A few of months ago in early spring, I remembered Brin once telling me about a “pick your own” farm in Jersey, where she fondly remembered picking and eating strawberries straight out of the plant, seconds after picking! Beat that supermarkets!!!!! Having never visited one and wanting to give the experience to the boys, I started googling and the marvel of the information age showed me one in Poynton, within half hour or so of drive time. I just called them to see when they are open and was told the bad news, due to the very cold and long winter and late arrival of spring there was no strawberries yet and was advised to check their Facebook page for any updates! A farm with a Facebook page!
It was a loooonnng wait. Eventually, well into summer, Facebook update of half a days opening for picking strawberries came. We had a wonderful time roaming around the farm and eating their gorgeous homemade ice-cream, even though picking strawberries proved a very hard job. The farm used integrated pest management techniques, which meant they do not spray pesticides or weed killers after the plants start flowering, meaning you could eat the berries straight off the plant without washing. The down side was there were a lot of weeds and quite a few strawberries with holes. Each one of us had a small paper basket, provided by the farm and priced as such. After half an hour of enthusiastic hunting for the best strawberries and lots of “there are lots good here” and “there is plenty more here” screamed to each other across the field, I started to feel it. All the constant bending wears you out quickly especially with my “fitness!”
After more than an hour, all of our baskets almost full, combined with the experience of picking the gooseberries and red/black currants in our own allotment, we realised one thing … the reason why berries are so expensive in supermarkets … is not the cost of growing, it is the cost of picking!!! It is a vey labour intensive process, picking berries, then they are so fragile, you squish and mash a significant percentage.
Only when we came home we realised what we had done. We had a mountain of strawberries, more than 5 kilos! And sorting through them, a lot were squished, had holes or were bruised. That left 4.5 kgs to be hulled, cut and preserved. It was a production line old Ford Motor company would be proud of, Brin washed the berries, both the boys hulled and I cut them into quarters. If you add the sugar, that was enormous amount of jam … and I have never made strawberry jam before!
The quartered strawberries were mixed with half the sugar and refrigerated overnight. Helps to macerate the strawberries by drawing out some of the water and gave us all a rest as well. Next day the macerated strawberries and the juice drawn out, the rest of the sugar went into a large high sided stock pot and over a medium high flame brought to a boil. Foaming reached almost the top of the stock pot, reminding me to add a knob of butter. Add the lemon juice and taste and add more if needed. Lemon juice freshens the taste making the strawberry flavour more vibrant.
Boil what I may with the thermometer reaching magic 105˚C repeatedly, it would not set. It was just a strawberry syrup with chunks. What a disappointment!
Even before starting I knew strawberries were lower in pectin than other berries and to be precise botanically strawberries are not even a berry! But I was reluctant to add commercial stuff to my home made jam and thought it would be okay, but it wasn’t.. There were two options to save the situation. Add a pectin rich fruit and make it no longer a pure strawberry preserve or add commercial pectin. The huge 4 kg of fruit require god knows how many apples to set, so reluctantly I rushed to the super market, bought powdered apple pectin and had to add 3 sachets before the jam set.
While I was out to get the pectin, I bought a few jam preserving bottles as well. The hot jam went into hot sterilised bottles, capped and sterilised in a hot water bath for 10 mins. That was a lot of jam, 5.5 kilos! But it is delicious.
Anyone short of jam?
Homemade Strawberry Preserve
1 kg Strawberries
900 gms Sugar (if you like it very sweet like commercial jam, 1kg)
1 large Lemon Juice only (+ more according to taste)
Knob of butter ( reduces the surface tension, keeping the foaming down)
Pectin (amount depends on the make, see the instructions)
Note: Apples especially the core, are pectin rich and is alternative to commercial pectin, in-fact commercial pectin is extracted out of apples. I don’t know the quantity for a recipe, will update next time when I experiment.
- Wash, hull and quater Strawberries. Use only good firm fruit, weeding out all the fruit with bruises, damage etc.
- Mix with half the sugar and cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Wash dry and put in the oven at 120˚C, enough (+ one more spare) bottles and lids.
- Add the rest of the sugar to a high stock pot or preserving pan over a medium/high flame. Add a knob of butter if froth is too much, or just add it any way in the beginning to save you the trouble. Bring it to rolling boil.
- Add the lemon juice to taste. You are aiming for a fresh and intense strawberry flavour.
- Once the temperature reaches 105˚C, add the pectin according to instructions on the packet (some ask you add at the very beginning) and mix well. Boil for a few more seconds and test for setting (cold plate-wrinkling surface method) to see if you need any more pectin.
- Take the hot bottles out of the oven and fill with hot jam. If making a small quantity, just keep it in the fridge and finish in a reasonable time. If making a batch with many bottles, sterilise for at-least 10 mins in a hot water bath.
- Remember to Enjoy!