Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Easy Strawberry Freezer Jam

Each year, I look forward to strawberry season. I've been well aware of this time of year since I was about 3 feet high. My mom would return from the garden and announce the berries were ripe for the picking, with a sample in hand to taste. She'd gather some ice cream pails and we'd start our journey down to the garden, (which being only 3 feet high, seemed like a long ways) passing by the blooming lilac bushes along the driveway, taking in their essence. My mom would make note that on the way back, we should cut some branches to put in vases for the table. We'd harvest what seemed like an endless supply of strawberries which was lucky for me, because no one seemed to notice that I ate more than went into my pail. This was an exciting time for a little girl on the farm- ripe strawberries on the vines meant it was time to celebrate, it meant it was summer. The Wisconsin sun dried up the spring rains and it could go to work on the newly planted garden and crops. Soon there would be cucumbers and beans and fresh peas that we would eat straight from the pod.

When the fresh strawberries were long gone, we still enjoyed fresh strawberry taste in what seemed an endless supply of strawberry jam. My mom's jam is not the same dark strawberry preserve you can buy off the shelf in the store. This is bright red, real strawberry-tasting freezer jam. It's kept in the freezer, so the berries do not need to be cooked and the jars do not need to be sealed by processing with heat-the key to its fresh taste.

These days, I don't garden much, unless you count a few herb plants. I lack my mom's green thumb and time. Luckily, that doesn't mean we have to go without strawberry jam. When strawberry season rolls around, which I look forward to each year, I count on the local farmers to bring some quality berries to the market. To make good jam, you've got to start with great strawberries. On Saturday, Lou and I went to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market with the mission in mind to find some great tasting organic berries. We found some at Ella Bella Farm's stand. The berries were not too big, were red all the way through, and gushed with juice. Not at all like the flavorless, over-sized conventional berries with fibrous centers that you find in the large grocery stores that have been engineered to be transported for miles and even across states. These were the berries of my youth.

To make the Easy Strawberry Freezer Jam, you'll just need a little patience for de-topping all those berries, some sugar, pectin, and possibly some lemon juice- depending on which pectin you purchase. I like to use Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin. Whichever pectin you choose to use, the key is to follow the directions that come with it for "freezer jam", because the amount of sugar needed varies with the brand and variety you use. Some include citric acid -those that do not will require you to add some lemon juice. I use a stiff pastry blender to cut through and mash the berries. A potato masher would work well too. A food processor would take the elbow grease out of this process, but beware not to overdo it. The jam is best when there are some nice chunks of berry. Stir well to make sure the pectin and sugar are thoroughly mixed with the crushed berries. Oh, and don't over look your freezer space. The jam will last a month in the refrigerator, but I like to make enough to last us until next year's strawberry season, so make sure you have room to store it. For containers, I use 8 oz. jelly jars that you can find at the hardware store- they are the perfect size, although Lou can sometimes dust one in a week. You can also use plastic storage containers.

After the jam is made, go find some lilac blossoms or buy some flowers. Because there's nothing like fresh strawberry jam in your fridge and flowers on your table to remind you it's summer.

1 comment:

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