A few weeks ago, my mom and I took the boys to a local orchard to pick strawberries. I’ve never gone strawberry-picking, so this was a new experience all around. A tractor towing a big wagon-bed carried us out to the fields (the boys were ecstatic!). Mom gave some instructions and we got to work, hunting for bright red treasures beneath the leaves. Sam, who is four, was determined to find his treasures and worked hard filling his basket, and I know that more than a few went into his mouth too! (Smeared red juice on his chubby cheeks will tell the tale every time!) My oldest son, Will, got bored quickly and had more fun playing in the straw and dirt between the rows and giving us directions on where to find the best and juiciest berries. This is ironic as Will refuses to consider even tasting fruit.
The strawberries were growing thick and the day was pleasantly warm. The scent—oh the scent!—of berries in the sun is heady. Mom, Sam and I picked and picked. Eventually, we realized that our job wasn’t to pick ALL of the berries in the patch, pleasant as it was. We hailed the next tractor heading to the orchard store to purchase our harvest.
Once we got home, we looked at the baskets of berries and realized our work had only just begun. Note to self: you don’t “JUST” go out and pick berries. You have to DO something with them when you get home! And the berries we picked needed care RIGHT AWAY. So, I learned something new: how to can strawberry preserves. It wasn’t as hard as I assumed it would be. It was messy, but seeing the jars full of dark red preserves lining my pantry shelf at the end of the day was satisfying. And the preserves themselves are wonderful! In the end, we made six jars of preserves and put up eight bags of berries in the freezer, ready to be made into something else. And, to top it all off, we made ice-cream. What a day!
The preserves recipe we used is based on a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Gartner. It’s super simple and only four ingredients. The difference is we added Sure-Jell in order to give it a more jam-like consistency (without the Sure-Jell, it was just a very tasty strawberry syrup.)
Fresh Strawberry-Lemon Preserves
2 Cups sugar
1 large lemon zested and juiced
1.5 pints strawberries hulled and rough-chopped
3.5 Tbs Sure-Jell (I didn’t use a full packet because I don’t care for overly stiff preserves or jams. But that’s a personal preference—try it with the full packet and see how it turns out!)
Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 20 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Stir in Sure-Jell and bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour carefully into 2 pint canning jars and either seal or keep refrigerated. Use immediately, or follow proper canning guidelines below.
Jars should be made from glass and free of any chips or cracks. Preserving or canning jars are topped with a glass, plastic, or metal lid, which has a rubber seal. Two piece lids are best for canning, as they vacuum seal when processed.
To sterilize jars, before filling with jams, pickles, or preserves, wash jars and lids with hot, soapy water. Rinse well, then boil the jars and lids in a large saucepan, covered with water, for 15 minutes.
Use tongs when handling the hot sterilized jars, to remove them from the boiling water. Be sure the tongs are sterilized by dipping the ends in boiling water for a few minutes.
As a rule, hot preserves go into hot jars and cold preserves go into cold jars. All items used in the process of making jams, jellies, and preserves must be clean. This includes any towels used, and especially your hands.
After the jars are sterilized, you can preserve the food. It is important to follow any canning and processing instructions included in the recipe and refer to USDA guidelines about the sterilization of canned products.