There's nothing quite as sweet and summery as eating a freshly picked strawberry in the field. In fact, it could be said strawberries are as much a symbol of summer as iced tea and baseball. Given the number of festivals with parades and bake-offs dedicated to this favorite berry (California and New York each have 10), wouldn't you agree?
Do you enjoy them out of the basket, dipped in chocolate, or frozen into ice cubes (a brilliant way to beautify your next glass of lemonade)?
If you like them fresh from the field, there is still opportunity to pick them in parts of the country. While strawberry season might be coming to a close in the south it is revving up in New England, where the season lasts roughly from late June to late July. To find places in your area to pick strawberries check out the Pick-Your-Own website. Always call the farm the day you plan to go as farms will close with short notice to allow the berries to ripen.
Preserving the Taste of Summer
Master Food Preserver Allison Carroll Duffy shared this recipe for Strawberry-Vanilla Preserves from her recently released book Preserving with Pomona's Pectin (Fairwinds Press, 2013).
With ripe, in-season strawberries, combined with a smooth, exotic note of fresh vanilla, this preserve is nothing short of heavenly. It will add a bit of flair to the breakfast table (or bagel) of course, but it's also great in desserts--try it on top of a biscuit with a bit of whipped cream for a spectacular strawberry-vanilla shortcake! The berries in this preserve tend to float to the top during canning, so mix it up well before serving.
Before You Begin:
Prepare calcium water. To do this, combine 1/2 teaspoon calcium powder (in the small packet in your box of Pomona's pectin) with 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with a lid. Shake well. Extra calcium water may be stored in the refrigerator for future use.
21/4 pounds (1 kg) strawberries
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
1 vanilla bean
11/2 teaspoons (7.5 g) calcium water
11/4 cups (250 g) sugar
11/2 teaspoons (4.5 g) Pomona's pectin powder
1. Wash your jars, lids, and bands. Place jars in canner, fill canner 2/3 full with water, bring canner to a rolling boil, and boil jars for 10 minutes to sterilize them. (Add 1 extra minute of sterilizing time for every 1,000 feet above sea level.) Reduce heat and allow jars to remain in hot canner water until ready to use. Place lids in water in a small sauce pan, heat to a low simmer, and hold until ready to use.
2. Rinse strawberries and remove stems.
3. Combine strawberries and the 1/2 cup (120 ml) of water in a large saucepan. Using a paring knife, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds and the bean pod itself to the strawberries. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir carefully--you don't want to crush the berries. Remove from heat.
4. Measure 4 cups (946 ml) of the cooked strawberry mixture (saving any extra for another use), and return the measured quantity to the saucepan. Add calcium water and mix well.
5. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and pectin powder. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
6. Bring strawberry mixture back to a full boil over high heat. Slowly add pectin-sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve pectin while the preserves come back up to a boil. Once the preserves return to a full boil, remove the pan from the heat. Using tongs, carefully remove the vanilla bean pod from the preserves and discard.
7. Can Your Preserves: Remove jars from canner and ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch (6 mm) of headspace. Remove trapped air bubbles, wipe rims with a damp cloth, put on lids and screw bands, and tighten to fingertip tight. Lower filled jars into canner, ensuring jars are not touching each other and are covered with at least 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) of water. Place lid on canner, return to a rolling boil, and process for 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude if necessary). Turn off heat and allow canner to sit untouched for 5 minutes, then remove jars and allow to cool undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Confirm that jars have sealed, then store properly.
Yield: 4 to 5 half-pint (8-ounce, or 236 ml) jars
Unlike jams, which usually require that you mash the fruit, when you're making preserves, the idea is to keep individual pieces of fruit (or uniformly cut pieces of fruit) mostly whole and intact. For strawberries, small or average-size berries are ideal, though larger berries will work--simply slice them in half if they are too big. To help avoid mashing delicate fruit unintentionally, use a wider saucepan so that fruit has room to spread out and cook evenly without a lot of stirring. And when you do stir, stir with a back-and-forth motion, rather than an up-and-down motion--this way you'll be less likely to crush the berries.
Photo of strawberries by Sharon Kitchens. Photo of jam by Fairwinds Press.