Strawberry Preserves

Here’s another great way to save all those strawberries this spring–jar them!  It’s easy and fun and you determine the sugar level.  Perfect when considering what goes into your kids’ school lunch.

Strawberry Preserves

8-10 cups strawberries, stems removed, berries washed

1 cup sugar — this varies depending on taste (we used a little less and they were good, not too tart, not too sweet)

1 packet pectin — this also varies, depending on thick you want your preserves (we didn’t use any though it would have made for better sandwich spread).

Read through all the instructions BEFORE you begin.  It will guarantee a smooth transition from heating berries in one pot to heating the jars in another.  Important, because it’s best if your jars and lids are pre-heated prior to introducing warm berries into them and subsequently the hot water bath.

Clean and sanitize jars ahead of time (dishwasher should suffice) and warm both lids and cans minutes before filling jars (softens gum seal and prevents breakage).

You can buy a basic canning set at any hardware store and most grocery stores which includes funnel, jar lifting “clamps,” lid lifter, etc. many of which you see used here.

To begin, place berries in a large bowl and cover with sugar.  Allow to sit for several hours.  This gives the two time to mingle and soak in a bit!

Next, warm berries over med-high heat–and here’s where the variation sets in.  If you simply want to preserve your berries and not create a jam-like consistency, you warm them, can them in a hot water bath and you’re done.

Which is fine.  We did ours this way, save for my one dash into boil-ville as I considered the thought of making jam (until I realized I had no pectin on hand and didn’t want to boil the flavor and health clear out of my berries!).

They turned out fine.  In fact, I served them over bananas for breakfast.

However, if you want a thicker consistency, most directions on the subject suggest that if you don’t use pectin, you boil them down, continually stirring until the berries thicken to the preferred consistency.  This can take some time and if you’re like me, you get itchy thinking about all the nutritional value being boiled out of your food.

If you choose to boil them with pectin, stir in now and this can reduce the boiling process to about 5-10 minutes.  Cooking times may vary, so test your berry mixture by dipping a spoon in to determine whether it’s the right consistency for you.

Caution:  Don’t walk away and think you’re going to multi-task during this process.  If you do, you will be surprised by and awful sight–berries on the run!  If you’re merely after warming your berries, don’t over stir.  Let them boil down without interference.  We worked to “crush” ours a bit in the beginning of the heating process, because my goal was to make a psuedo-jam to include in my son’s lunch and smaller berries are easier to consume.

Very bad.  Potentially very messy.  Please.  Watch and stir.  Once your berries are warmed to your liking, remove from heat.  It’s time to spoon them into your awaiting jars.

A funnel helps keep the mess to a minimum, though we opted to use a steel soup ladle instead.  One less instrument to clean!  Speaking of mess, I suggest placing jars on a cookie sheet or something similar.  This way, any spillage will land on an easy clean surface as opposed to your countertop.

Fill jars to within 1/4″  of the top.  You need to leave a little room for heat expansion and sealing.  Be sure your pot is large enough for water to cover jars by at least an inch or two.  Boil for about 10 minutes.

In this case, we used both half-pint and full pint jars–for no particular reason other than we like to experiment!  And smaller jars seem better for sharing (which we do a lot of when we can our garden goods).  They make great gifts!

Remove jars from hot water and allow to cool.  In some cases, you’ll start to hear the popping sounds almost immediately (very fun for the kids!) which tells you they’re sealed, secure and ready for storage!  However, allow to completely cool before storing.  Clean up is a bit sticky, no pun intended.  If you can find a “partner in processing” willing to do the dishes–marry him!  Or, a peck on the cheek will do.

One big bowl of berries made 6 half-pint jars and 2 pint jars–a trial and error determination on our part.  For a more detailed version of how to can anything you grow, check into this Pick Your Own website (also found on my list of favorite links under U-pick Farms).  These folks do everything!

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