Monday, February 20, 2012

Drowning in Berries

I have already discussed strawberries to some extent, how they grow and how to care for them in Strawberries, The Ultimate Food Crop.  I did not include recipes and preserving directions though since I was pressed for time that day.  So today we will cover what to do with all of those strawberries.

The first few days of finding ripe strawberries will likely be filled with fresh eating, strawberry shortcakes, and sliced strawberries in your cereal bowl or on your salad... but a few days later you'll find the novelty of it wears thin and long for a way to save those flavors for the winter months.  Luckily by this time your strawberries should be in full fruit.  If your patch is small and you are still only harvesting a few berries here and there, go out and pick some at a local farm and use them for these recipes.

There are two primary ways to preserve your strawberries, prepared or frozen.  Some ways to prepare them include making jams, pies, or syrups.  If this is too much hassle it's often easier to just wash and hull the berries, then lay them in a thin layer on a cookie sheet, freeze them like this and then bag them up.  This method of freezing keeps the berries from freezing into one solid lump, instead you can remove what you need to defrost from the bag and put the rest back in the freezer.

Making prepared strawberry recipes is more time consuming, but pays off when you can pull a strawberry-rhubarb pie out of the freezer at Thanksgiving and throw it in the oven right away, or pop the lid off a jar of strawberry jam and enjoy the taste of summer in February.

Jams are what most people think of when they consider preserving strawberries.  They are incredibly easy to make, keep well without needing to be pressure canned and are a product used in most households year round.  There are a number of recipes for jams available and depending on your own tastes and preferences you can choose the one that best suits you.  A standard jam recipe such as is found inside a pectin package can have up to twice as much sugar in it as berries; this will give you a very sweet jam and sometimes sets too firmly leaving you rolling a chunk of strawberry Jell-O across a slice of bread. 

Many pectin packages also include reduced sugar recipes, these cut down on the sugar which in turn can effect the jam's firmness and leave it runny.  They are not as sweet and allow more of the berry flavor through, however the reduced sugar is also more likely to cause the jam to brown in the jar.

I am still trying to find a perfect canned pectin jam recipe, each year I try a few in hopes of making the perfect jam.  Freezer jam on the other hand is so simple my toddler can make it.  Select a pectin designed for making freezer jams, mash up berries and scoop the required amount of berries into a bowl.  Mix in required amount of sugar and pectin for a few minutes allowing it to dissolve completely.  The pectin brand I use calls for 1 2/3 cups fruit, 2/3 cups sugar, and 2 Tbsp pectin.  This makes 16 oz. of jam, which you then scoop into freezer safe containers (leaving head room for expansion) and put into the freezer up to a year.  Freezer jams aren't cooked so they tend to be runnier than cooked jams, but being uncooked also means more of the bright fresh strawberry flavor.  Of course to make freezer jam you also have to have a large enough freezer to hold it, and once it's opened freezer jam will spoil faster than a cooked jam.

Last year I bought Ball RealFruit Pectin in "flex batch" containers that turned out to be really helpful with making small batch jams.  Instead of using an entire pectin packet to make a huge batch of jam I can measure out how much pectin I need based on how many berries I have on hand. 

I also found a pectin-free jam recipe last year that I had to try purely because it meant one less thing to buy in order to make my own food.  The pectinless recipe came from Clearly Delicious:An Illustrated Guide to Preserving, Pickling, and Bottling by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.  It requires a bit more work, but I definitely appreciate being able to make jam without running to the store for pectin.  For this recipe you need 4 quarts of strawberries (4 lbs.) crushed, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice.  Simmer these until berries are soft.  Add 7 1/2 cups warmed sugar over low heat and stir until well mixed.  Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for 15 minutes or until it reaches setting point.  Candy thermometer should read 220 degrees.  Skim off froth, cool slightly then pour into sterilized jars and water bath process them.  I don't think my jam using this recipe cooked quite long enough, it turned out a little bit runny, but it tasted fabulous and I can appreciate that this recipe contained far less sugar than most of the others.

One thing to note about strawberry jams: if berries aren't completely crushed the air pockets inside them will cause them to float to the surface of your jam and this can make them discolor leaving you with unappealing brown berries at the top of the jar.  Crush them well to prevent this.

Looking for a strawberry rhubarb pie recipe (since I have no rhubarb yet I have never made one) I found this site and was amused by the author, plus it links to the recipe she used.

 You can also make up these pies into single serving pie-in-a-jar, for days when you have no one to share with.  A recipe for this can be found at Adventures in Sustainability and is usable for any fruit pie.  Be sure to tell her who sent you. ;)

So there you have it, some easy and some not-so-easy ways to deal with excess strawberries.  If they survive long enough to be "excess".


  1. Thanks so much for the pectin free recipe, I've always wondered if I could make my jam without needing to buy pectin.

    1. You're welcome! I was pleased to find the recipe too, I had never seen one that didn't require pectin before either.