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strawberry

Strawberries from a Home Kitchen Garden

Jam that you make from fresh-picked strawberries is noticeably better-tasting than store-bought jam.

Strawberry season is running out in my home kitchen garden; I may have berries for another week. As we do every year, we’ve consumed a lot of strawberries this spring… but it wasn’t enough. I want to extend my relationship with strawberries throughout the year. One way I do this is by making jam.

Jam is a combination of fruit, sugar, and pectin. Pectin thickens when you cook it, but it doesn’t impart color to whatever you add it to. Consider: if you thicken juice with cornstarch or flour, you create an opaque pie filling. If you thicken the same juice with pectin, you create jelly.

Pectin exists naturally in fruit… but rarely in great enough amounts to make the fruit’s juice jell. Traditionally, you add an enormous amount of sugar and extra pectin to fruit juice, cook it, and the juice gels. That’s what we’re doing in this blog post.

Read the instructions that come in the box. Follow them! Minor deviations won’t cause problems (an ounce here-or-there), but if you miscount cups of sugar or fruit, you may not like the results. The strawberry jam recipe that came with the powdered pectin I used called for the following: 2 quarts of washed and capped berries. ¼ cup of lemon juice. Seven cups of sugar. One package of fruit pectin. An optional tablespoon of butter. Also, note that you’ll need a large pot in which to boil jars, a small pot in which to heat lids, a medium pot (about a gallon capacity) in which to cook jam, a large spoon, measuring cups, a canning funnel (though you can survive without the funnel), tongs (to lift things out of boiling water), and a canning jar lifter (again, I managed without one for years). Oh, it’s wise to have a pot holder or a dry towel on-hand as well as a damp (but clean) dish cloth.

Before I start making jam, I rinse the jelly jars and put them in a large pot of water on high heat so the water will boil. I put a matching number of canning lids and bands in a smaller pot of water, and I heat that on low so the water gets very hot without boiling. It can take 30 minutes for the pot of jars to start boiling, so I often take a break while the water heats. The pectin I’m using claims to produce eight cups of jam… so I heat enough jars to hold ten cups, in case the estimate is low. Eventually, however, you need to mash the strawberries. I use a rusty potato masher, and I smoosh the berries into small pieces; large chunks are hard to spread on sandwiches.

Jelly or Jam?

Measure the sugar into a bowl before you start cooking the fruit! Ideally, use a bowl you can dump with only one hand; you’ll add the sugar to the cooking jam a bit later and it’s nice to have one hand free so you can keep stirring as the sugar goes in. The pectin I use calls for seven cups of sugar for a single batch of strawberry jam.

Often, people I talk with about jam and jelly ask, “What’s the difference?” Quite simply: you make jam using juice and chunks of fruit, you make jelly from juice with all the fruit pulp strained out of it. From the perspective of the jam-maker, jam and jelly are nearly identical: once you’ve prepared the fruit or the juice, you follow the same steps to cook it into jam or jelly.

The single greatest aide to success at jam-making is to buy a box of powdered fruit pectin, open it, read the instructions it contains, and **follow those instruction**. Until jam- and jelly-making comes automatically to you, don’t mess with the recipes. Using more or less sugar, changing the cooking time, or using too little or too much fruit all can affect the finished product quite noticeably. Too much sugar and over-cooking can result in jam that comes out of the jar in one piece. Too little sugar and under-cooking can result in jam that runs rather than spreading.

I measure five cups of mashed berries into the cooking pot. Then I add a quarter cup of lemon juice (yes, I use the bottled stuff) and the packet of pectin. The pot goes on the stove on high heat and I don’t stop stirring until the jam is done. Cooking works like this: 1. Stir until the mixture boils. 2. Pour in all the sugar at once and mix it in. 2b. Add a tablespoon of butter if you believe it will help keep foam from forming. 3. Stir until the mixture starts boiling despite the stirring activity. From that moment, boil the stuff for exactly 60 seconds. Watch it carefully because it may want to boil over. On my electric stove, I turn off the burner after 15 seconds of boiling, and leave the pot in place. There is always enough heat in the burner to keep the jam bubbling for 45 more seconds. When that minute of boiling ends, remove the pot from the heat. In this photo, you can see the large (covered) kettle in which jars are boiling, and the smaller pot that contains lids and bands heated just below boiling.

