Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Strawberry-filled dreams

The joy of summer starts with berries.  The season will not be complete if we haven't logged in enough hours driving to and from local pick-your-own farms. Who can resist the burst of colors? The sweet scent of succulent fruits? Alas! One may pass out from the heat, but with the lingering taste of ripe strawberries, it is with bliss that you fall to the ground!

Ok... That may have been an exaggeration, and we certainly don't want anyone passing out - even with strawberry-filled dreams. Technically, it's still Spring when the first harvest of strawberries occurs, and believe you me, as soon as the farms post their picking season schedules, we're already halfway out the door. Strawberry fields are always the first field trip for the summer.

What to do with the remaining 12.5 lbs of strawberries when you've eaten your fill, and your shirt is dotted in red stains? Toss it in a salad of mixed greens with walnuts, make frozen berries dipped in chocolate, and... make strawberry jams!  

Canning, or making jams, isn't difficult. With the advent of the internet, it is so easy to make jams that will last you through the next picking season. I know, I know, nothing beats Fresh. But, hey, DIY jams beat the generic storebranded jams, guaranteed. Canning, or Jamming as I like to call it, requires a special kind of jars with two-piece metal lids that you can easily get from Bed, Bath & Beyond. Old food jars from pasta sauce and such shouldn't be used because you won't be able to creat a vacuum seal. Aside from that, as far as equipment go, all you need is a water bath! When you properly prepare the jam, the fruit jars are heated at high enough temperatures to kill all microorganisms and prevent the growth of botulinum spores, which can guessed it: botulism. [Update: Hubby points out that botulism toxin are not found in acidic media, therefore this is not a problem for canning berries.]   But the first step is to make sure to wash the jars really well in hot soapy water, and keep them hot so they don't break when you put them in the hot bath.

Make jams in the summer because, you know, Winter is coming.

As much as I'd like to take credit for the wonderful jams, I confess, my hubby did all the work. Hubby jams = Wife desserts, which makes for a great partnership in our house (or any house!). We didn't have fruit pectin, so we used Agar Agar, which is the seaweed gelatin from the Philippines. (a.k.a. gulaman). It worked really well! Pectin or gelatin is needed as gelling agent to make the preserves not too runny, and spreadable instead. Hubby got very creative with the jams, and spiced some with cinnamon, some with mint and cardamom. YUM!
With 12 jars of strawberry jam, we're certainly set for the winter.  Our PB & J will never be the same again. But what else can you do with all those preserves, you ask? Well, you can warm it and serve on top of buttermilk walnut pancakes, or warmed pound cake. You can drizzle it on vanilla ice cream or you can also make a cheesecake cupcake with strawberry swirls. I'm beginning to think that a dozen jars of strawberry preserves isn't going to last us long after all...

Next up: cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries!

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