Strawberry Season

My berries are starting to turn a beautiful red so I expect to see the spring beauties in the grocery stores very soon. There is probably no other jam as popular as strawberry. I know I have made cases of it for my grandsons! I wanted to focus on a few tips about making strawberry jam.

In North America we have wild strawberries, the tiny and intensely flavoured version are delicious on a salad or ice cream. The berries we tend to grow and buy were originally imported from Europe. Strawberries are high in Vitamin C and manganese and are rich in antioxidants. Ironically, most commercial berries have been heavily sprayed with pesticides making them one of the biggest culprits on the “dirty dozen list”. If you buy commercially grown berries, all is not lost. Giving them a 30 second bath in a solution of 2 teaspoons of baking soda to one quart of water and then rinsing will remove pesticide residues according to research done by Test Kitchens of America. Pesticides break down in alkaline solutions. While this method doesn’t work for all pesticides, it does work for the most commonly used spray varieties. So, give them a dunk.

Strawberry jam is notoriously known for the floating fruit problem. That’s when the fruit floats to the top of the liquid as it gels. Some people just don’t worry about it telling people to stir the jam before eating. That works. But if the floaters bother you, here are a few ideas that might help the problem. Floating occurs because the air in the cells of the fruit cause it to lift up like a balloon. Therefore, removing the air, to the extent possible, will reduce the floating phenomenon. For example, some recipes call for putting the sugar on the chopped fruit and allowing the combination to sit for several hours. Doing so helps the sugar to migrate into the cells so the air can no longer causing floating. Long-boil or traditional cooking of the jam without the addition of commercial pectin will also result in less air and therefore less floating. If you are using commercial pectin, before putting the jam into hot jars, stir the jam frequently for about five minutes. This method can help a bit. The final tip is to ensure the berries are chopped finely and crushed. A pastry blender and potato masher are helpful instruments. Don’t use a food processor as it adds air to the berries. Finely chopped and crushed berries have already released air so the tendency to float is much reduced.

We all await strawberry season with much anticipation. It seems like the announcement of summer – strawberry shortcakes, cordials, jellies and jams. Whether being used in salads, desserts or preserved for winter, strawberries are no doubt one of nature’s great gifts.

For more information: martha@thevalleypreservery.ca

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