The pectin box contains specific instructions for making jam or jelly from most common types of fruit. Harvest or buy fruit accordingly, and make sure you have the necessary equipment on-hand before you start.

Preserved from a Home Kitchen Garden

Jam made at home from fresh fruit, will keep for a year or longer when you can it properly. Heck, without canning, my mom stored jam on a shelf in a dark closet for a year, and it always tasted fresh. That was in the days when the FDA said it was OK to seal jars with melted paraffin.

Canning jam and jelly is stupid-easy: once you’ve screwed the band onto a jar, set the jar upright in a deep pot of boiling water for ten minutes. Then remove the jar to a towel on the counter and let it cool. With the high-temperature cooking and the ten-minute boil, your jam will be germ-free… and it already contained so much acid and sugar that almost nothing could have lived in it anyway.

I can 12 one-cup gift jars of each type of jam or jelly I make. We give the one-cup jars as gifts to teachers, hosts at dinner parties, golf professionals (at the course where I play), and other acquaintances. It usually takes at least two batches to make 12 cups, and whatever is left over, I put into pint jars for us to eat through the year.

Foam Snack from a Home Kitchen Garden

Even when I add butter to my cooking jam, the jam produces a lot of foam. I pull the foam across the surface of the jam and skim it off with the spoon. I didn’t get a great shot of that through the steam coming off the jam, but here’s what it looks like on its way to my mouth after it cooled down for a bit. It surprises me that no one sells jam and jelly foams in jars. It tastes great, and you could dramatically increase the amount of product you get from your raw materials.

When you’ve removed most of the foam, fill the hot jelly jars, put on the hot lids, screw on the hot bands, and set the jars in boiling water for ten minutes. The canning funnel helps keep jam off the rim of the jelly jars; if you get any jam there, wipe it off before you apply a lid. With the lid on and the jar upright, screw on a band.

To get a band “finger tight,” I pick up the jar by the lid (usually I can handle the lids and bands while they’re hot, but a jar of hot jelly would take my skin off) and quickly grasp the jar with a pot holder. Then I screw the lid down tightly – not bodybuilding flex tightly, but I take up all the slack I can while twisting with just my hands.

Upside Down Jars

As mentioned earlier: immediately after filling the jars, put them, upright, into a pot of boiling water so the jars are completely covered. Ideally, use a canning rack or a canning pot with a rack to keep the jars off the bottom. If you don’t have a canning rack, you can sink a cloth napkin or dish cloth in the water and pin it to the bottom with the jars. Leave the jars to boil for ten minutes, then remove them to cool, upright, on your counter. After the tops seal (you’ll hear them pop) and the jars are hot but not too hot to hold, flip them onto the bands and let them cool further until they are warm but the jam is still liquid. Flip them back upright to finish cooling. If you don’t flip the jars this way during cooling, the fruit will likely float making the top layer of jam very chunky while the bottom layer will be more like jelly.

Homemade is Best

We’ve been told that the strawberry jam we make is noticeably better eating than store-bought jam. What’s more, we usually have peach, pear, and black raspberry jelly; and strawberry, sour cherry, and fruit punch jams in the larder. Most of these are never available in our local grocery stores. When you have a lot of homemade jam and jelly on-hand, you find ways to use it that people don’t necessarily think of when you say “jam.” For example, I’ve mixed black raspberry jelly into homemade chutneys and marinades with great results. The delicate flavor of pear or peach jelly comes through when you grill it on chicken or fish.

From time-to-time, I’ll jot down ingredients lists when I cook with jam or jelly, and share the results on this blog. In the meantime, if you can still harvest fresh strawberries from your home kitchen garden… or you can buy them in your neighborhood, make some jam and extend strawberry season through the year.

I created a step-by-step video that shows how to make strawberry jam. Please follow this link to Your Small Kitchen Garden if you prefer video instruction over the written word.

 

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Rolling Pie Crust for a Fruit Pie Sure, this photo is out of sequence, but I liked it so much I wanted it at the top of the page. I hope you’ll be rolling out pie dough this way soon.

