We’re on the eve, friends in the Pacific Northwest. The eve of a summer bursting with awesome fruits and veggies. What are you gonna make? Homemade fresh salsa, canned tomato sauce, canned peaches, cherry pie, dried plums, various infused boozes and cordials? Me, probably all of the above We’re almost at that point where you can eat of summer’s bounty and preserve that shit for the winter too! I’m doing so both in and outside of the Can Jam. But it is Can Jam time again. And June’s choice was berries. I had a tough decision to make. Double S and I still have like 63.8 pounds of blueberries in the freezer from last summer. More to come on what I’m doing with those, I didn’t get around to dealing with them yet. For this month’s challenge I wanted to choose strawberries, and I wanted to pick them myself. I decided to go strawberry picking! And you should too! It’s fun, cheap, and the berries are awesome!
On the beautiful day that was last Friday, Double S was excited about berries too, so off we drove to Carnation, Washington to Harvold Berry Farm, where we picked a whopping 40.5 pounds of strawberries. One dollar a pound!
When you’re going to get berries in that quantity, you need to make time over the next 24 or so hours to process them, or they’ll rot away or lose much of their flavor in the fridge. So that night, we froze berries. Woo hoo–rockin’ Friday night! We have had problems with freezer burn and ice on our berries in the past, so this year we did some Googling and discovered that to freeze berries you should first just lightly rinse the berries and hull the berries. Try not to injure the berry when you hull, the juice that emerges creates ice. Then individually place them on a cookie sheet, not touching one another. Then freeze them. When they’re frozen, place them in a Ziploc bag and store. We noticed that we got ice really quick though, so we’ll see how this year’s batch turns out and then modify our efforts next year if need be. There’s a good summary of techniques for freezing and otherwise preserving strawberries here, and fellow can jammers Doris and Jilly discuss it too.
The next morning, we decided to can some strawberries: strawberry jam and strawberries in simple syrup. I just got this gorgeous new book, so I tried out her recipe for strawberry jam. It turned out just okay. The jam is very dark in color and has an overly lemony taste to it, due to both my misreading of the slightly illogically separated recipe and due to an interruption in the canning process because of father’s day activities. Oh, life, always getting in the way! Life!
But my main problem with this jam is that it just didn’t set the way I would have liked it to. No pectin was added, just lemon rinds and seeds, and I’m wondering if simply adding pectin would have made it better. I’ve heard some anti-pectin talk on the blogs lately (What? What kind of blogs do YOU read?), and I’m wondering what the problem with pectin is? Does it make the jam taste bad? Bad for you? I’d really like to know. Anyway, so the jam kind of looks like a strawberry syrup. I’ve made good plum and blackberry jams since living in the NW, but if they are basically just syrups, I usually don’t end up using them. I’m hoping that maybe this berry one firms up. Does that happen? I usually thought that the consistency of a jam stayed pretty similar to how it comes out of its bath. The taste, though lemony, is good.
So I’m not going to ramble on about that endeavor. I will tell you about the Strawberries in a Light Simple Syrup that I made, as those mostly turned out as I wanted them to.
I had read Well Preserved’s take on preserving strawberries this way. But frankly and surely (Hi Frank! Hi Shirley!), I didn’t understand how to get the berries to their gel point without cooking them down to mush. I was also tired from making jam all day, so I followed another (easier) recipe, the idea for which I got here.
Strawberries in a Light Simple Syrup
1. Get your canning pot on the stove. Clean and sterilize as many jars as you want to use, but more than you think because you really can’t fit that many in each jar.
2. Prep your strawberries. Double S was doing this part and found that just a light rinse worked for the berries we had picked ourselves. It’s best to leave some of the stem on the berries if you are picking them yourself, as the stem makes the berry much easier to hull. So lightly pull the stem. It seems best to leave the berries whole. I’m not sure if this is best though, and you’ll find out why later.
3. Make simple syrup. Strawberries are sweet so a light syrup is all that’s needed. Mix 2 cups sugar with 4 cups water. Heat in a saucepan on low until sugar dissolves. Stir occasionally. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to just keep the syrup warm until you are ready to pour it over the berries. You could make the syrup before you go picking, so it’s ready when you get home. Just warm it up slightly when you get home.
4. Pack the jars full of berries.
5. Pour the liquid over the berries.
6. Hot water bath process for 15 minutes.
So these look nice and I think might be the most versatile of any berry item we preserved yet, but aesthetically it bothers me that they eventually started to float. Now I understood why Joel recommended cooking them to the gel point to avoid floating.
I did not think that I would care about this, but I did. It also feels like I got ripped of in that so much space emerges after the berries are processed that you really wish that you could shove more into the jars. You can’t. Move on. And you’re not really ripped off, because you can make as many jars as you wish. But the ooh and ahh effect is lessened, and I need oohs and ahhs when peeps peep my larder. I’m a sucker for larder compliments.
But I think these are gonna be good. I’m wanting to use to these berries to make old fashioned strawberry sundaes, and the syrup is going to be multi-faceted. And gosh darnit, they were super easy to make. Canning doesn’t need to be hard. But I do need to perfect my jam making techniques before it’s too late. I think the Can Jam round up will help!
But I’m not done with berries, and especially not cherries! Oh, do I have some ideas for cherries. Don’t worry! I’ll share my ideas here! And I’m in the NW, where blackberries are free for the taking! So I’ll definitely be looking for some creative uses for those. Can Jammers, I’m looking for your suggestions and ideas! We’ve also got some thriving blueberryand raspberry bushes in the yard too. I ate my first raspberries from our bushes this week, and they were awesome! I’m thinking of infusing booze and making cordials/juice concentrates too. And hey Washingtonians, Harvold Farm has U-pick raspberries too. And after much deliberation and hand wringing, I do declare that raspberries are the finest of all the berries. How about you?
Happy summer, everybody! Get out there and enjoy summer’s bounty this weekend!