Local strawberries, grown here – have you ever tried them?
Now that I am in the process of converting to eating local food year round, I have got to plan ahead for those long winter months. So when local strawberries come into season, I have got to get them now, while the getting is good!
The strawberries that grow around here are small, sweet and juicy. When you bite into them they are red throughout, with no white bits on the inside like the grocery store variety can have. They do have a shorter shelf life, which is why you can’t find them in the grocery store. You can find them at the farmer’s markets though. Even better – you can pick them yourself!
This week we are out at my parent’s lakeside cottage with my Mom, so I looked up some U-pick farms in the area, using the Alberta Farm Fresh website. I called, and the lady told us to come on down! There are berries on the plants! The season is just starting up! So my Mom and I loaded up the kids and off we went.
The farm was located about 15 minutes from the cottage, set in among rolling green hills. It had rained earlier that morning, and the sun had just come out, making everything shine brightly. We each grabbed a pail and the lady showed us how to pick the fruit – you just pull back green leafy top cover to reveal large clusters of red fruit underneath, lay the fruit in your hand and grasp the stem with your thumb, and the strawberry just rolls into your hand. She had lined the rows between her plants with straw, keeping the berries clean and our boots mud-free. She also told us that her plants were not sprayed and that everything was organic.
The kids loved it; they thought it was cool that they were on a real farm! Where real food grows! They were very excited about the prospect of eating berries that they had picked themselves. In no time at all we had picked 4 pails, which turned out to be about 20 lbs of fruit.
When we got them home we all had a strawberry snack. Then my Mom and I started scouring cookbooks for recipes for strawberry jam. Let the preserving begin!
My Mom made 6 jars of strawberry freezer jam. The strawberries are frozen in fresh, creating a brightly coloured jam that is not cooked.
Lacking freezer space, I started off by making a classic jam recipe, the kind they used to make back in the day before you could go to the store and buy a box of pectin off the shelf. With this method you cook the berries to release their natural pectin. This recipe used 2 cups of sugar, lemon juice and 8 cups of berries. The result was a wine coloured jam, with a deep flavour and caramel tones.
Next I made a jam with a higher amount of sugar, using the classic method again (no pectin). This recipe used 4 cups of sugar, 4 cups of berries and lemon juice. The added sugar added extra brightness and clarity to this jam, making it look like the berry bits were floating in ruby red jelly.
I finished off with making some preserved strawberry sundae topping. This recipe called for orange juice and orange rind, along with a bit of syrup instead of sugar. The idea was to hold back on the sweetness, to allow the fruit flavours to come through. This preserve was the lightest in colour, and the berries were left almost intact. I plan to use it over ice cream and also to stir into yogurt. Who knows, maybe I will even try making yogurt myself!
I froze the rest of the berries, hulling them and laying them out on cookie sheets to freeze individually first before bagging. I got two large sized freezer bags out of it.
We ate lots of berries fresh as well, as snacks, as desert, in a bowl full of milk, overtop cereal, in fruit salad. Delish. These berries were so sweet it was like eating fruit candy.
This was my first attempt at realizing my goal of a pantry stocked with local food for the winter – thirteen pretty red jars of local sweet strawberries.