Wednesday, May 11, 2011

seeing red

Oh, I just couldn't pass this one up.

(Organic strawberries -- $1.99 a pound)

Food is about the only thing I'm excited to shop for, and I'll fall for a good deal on food we can use or put up every time (let us not forget the whole bushel of apples I carted home last fall).

There I was with three children and a list of things we needed, when suddenly my thoughts were filled with all sorts of strawberry treats, desserts, jams, pies.... Surely I could make use of a whole flat of strawberries. In fact, it wouldn't be the least bit unreasonable to take home three flats of fresh berries (that's 24 pounds for those of you wondering). At least, I think that's how my rationalization worked at the time. It's hard to remember just what I was thinking, dazzled as I was by all the lovely red berries.

So began the strawberry extravaganza, which started out in earnest as the kids easily polished off five pounds fresh out of the cartons within the first two days.

The next several pounds made their way into a raw fruit freezer jam, made following the directions from Pomona's Universal Pectin. I had never made a raw fruit jam before, but the idea of preserving the nutrients and fresh flavor of the fruit (and skipping the hot water bath part of canning) was appealing. And as I've mentioned before, I like that this pection doesn't rely on the sweetener for jelling, meaning you can add only as much sweetener as you'd like. Freezer jams are exceptionally easy, so it was a good starting point for diving into all the berries.

Raw Strawberry Honey Freezer Jam

4 cups berries, washed and hulled
1/4 cup lemon juice (optional)
1/3 - 1 cup raw honey
3/4 cup water
3 tsp. pectin powder
4 tsp. calcium water

The first step when using this pectin is to make the calcium water by dissolving 1 tsp. of calcium powder (smaller packet in box) in 1/2 cup of water). Set aside.

Mix your fruit, lemon juice and honey in a large bowl. Next, boil 3/4 cup water and place in a blender or food processor with the pectin powder, blending 1-2 minutes until dissolved. Pour in the fruit mixture and blend well. Add the calcium water and blend, then check for jelling. The jam will set up more when cool, but if there is no sign of jelling, add more calcium water (1 tsp. at a time) blending and repeating until jelled. (If you like a chunkier jam, mash your fruit first and mix the pectin and calcium water directly with the fruit in the bowl, rather than running it through the food processor).

This recipe makes about 5-6 cups of jam. Store in freezer safe jars, making sure to leave about 1/2" of headspace to allow for expansion.

We used about 1/2 cup of honey total and added the lemon juice, which gave us a fresh, tart jam that pairs perfectly with our bread (don't miss the recipe and giveaway!) and peanut butter.

Next up, we tackled the traditional cooked fruit jam. There was more washing, hulling, mashing, measuring and all the necessary preparations for canning.

For every four cups of mashed berries, we added 1/2 cup of raw honey and 1/2 cup of sugar. Oh, how I wish I could share the smell of the strawberries cooking with honey here with you all... It was heavenly. We all agree that this is the finest cooked jam we've made yet.

I wish I could say that I successfully cooked up all 24 pounds of strawberries, but somewhere into the fifth day of strawberries (under my nails, decorating the walls, staining the clothes) and about the 16th jar of jam, I about gave up. That's when I remembered that freezing is just as admirable a method of food preservation as any. Whew. That thought saved me (and about 6 pounds of berries).

The last few cartons were washed, hulled and individually frozen on lined baking sheets before being sealed in bags.

No doubt, the berries in the freezer will soon be appearing in many of those treats and pies I was so eager to make before (after all, something has to accompany all the rhubarb that keeps showing up).

For now, we are happily strawberried-out, content with what we've put by, and looking forward to all the ways we will enjoy these sweet, red berries in the months ahead.


Meg said...

This is great! I love this post especially because I fell for the SAME deal on organic strawberries just a couple weeks ago! ( ) We just devoured strawberries the first day... haha! :) I did not make jam but I hope to try your freezer recipe out next time I find a deal on strawberries. I made a strawberry bundt/bread/cake thing that turned out nicely. I will be sharing the recipe on my blog soon. :)

Lindsay said...

Mmmmm, what a score! Thanks for that recipe - can't wait to try it!

Candi said...

Love it when the little ones help in the kitchen :)