a quick skimming but don't stir and let it cool a bit before putting it in the jars, you end with floating fruit like you see here.

So...unless you like a 1/2 jam and 1/2 jelly mix, it's worth the extra 5 minutes.

Happy stirring!

1 comment:

  1. Yum!
    We ended up with about 4-1/2 lbs of strawberries this year. I made my first Honey Strawberry freezer jam, crepes, shortcakes, and muffins. I should have thought of smoothie, as I have one for a snack nearly every day!