Strawberry Bonanza!

Today was a strawberry day! The strawberry plants lining our front walk were loaded with ripe bounty this morning, and it was important to haul in the harvest before the very bold catbird pecked holes in all of our precious berries. Mr. Thistle has a name for that bird, but I’ll exclude it from the post, in case there is any polite company out there reading. I wouldn’t want you to get your pearls tangled. In two picking sessions, morning and afternoon, I personally picked 10.5 pounds (!) of strawberries from our early-bearing plants out front. (Our June-bearing strawberries in the back garden have yet to ripen).

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The morning strawberry harvest! Half down, half to go.

In what might sound a little bit like a Little Red Hen tale, I picked the berries, washed the berries, dried the berries, hulled the berries, and then made delicious old-fashioned strawberry jam. I chose a recipe without pectin, which means it needed to long-boil in order to produce the proper set. I don’t have a particular beef with pectin, but it’s just what I felt like today. The recipe I used can be found in the Ball Complete  Book of Home Preserving, but interestingly, I wasn’t able to find it online through a quick search. If you have the book, the recipe is on pages 22-23. Long-boiling jam requires frequent attention and stirring, so I continued hulling strawberries for freezing, within arm’s reach of the pot, so I could give it a stir every few minutes.

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Jam in progress! Keep on stirring …

I love the flavor of this jam, so it makes the hour of stirring worth it! (Props to Mr. Thistle for keeping the Little Thistles from tearing the house down around us while this happened). This particular jam has a deeper, caramalized flavor and appearance, compared to the bright flavor of a shorter-cooked recipe with lemon juice and pectin. I usually make both types, to satisfy two different yet completely legitimate strawberry jam cravings. I wish I could invite you into the kitchen to inhale the amazing smell of this jam as it cooks!

My only complaint when it comes to all jams is the sugar content, which is a necessary evil in jam-making. However, homemade fruit spreads are far superior in flavor and ingredients to store-bought, and we only consume a bit at a time, so I try to avoid getting too worked up about it. The struggle is real.

This particular jam has only two ingredients: Strawberries and sugar. I used organic cane sugar bought in bulk. Homemade fruit jam is like a sunny bite of long-gone summer when enjoyed on toast in the middle of January! It’s a distinct pleasure I call to mind as I stand over a boiling canner in a 90-degree kitchen, vigorously fanning myself. 🙂

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The afternoon harvest in one of my favorite baskets.

As the jam cooked, I prepared a big sheet pan of strawberries for freezing. I froze those in a single layer, and I’ll put them in glass jars in the freezer tomorrow. They will be perfect for smoothies. The best part is that all the berries were grown right in my yard and I know that they are 100% organic and completely fresh (though a certain cat or three may have snoozed in the shade of the foliage from time to time). The berries weren’t trucked across the country, they had no packaging, and they are bursting with flavor and nutrition! I won’t generate any waste by packing them in glass jars, which is another plus.

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Gratuitous kale photo: The kale yielded kale “chips” for tonight’s dinner.

If you don’t have your own strawberry plants, local farm stands and farmers’ markets are fully stocked with fresh berries right now. There are also pick-your-own farms to enjoy. Buy these berries … not the ones at the grocery stores! The taste is incomparable. Miss Thistle agrees! She kept herself busy eating berries as she “helped” me. I am fairly sure (99% confidence) that she consumed at least a pound of fresh berries on her own. At one point, she fetched a cutting board and her set of knives. I watched as she set about to help me hull the berries. Slice, munch, slice, munch. After a few minutes she looked down and said, “Uh-oh!” I don’t mind … I’m happy to see her enjoy the fresh bounty. 🙂 Plus, it gives me an opportunity to ponder questions like, “Mama, why are strawberry seeds on the outside instead of the inside?” Why indeed? 

So, Day 1 of our big strawberry haul is in the books! There will be more berries ripening every day, so I’ll need to decide what to make next. We will eat lots of the berries fresh, and preserve some for later.

Do you have any favorite strawberry recipes? Will you be doing any preserving or cooking with strawberries?

With Peace,

Jennie

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