It is now springtime. That means many things to many people. To most it means the kids are on spring break and they want something to do. This might be a way to give them something to do that will last a lifetime. Get them involved in a cooking project that is
fun and educational and delicious at the same time.
To me springtime means Strawberries.
The first of the summer run of this delicious fruit starts with Florida and doesn’t end till the New Jersey and Great Lakes berries make their appearance. Growing up in Florida gave me the first shot at the berries. My father and I went to Plant City which is just up from Tampa on I-4. They had miles and miles the plump, juicy fruit. We used to stop at a U-Pick ‘Em farm, they had gallon size buckets to use for picking. You could pile the fruit as high as you could and still just pay for the gallon. I carried big ice chests to keep the fruit in good condition on the trip home. I always managed to eat about 2 gallons while I picked. You know the berry that got a little damaged while you picked. If I needed a strawberry fix, I would always tug too hard on the next strawberry and have to eat it. If I left it, it would just spoil, so I had to do what I had to do. Afterwards we always looked for a place to eat while in the Plant City area. They all would have Strawberry Shortcake for one of their deserts. I would be careful not to over-eat, saving room for desert. I also remember that when they brought me my Strawberry Shortcake, I would just look at it for a few moments thinking about the trunk full of berries and how much they would make. Coming back to my senses I would enjoy every spoonful of my desert then we would head home to start work. I would always make Strawberry Jam, because that was one of my favorites growing up. I also made other things with my Strawberries, but nothing like we made at our business.
In our canning business it took plenty of help to do all the things that had to be
done. From picking the fruit all the way to making and sticking on the labels, we brought our grandkids into the picture. Mary Lynn and I wanted to pass on to our grandkids the knowledge that our grandmothers gave us. I hope someday that maybe one of them would write a story or blog about what we taught them. We were lucky enough to have 4 great kids to work with, Christopher, Brandon, Ashley and Kyle Hendrick (Ashley and Kyle are twins). We took them to a U-Pick-Em lot and let them pick berries like I had done. At this time we found out that picking the fruit on hands and knees was not for us, so we went to the State Farmers Market and they had rows of people who had already done that
back-breaking job. We also found other fruit to mix with our Strawberries for a
bigger variety of flavors. We found that if we bought in any type of volume, we
could get a better price. This made me wonder just how good of a deal we were
getting. The next Saturday we stopped on the way to the farmers market and
picked a gallon of Strawberries. I filled the bucket all the way to the handle so I would have a mark to measure with. At the market we bought our batch of berries and headed back to the store to start processing. I emptied bucket of Strawberries that I picked while crawling on my hands and knees, under the hot sun of spring and dumped them in the water to wash off anything unwanted, like sand and dead leaves. With the empty bucket I
filled it from a flat of berries I had bought at the market. A flat has 12 baskets of Strawberries, like you see in your grocery. I filled the bucket to the same place as before and looked at my flat; it still had 4 baskets left. My gallon of hand-picked fruit cost $9. My flat at the farmers market cost me $5. It did not take me long to realize that I could be lazy and still get my berries and save money.
After washing our fruit we would start to sort them, the bigger berries we saved for
preserves; the medium and small for jam and jelly and syrup. Mary Lynn liked to
use the large berries because they looked best in the jars. All of the fruit had to be hulled. The stem and core of the berries had to be removed. At some stores that sell canning
supplies you might find hullers. They don’t look like much but they really do
keep the fruit looking best. If you don’t have a huller, you can use a small knife.
Strawberries that were used for the preserves were cut into large pieces or in half. Next
step was to sugar the fruit. This is putting the fruit in a large bowl and just
covering them in sugar. Slightly mix the combination and cover with plastic
wrap and put in the fridge. Leave them overnight; then sugar them again. You
will notice that the fruit has given off lots of juice. This juice should be
poured off and saved. After you have done this for a couple of days the liquid drops to just a little. What has happened is the sugar is now saturating the fruit and making it ready to cook. Take the liquid you have saved add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (not from the
little plastic lemon). This helps stabilize the mixture and will keep it from
browning. Slowly cook the liquid till it reduces itself by about half. Add your
berries and slowly stir and cook until you get a thick mixture. Carefully
remove the berries with a slotted spoon, and put into your jars. Don’t fill
more than ¾ because you still need room for the juice. The juice in the pot has to cook one more time. Bring the juice back to a low boil and stir till you get bubbles forming
on top and sticking to each other, you may need to add an extra cup of sugar. Now carefully add this juice to your jars, filling to within ¼ inch of the top. After all the jars are filled save the extra liquid. It may be needed after you take a very thin spatula and push it down inside the jars. This helps get rid of air bubbles that may be there. After all
the jars are done it is time to top the jars with rings and domes, and then
process in your canning pot for 10 minutes. If you still have extra liquid save
it and we will use it in Strawberry Syrup. After everything is done, it is time
to step back and admire your work. Homemade Strawberry Preserves look very
different from the store-bought kind. The taste is VERY different from those little packets you usually eat.
Next Blog we will do with the remaining berries.