Monday, June 9, 2014

Four Things to Do with Strawberries

Friday was strawberry picking day, one of my favorite days of the year.  We head out to the local you-pick farm and come home weighed down by strawberries, the first foods of the season that need preserving to last all year.

Tradition holds that I celebrate my morning in the field by taking a nap, then hitting the kitchen to preserve the berries.  And who am I to go against tradition?

Even though it is pleasant work, it is a lot of it.  So, it makes sense to streamline your workflow, or about four hours into it you'll start to wish you'd never seen a strawberry, let alone the hundreds you are trimming and hulling.  Efficiency and continual production are key. To that end, here is how I managed the onslaught of berries:

Step One:  Hull and Make Jam
Wash and start hulling strawberries.  It helps that Friday was Netflix's release of the second season of Orange is the New Black, so I had something good to watch on my iPad propped up on my recipe stand.  I hulled my strawberries into an 8-cup batter bowl and then crushed them with a potato masher.  When I had enough crushed strawberries, I was ready to make and can jam.

I use the Certo Strawberry Jam recipe to make my basic strawberry jam.  This year, I packed the strawberry pieces very tightly into the jars, filling spaces with the liquid.  This left me with a pot full of strawberry liquid, ready for step two.

Step Two:  Can Strawberry Syrup
By straining the remaining syrup into pint jars and processing those alongside the jars of jam, I had two pints of strawberry syrup, plus some leftovers for the fridge.  My fridge batch had cooked long enough that it set up into jelly (expected with the addition of pectin), but the canned jars did not set entirely.  Therefore, this is ice cream topping and the base for strawberry soda made with carbonated water from our Soda Stream.

Step Three:  Finish Additional Batches and Freeze Berries
I also made a batch of "grown-up strawberry jam" this year, which is Strawberry with Balsamic and Black Pepper.  I'll share that recipe in a coming post.  But once that was done, my jam cabinet was full of strawberry jams for the year, so I hulled and froze the remaining berries.  I use my grandmother's method of dusting the berries with sugar and packing them into quart freezer containers.  Although they soften a bit over time, they retain a lot of great flavor and bright red color that way.

Step Four: Make Strawberry Iced Tea
Finally, what to do with those strawberry hulls and tops that are piling up?  They make great strawberry iced tea!  Take a half-gallon Mason jar and fill it halfway with strawberry tops.  Fill with warm water and iced tea bags (the number will depend on the size of the bags and of the container you use -- figure on about 6 individual serving bags for a half gallon container).  Let the tea steep on the counter while you make jam, clean up the mess, and get distracted by your TV show.  When the tea is as dark and strong as you like, strain out the hulls and store the finished product in the fridge.  The tea will have a nice strawberry tang to it.

The Analysis
Fast:  Any preserving activity takes some time, but I think I got a lot of product for a day's investment in work.

Cheap: We paid just over $21 at the you-pick for our berries, and about that much again for organic sugar and pectin.  Our final haul of product compares pretty favorably to any store-bought option of comparable quality.

Good:  Strawberries are some of my favorite berries, so this was a yummy project to complete!
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