Every summer when I was growing up, my father and grandmother would make jam and preserve fruits and vegetables with me as their assistant. I must admit that while I enjoyed spending time with them in the kitchen and I absolutely loved the results - I thought the task of canning itself was a big pain. So many steps...and it made our Texas kitchen so very, very hot and steamy, especially my grandmother's farm kitchen with no air conditioning. Brutal.
Fast forward many years...I've not been able to find a replication of that spoonful of summer that I could find in my family kitchens. You just can't beat jars of jam made at home with freshly picked fruit. Well, I decided to resolve that. Conveniently, I had just brought home over 10 pounds of strawberries I picked myself.
The goal was to can our own fruit this summer. First step - find mason jars and lids. This is harder than you'd think (or at least harder than I thought) in urban Washington, DC. My husband, my hero eventually found them early Sunday morning in a neighborhood hardware store, hidden away and high on the shelf after we made several stops the day before with no success. We also elected not to make jam, but to try something with a bit less sugar.
Monday night, my husband and I made fresh strawberry preserves. Yes, it made our kitchen very hot and steamy, but it wasn't as much labor as I remembered from my childhood. Plus, it made our kitchen smell just wonderful. I was inspired to get up and make biscuits the next morning just so we would have something on which to use the lovely red preserves.
We experimented with our recipe, and plan to make more batches in the future. In the meantime, I thought I'd share with you what we made in this round.
Homemade Strawberry Preserves
Made six 8 oz. (half pint) jars
8 cups of fresh strawberries
4 cups of sugar
juice and zest of one orange
Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large pot and heat slowly until the juices are no longer cloudy. It took about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, then cover loosely and let stand for a few hours to macerate or pull out the sweet juice of the fruit.
While waiting, bring a large pot of water to a boil to sterilize the jars and lids. Let them stay in the boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the jars and lids in the water until you are ready to use them.
In order to help you test the doneness of the preserves later in the process, put a small plate in your refrigerator to start it chilling.
Once the fruit is nice and juicy, scoop out 2 cups worth into a large skillet and begin cooking them over medium high heat. When the strawberries start to simmer, start stirring regularly and let them cook about 6 minutes. You should really smell the orange combining with the strawberries at this point. Mmmm...wonderful.
Turn off the heat and give them a test for doneness. Take that small plate out of your refrigerator and dribble a bit of the liquid on the plate (no more than 1/4 tsp). Let this plate sit in the freezer for 30 seconds, pull out, and swipe your finger through the puddle.
Your finger swipe will part the liquid and expose the plate underneath. If it starts to run together immediately, it isn't done. So, turn the heat back on and cook for a few more minutes, then try the test again. Our batches averaged about 8 minutes.
When you get the preserves to the right consistency, they are ready for jars. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the rims.
Cover each jar with a lid and fasten the ring tight. Set aside and repeat the process with the remaining strawberries and juice. I found it easier to control the heat and things went faster if I made them in small batches of 2 cups at a time.
Once you've filled all the jars, put them back into boiling water, making sure they are completely submerged. Cook for about 10 minutes and then lift the jars from the bath. As they cool down, you should hear a pinging noise as the lids pop from a vacuum forming. After a couple of hours, press down on the center of each lid. There should not be any flex. If the lid flexes, repeat the process and re-submerge the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes to reach the vacuum seal.
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