Adventures are best when they’re spontaneous. And when they involve strawberry picking, they’re spontaneously delicious. Last weekend, after what felt like months and months of baseball games, dance recitals and swim meets, we finally had an afternoon with nothing at all scheduled. Nowhere to be, nothing to do: pure bliss. The couch beckoned but the call for a family adventure with ruby red strawberries in the fields was louder. Gotta love a family activity that involves sweet fruit and fills the cupboards with jam for a year!
Hectic, manic, pure madness… I can’t come up with enough adjectives to describe the nonstop mayhem of three big kids’ schedules and one baby’s naps and needs. When the opportunity presents itself, I stop all the clocks and nestle the entire family unit in our dirty minivan to experience something together. Usually the journey is just as important as the destination, but when picking strawberries, the entire afternoon was a wild success.
We headed to a tiny seven acre fruit farm called Olive Berry Acres run by an adorable young couple. They had two fields of strawberries, a port-a-potty, and a pretty red barn. The directions to the farm were what sold us in the end,
“There is a corn crib and a long grass lane you will drive down. Note there are no houses on this road, just farmland. You know you have traveled too far if you see civilization again.”
In addition to purple and red strawberries, Olive Berry Acres also grow asparagus and raspberries. I have a feeling we’ll be headed back to Mazon, IL this summer to pick some more fruit and make more memories.
Strawberry picking with Baby Sophie is more than a little challenging, but in the end, we walked away with 11 pounds of strawberries. It took us a few days to clean, hull, and mash them all, but by Wednesday night, my kitchen was filling with the beautiful smell of strawberries and sugar coming together into jam. The next morning, the children woke to the sight of twenty gleaming jars of strawberry jam.
This batch of strawberry jam marks my return from a Baby Sophie-induced canning hiatus. Steve has been mourning the absence of apple jelly and boozy peach jam on our shelves for the past year, but a baby that wants to be held all the time makes working with hot jars of jam difficult. Thanks to our strawberry picking adventure, I’ve retrieved my giant boiling pot from the back of the cabinet, dusted off my jar funnel and tongs and am ready to line my cabinets with pretty jars of fruit.
During my last canning adventures, I got a little carried away. I added balsamic vinegar to blueberry jam and bourbon to peach jam. It was all fun and tasty, but we’re keeping things simple this time around. Homemade strawberry jam is delicious without any special spices or flavors added. I modified the Ball strawberry jam recipe by adding the zest of a lemon, but otherwise, each jar of jam has the flavor of our afternoon of adventure: strawberries from the fields, picked as a family.
- 5 pounds of cleaned and hulled strawberries
- Juice of 1 lemon (about ¼ cups)
- Zest of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
- 6 Tablespoons of pectin
- 7 cups of sugar
- Many people are scared to can and make jam, but by far the hardest part of the process is the math. The ingredients above are for a traditional batch of jam, made with five cups (roughly five pounds) of hulled and mashed strawberries. Although Ball doesn't recommend making larger batches, we had no issues with the jam setting when we upped the quantity of strawberries to 11 pounds. To do the math to update the quantities, divide your quantity by the sample quantity: 11/5=2.2. Now multiply that number by every ingredient to get the right proportion. You'll have to get creative with the measurements and do some estimating (2.2 lemons or 13.2 tablespoons of pectin) but the only risk you run is having some slightly runny but still very delicious jam.
- With the math out of the way, you're ready to get canning.
- First, clean, hull, and slice your strawberries. Then mash them. This is quite a workout, reminiscent of the I Love Lucy wine making episode and you'll wish you could just step on the berries.
- Next clean your jars, even if they just came out of the package, with warm and soapy water. Then simmer them for a few minutes in a large pot of nearly boiling water until ready to use. Do not boil the rings, just the lids and jars.
- Combine the strawberries and lemon juice in a large stockpot. Gradually add the pectin until it is all dissolved. Bring the mixture to a strong, roiling boil, one that doesn't end when you stir the pot.
- Once you've reached the roiling boil point, add the sugar all in one go. Stir well. Bring back to a roiling boil. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam. It seems like a shame to throw out something that smells so good, but it will keep your jam from achieving that lovely garnet color. Eat it if you can't bear to throw it out. It tastes delicious.
- Ladle the hot jam into the prepared jars. This is where the funnel is key. You can buy it at any supermarket and it costs less than $5.
- Place the lids on the jars and screw the bands over the lids somewhat tightly with your fingers. Don't forget that these are hot! Use a kitchen cloth to protect your hands.
- Now process the jars in the water bath that you've hopefully kept on the heat. Boil them for ten minutes, making sure they are fully submerged under water.
- Set them on the counter over night to cool. The lids should pop, indicating that they have been properly processed. If any of your jars have not "popped" by the morning, put them in the fridge and eat them in the next 2 weeks. The other jars should be kept in a cool, dark place for up to a year.