Along with all the fun things that summer brings, one of my favorites is picking all the fresh fruit that I possibly can. Growing up in Mississippi, blackberries grew wild all over the place. My sister and I spent many hours foraging delicious treats and going to U-Pick farms to gather other goodies that we didn't grow in our backyard. I have moved a few times since then, but I have always been able to locate family farms to visit and carry on the tradition.
Strawberries have a very short window to pick and the window can come and go in just a couple of weeks. Of course, you can find them year round in the stores, but there is nothing like that fresh from the plant goodness. I love picking them on a Saturday morning and making preserves the same afternoon. Home canned treats make great gifts, or just a delicious addition to your pantry collection for use throughout the year.
Old Fashioned Strawberry Preserves
Yield: About 10 8oz jars (or more if using mini jam jars)
- 12 cups mashed strawberries (stems and leaves removed)
- 8-12 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
You can always cut this recipe in half or double it up depending on how crazy you got with your berry picking. If you want the preserves to be super sweet like the ones you buy at the store, you will want to do a 1:1 ratio of mashed strawberries to sugar. I prefer mine a bit more tart, so I cut the sugar down to almost half on my last batch. You can also substitute honey for sugar, but keep in mind that it will not set as well and will be a little more on the runny side.
Sterilize your jars and lids. I do this by placing them on a baking sheet and putting them in the oven (preheated to 225°F) for 30 minutes.
While your jars are in the oven, wash the strawberries and remove leaves and stems. Place them in a large bowl (or right into the pot you plan to boil them in) and mash with a potato masher. I love chunks of fruit in mine, but you can run them through a blender or food processor if you prefer a smoother texture.
Add sugar and mix well. Some recipes advise letting the mixture set for up to 2 hours, but I skip this step and get them right onto the stove.
Make sure you use a pot which allows the contents enough room to boil up because the foam will rise quickly at first. You can turn down the heat to avoid it spilling over, but bring the temp back up to a roiling boil. The goal is to reach 220°F so that the preserves will set and not be runny.
Monitor the bottom of the pot the whole time to avoid burning ... stir stir stir! (Make sure to switch arms so that you get an even arm workout too!)
The time that it takes to reach the desired temperature and consistency will vary depending on the amount of sugar used, your local altitude, and the humidity of the day. There are a couple ways to test if it is ready... you can go with a cooking thermometer, or the old fashioned way of using a few spoons and a saucer that have been pre-chilled in the freezer. Spoon a little of the contents of the pot onto the saucer and put it back in the freezer. If it is still runny after a few minutes, it isn't ready. If it starts to hold its form, it is ready to go into the jars. Just be careful not to abandon the boiling pot for more than a few minutes or the batch may burn at the bottom.
Once it reaches a setting point, remove from heat. Ladle contents into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch space at the top. Wipe any spillage off the jars and make sure the rims are very clean and dry before securing the lids.
Process the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes to seal the lids.
Place jars on a dry towel or cooling rack. The lids may make popping noises as they cool. Check on them after 12-24 hours. If for some reason any jars do not seal properly, put those in the fridge. The rest can be stored in the pantry.
If you miss the picking window for strawberries, just use the same recipe with the next fruit that comes ripe. I will be busy making raspberry and blueberry preserves when they are ready in a few weeks.