Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Strawberries for everyone!

Upon my return home I retrieved a message from a sweet lady that we go to church with. She called early Friday morning with an offer I couldn't refuse...tons of fresh, free strawberries! Yippee!

A neighbor was going to be out of town and had asked her family if they'd like some berries. The stipulation - they could have whatever they wanted so long as they picked two rows. Julia ended up with 7 GALLONS! She generously gifted us with 2.

What to do with 2 gallons of ripe berries? Did I tell you that Mom and I made preserves the Saturday before Mother's Day? If not, I should've. Here's the story -

Saturday night about 9:30pm - I'm ready to leave Mom's house (where I've been for the better portion of the day, hanging out). Mom jumps up and says

"Hey, do you want to make some Strawberry Jam with me?"

"Mom, it's 9:30."

"Yuh-huh. I know. So, do you want to?"

"Sure." I say looking wistfully at the clock, mentally dreaming of my comfy bed.

At 12:30am I made it home with a jar of Strawberry preserves (just in case my dear hubby didn't believe my story!)


While on the phone with Julia, my mind was racing with possibilities...jam, fruit leather, freeze a few, a few handfuls of fresh, etc... Strawberries were literally dancing in my head!

Keep in mind, I'd never put up anything by myself before outside of basic freezing. Mom made it look so simple a few weeks ago, I was sure I could handle it.

The recipe:

Quick & Easy Freezer Jam w/ Strawberries
Courtesy of Sure Jell (comes inside each box!)

2 qt of ripe, whole, cleaned strawberries
4 cups of refined sugar
1 package of Sure Jell (found in canning supplies or near Jell-o)
3/4 cup water

Wash and ready the canning jars. (I used jelly or half-pint sized glass jelly jars, but you can use plastic storage containers with a good seal.) Crush the berries in a large bowl with a potato masher - it's jam so you want some chunks. Mix in the 4 cups of sugar. Set aside to stand for 10 minutes.

In a saucepan, empty the contents of one package of Sure Jell. Add the water and stir to dissolve. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil one full minute. Remove this mixture from the heat and add it quickly to the berry/sugar mix.

Stir this new mixture until all or most of the sugar crystals have dissolved (about 3 minutes). Then begin pouring the mixture into your containers. Leave about 1/4 to 1/2" space at the top of the container to avoid the container bursting in the freezer. Be sure to wipe the rims of the containers before attempting to seal, otherwise freezer burn is a risk. Leave the containers to sit on the counter for 24 hours before storing in the freezer for up to one year or refrigerator for 3 weeks.

I averaged about 6 jars per batch.

**DON'T make more than one batch at a time, otherwise the jam will begin to gel before you can get it into the proper container! **

I put up 23 jars of preserves (for the freezer), two bags of 4 cups each, whole berries for later in the season, and attempted a recipe for fruit leather. The preserves turned out perfect, the fruit leather - UUUGGGG! It's a hot mess... (as my girlfriend says!)

I pureed about 8 cups of whole berries, then added 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce (to help with the sweetness & consistency.) The directions I'd read online two weeks ago said to line some pans with wax paper and pour the mixture over top to dry.

The directions also mentioned drying the "fruit leather" (also known as Fruit Roll-Ups, in the store) in the oven on low. I placed them in the oven on 170 degrees overnight. That's the lowest temperature that my oven offers. This morning they looked great...

until I tried to remove them from the pan...

They were stuck to the wax paper and the wax paper had allowed the juices from the berries to stick to the pan. I now have a mixture of sticky, fruit juice glue adhering this wax paper glob to my good baking sheets! This is a BIG OLE mess...

See the little part I was able to get up? If I smooshed it hard enough in two places it would roll up on itself into a gooey paste. This is NOT what I was attempting!

The worst part - I wasted 8 cups of perfectly good berries...DARN IT!


UPDATE on the Fruit Leather -

After another 24 hours of drying (because I had to let it go otherwise I was going to cuss...) the wax paper released from the pans AND the fruit leather released from the wax paper!

HOORAY! Almost all of it was usable. I threw away the center of each pan, due to the fact that it wasn't setting up. It was about 4 inches square...not bad considering nothing was coming off of that pan a day earlier!

Continued concern - I couldn't pull it off in sheets to relocate it to new, non-sticky wax paper, so I chopped up the sticky stuff and rolled it up individually...serves the purpose, but I think it's too sticky to eat anywhere but home. (Boy, the bees would love this on a picnic!)


5erg said...

wow, lucky you!
last time i saw this many strawberries was when i was working at a strawberry field.

The dried fruit sheets sound interesting, maybe you should try it again?

Allison said...

I think I could probably eat 2 gallons of plain strawberries! When 1 pint of blueberries was only 79 cents here, I think I ate 4 pints per day - 2 during the work commute, 1 at work for lunch, and 1 at home in the evening. I'm very impressed by all your activities here, especially the fruit leather. I'm curious about canning, but kinda scared off by the botulism stuff. When last year's tomato plants went crazy, I made suace and ladled it all into freezer bags. I'd rather not have to do that this year. Working up the bravery to can, I guess.

Thumperdd said...

Allison - WOW! How'd you get all of those seeds out of your teeth??? LOL

This recipe is a freezer recipe. I'm intimidated by the hot canning as well. If it's an acidic food, you're usually good to go.

Check with your local Cooperative Extension for tons of info. on canning. It's normally FREE & plentiful, from people who know how to do it. Or, recruit an older neighbor to help - I did this last year & we had a blast making Pear Butter & socializing. WARNING - this is HOT work...do it on an overcast day to prevent overheating the house & yourself!


Splendid Little Stars said...

They would not have lasted in my house to be made into anything.
Did you continue drying at 170 in the oven? What if you used parchment paper?

Allison said...

Thanks for the tips. I came across a recent NYTimes article on canning w/ safety info as well.

Thumperdd said...

Splendid -

Sorry for the delay in reply. Busy day yesterday! I stopped drying the fruit leather in the oven after the initial catastrophe with the paper not coming up. I let the pans sit for almost 24 hours on the stove top (unheated). That 2nd drying period is when the fruit leather finally released.

Someone else had mentioned Parchment paper. Not sure. Parchment seems a little porous to me & I feel that the wax on the paper helped with the removal later. If I attempt it again I'll try one parchment & one waxed to see. All the recipes I found online called for waxed paper...

Allison -

Keep me posted on your canning success. I love it when someone tackles a new task!