As if I didn't have enough to do, I decided to get up early on Saturday morning, head down to the farmer's market and pick up a flat of strawberries. Let's review. Do you all know how much is in a flat of strawberries? Twelve quarts. Yes, twelve. You probably knew that. And of course, I knew that too when I looked what I was spending my $50 on. But with the hustle and bustle of all the shoppers and the nice kid getting ready to carry them over to my car (I refused, feeling bad for him that I had parked kind of far away in an effort to avoid the parking panic attack I had suffered there the last time- I swear I would have biked if I could have figured out a way to carry that flat of strawberries on two wheels), well, I just went for it.
Somehow, I seemed to have forgotten the similar situation I was in back in October, when the nice lady at the apple orchard sold me a whole bushel of apples for the price of the half-bushel I had intended to buy (for the record, I'm totally doing that again...don't tell Jared). Anyways. This is how I spent my weekend. Hunched over quart after quart of strawberries. And it was lovely. I've been eating sliced fresh berries over granola and yogurt for breakfast for days.
Last fall, after numerous conversations with my boss about preserving food, she bought be this book for our office gift exchange. I was so excited! For the record, this book is amazing. It's got tons of information about preserving and recipes, I would highly recommend it if you're at all interested in any kind of preserving. I have a feeling it's going to be my bible for the next few months. So, as soon as me and the strawberries got in the door, I broke it out and began looking at the recipes. For some unknown reason, I've developed an aversion to pectin. I'm not sure why or where this came from. Probably because it just seems unnatural to me (even though I'm sure it isn't) and the first jam recipe I ever tried last summer didn't have any, so I just assumed that you really didn't need it. (And you will certainly never catch me putting strawberry flavored jell-o in my jam as many recipes instruct!)
The recipe in Putting Food By is simple enough: 4 cups crushed strawberries to 4 cups sugar. Done. Seriously that's it. It's actually in the section entitled "with old-style use of sugar." I think that means no pectin. Anyways, all you do is put the berries in a big pot, add the sugar, bring to a boil over medium high heat, then simmer until it's thickened. That last stage is where I got a little tripped up. I think I didn't let it get thick enough, because it's looking a little sauce-y in those jars. But the half full jar that's in my fridge has thickened a little more from the cold, so I'm not too concerned. I cooked it for about 10-15 minutes, and I guess I would recommend more like 25-30 minutes. Oh well, it still tastes darn good. Then, you remove it from the heat, and pour into prepared canning jars, with 1/4 inch of headroom, and use the boiling water bath method to properly seal the jars (about 5 minutes). This recipe makes about five 1/2 pint jars of jam (I doubled it and have ten jars of jam).
After making the jam, however, I was still left with, ahem, 10 quarts of strawberries. So, on to whole strawberry preserves we went. This recipe came from the same book and again, was pretty simple. Wash and hull berries (I had to google "hulling strawberries," I know I'm a city kid!), mix with sugar using 1/2-1 cup sugar for every 4 cups strawberries. Spread berries and sugar on a shallow sheet pan and let it sit for 2-4 hours. I did about 2 1/2 hours and it might have gotten a little more syrup-y the longer I let it sit. Cover if necessary. Pour the mixture into a large pot and simmer for about 5 minutes, until syrup-y. Ladle strawberries into prepared jars, and fill with syrup. It says to "have some boiling Thin Syrup on hand if there's not enough juice for packing" and, um, I have no idea what boiling thin syrup is, so I didn't bother. I had just enough juice for packing, so luckily this was not an issue. Leave 1/2 inch headroom in jars and process using the boiling water bath (10 minutes for pint jars, 15 minutes for quart jars). I used about 16 cups of strawberries (4 more quarts for those of you keeping track) and about 3 1/2 cups of sugar. This made a little more than five 1/2 quart jars of preserves.
So there you have it. I have a lot of more philosophical thoughts on preserving (similar to something Amanda wrote about recently), but I'm feeling like this post is getting a bit long, so I'll write about that another time. I'll be back tomorrow with part two of the great strawberry massacre of 2008 (because after the preserves, I still had six more quarts to deal with...). Also, I ate the first raspberry of the season yesterday, so it looks like we're heading straight into the next preserving project!