Strawberry Daze

My friend Betty and I couldn’t resist stopping by a roadside stand for strawberries the other day, since they just came into season.

When I was about 14 or so, my parents planted a large strawberry patch. I promptly developed an allergy to them, so could never have any. How cruel is that? Somehow, though, years later I outgrew that allergy. But meanwhile, I just never cared much for strawberry flavored things, preferring chocolate, citrus, and more “exotic” flavors. (I felt the same about vanilla for years, then had an epiphany.)

I have enjoyed the occasional wild strawberry, and grew some lovely ones (fraises des bois type) myself several years ago. Not much yield, but delicious. The ones you buy in the supermarket…well, I just won’t usually bother with those. But I decided it was time to embrace strawberries and make strawberry jam, as Betty does each year.

Hers works, because she’s practiced, and uses Certo. She’s got it down! She makes a “Strawberry Glacé Pie” too, which I’ve never tried. (hint hint!)

I tend to run at making preserves in an impulsive and disorganized way. I do always have various jars on hand. I used to use paraffin, but if I have any now, it’s buried in a crafts box somewhere. I have bought some Weck jars here and there, and bought a pretty Italian Bormioli jar the other day at HomeGoods, but I really avoid having to boil jars, empty or full. I just shove my jars in the fridge after I fill them and they cool.

I find the instructions in Certo and Sure-Jell intimidating, so many charts and measurements! My eyes glaze over and my brain checks out as soon as I start unfolding those package inserts. So I usually rely on reducing (i.e. cooking down) and the natural pectin in fruits. But, even though I’m usually pretty lucky, this batch didn’t gel up properly.

However, it is so delicious, with the berries, vanilla, and shot of lemon juice, that I wasn’t willing to re-cook it to add a dose of the powdered Sure-Jell I had on hand. I’d sprinkled a little of that on the berries at the end of cooking, thinking it was still way too soupy, even after cooking a good 20 minutes. But obviously I should’ve used more.

The reason for the fail? Maybe I made too much at once (2 quarts of berries, 8 cups halved), or skimped a bit on the sugar (short supply on hand), or maybe it was that the berries were so ripe and juicy. Probably a combination of all those, but I have to say, I will easily use every drop of this jam, even if I have to spoon it on toast! (Which I did, as you’ll see in the gallery below.) It’s great over the brownie bites you see here, and it will be awesome on vanilla ice cream or yogurt…let me count the ways.

I previously wrote about Marisa McClellan, author of Preserving by the Pint, on NJ Spice, after seeing her at the Whole Earth Center, and she’s got a slew of recipes on her website, including the one I used for my strawberries. Her approach is perfect for my type of “non-technical” preserving, although she has reams of more advanced information, too.

But as I said, I cheated a bit on the sugar, and got impatient. I’m sure it would have thickened eventually, but the color and flavor were so good, I hated to go too far past that optimal point. Know what I mean? So I did the Hail Mary with the powdered Sure-Jell and yanked it off the heat a minute or two later. Maybe next time I’ll make her strawberry preserves with balsamic vinegar and black pepper!

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