Depending on where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, strawberry season is either cresting or ebbing. For many people, strawberry season is an all-too-brief opportunity to gorge on a fruit that embodies the very taste of early summer. Strawberries are cultivated intensely and shipped globally so they are available year-round, but honestly, have you ever had an out of season strawberry that tasted much better than the package it came in?
Strawberries, like all produce, are best enjoyed when they’re in season and sourced locally. One of the reasons this is true is that strawberries don’t continue to ripen after they’re picked. They can only be harvested when they’re ready. Mass-produced hybrids were developed for their intense red color and their ability to withstand the rough handling inherent in transport rather than taste. So get ’em now and either can or freeze them so you can enjoy them year-round.
Freezing strawberries is pretty straightforward. Wash, dry and cut off the green cap from each berry. Leave smaller ones intact and cut the larger ones in halves. Put the strawberries in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them for two hours. Freezing them this way will allow them to be separated once frozen, otherwise they’ll be a single mass.
Once they’re successfully frozen, transfer them to freezer bags or containers and keep them sealed. Frozen strawberries will retain their flavor and aroma for around six months. They’ll still be fine to eat after that but their flavor will begin to fade.
My favorite way to preserve them however, is to make jam.
Making strawberry jam is easy and simple. For a lot of people it’s their first stab at home canning –I know it was for me thanks to my sister Adele and her boundless love of strawberries.
There are two schools of thought (at least!) when it comes to jam making. School one says that adding pectin is OK because it speeds up the process and school two says that it’s cheating.
Pectin is a gelling agent that’s a naturally occurring saccharide that’s in a lot of plants. When you make cranberry sauce from fresh berries it gels after it cools all on its own and that’s due to the high level of pectin in cranberries.
Not all fruit has high enough levels of pectin to allow it to gel when it’s cooked though. So the options with a low-pectin fruit like strawberries is to either add a lot of sugar and cook them for a long time or to add less sugar, add pectin and cook them for less time.
I come from the “add pectin” school, especially if you’re new to jam making. With that said, here’s my simple recipe for strawberry jam. This recipe will make eight, eight-ounce jars of fantastic strawberry jam.
- 2 quarts of fully ripe strawberries (yield 4 cups cleaned and trimmed strawberries)
- 7 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
- 1/2 tsp. butter
- 1 pouch (1.75 oz) Pectin
Bring boiling-water canner, half-full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot, soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in a separate pan. Let the lids stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain the jars well before filling.
Stem and crush strawberries thoroughly. Measure exactly 4 cups crushed strawberries into 6- or 8-quart saucepot.
Turn on the burner and add sugar; stir. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
Once successfully preserved in this manner, your strawberry jam will last indefinitely.
So while that brief window is open, get out there and enjoy those strawberries. And please, if you have an jam making tips, notes or recipes, feel free to share them!
Photo credit: Wikimedia