Don’t blink. Strawberries and Rhubarb are in season in my Home Kitchen Garden, but that won’t last for long. I have only two productive rhubarb plants, so I don’t eat much rhubarb in a season. I usually get three or four harvests before the plants stress out in summer heat. Thankfully, in the first few weeks of strawberry season, there is always enough rhubarb to make pie.

I used to make rhubarb pie, and it suited me just fine. In recent years, however, I’ve held out for strawberries and rhubarb… can’t say I like the combination better, but I like it as much… and more people are open to eating strawberries and rhubarb than they are to eating rhubarb alone.

Strawberry-Rhubarb from a Home Kitchen Garden Wash and cap the strawberries, and wash and cut the rhubarb to ¾-inch lengths. For the pies I made during this photo session, I used about five cups of prepared rhubarb and four cups of prepared strawberries.

Pie Insights

My mom raised me on pies made with oil-and-milk pie crusts. Classic pie crust involves cutting shortening into flour and wetting the mixture with enough milk to make a heavy dough. Oil-and-milk crust involves adding milk to salad oil and stirring that into flour. I’m sure a trained pastry chef can argue the quality of the resulting pie crusts, but for the effort, oil-and-milk is just fine.

Unless you’re someone who struggles with rolling pins (I’ve known a few admitted rolling-challenged folks), making pie is a very easy task. It is time-consuming, taking minimally 40 minutes to go from fresh fruit to assembled pie… and another 40 to 60 minutes for baking. Here’s the motivation:

When you show up to dinner with a homemade fruit pie, for some reason you impress people. My guess is that those people have never made pie and have no idea how stupid-easy it is to do. Pie is a great dessert, so why not learn to make it and enjoy the enjoyment others express toward your baking?

I measured fruit by dumping it into empty pie plates. When I’d filled two plates, I had enough fruit so I poured all the fruit into a large mixing bowl. Here’s how to make pie filling. In this case, I put three cups of sugar in a bowl and stirred in ten tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Finally, I tossed the sugar and flour mixture together with the fruit. The center photo shows half the fruit/sugar/flour mixture in a prepared pie shell. The photo on the right shows a pie ready for baking.
To make dough, put two cups of all-purpose flour in a bowl and stir in about half a teaspoon of salt (left). Measure ½ cup of salad oil, and add five tablespoons of milk to it. Don’t stir the milk and oil (center). Pour the milk and oil all-at-once into the flour, and mix until you have dough… but no more. This is enough dough to make the bottom crust and the top crust for one pie. I almost always make two pies at a time, so I use my first batch of dough to make two bottom crusts and I make a second batch of dough to make top crusts.
When the flour has absorbed all the oil and milk (left), use your hand(s) to pull the dough into a ball (center). To make a bottom or a top crust, tear the dough ball in half. Leave half in the bowl and put the other half on a piece of waxed paper where you’ll have room to work it with a rolling pin.

Rules of Thumb for Fruit Pies

I haven’t followed a fruit pie recipe in more than ten years. I’ve learned the recipe for dough from making a lot of pies. After that, I work from three rules of thumb and constant experimentation. See the box titled Recipes for Pie (below) for the shorthand of what I did in the photos. Here are the important rules of thumb for making fruit pie fillings:

1. Think of apple pie filling as the baseline and make adjustments from there. For an apple pie, if you use four-to-five cups of fruit, sweeten it with one cup of sugar, and thicken it with three tablespoons of all-purpose flour.

2. Adjust the sugar according to the fruit’s sweetness. Apples are fairly sweet; rhubarb is not.

3. Adjust the flour according to the fruit’s juiciness. Apples aren’t particularly juicy; nor is rhubarb. Strawberries, however, are very juicy.

Cover the dough with another sheet of waxed paper, then roll it out roughly into a circle. The circle’s diameter should be the full width of the waxed paper. Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper and flip the dough (with the bottom sheet of paper attached) over onto an empty pie plate. Peel off the second sheet of paper (left), then work the dough down into the pie plate so it rests on the bottom and against the inner sides (center). Trim whatever dough hangs past the edge of the pie plate (right). Save the trimmed pieces to roll out with the next dough ball.
After lining the second pie plate and distributing the filling evenly between the two shells, make a second batch of dough, divide it, and roll half out as you did for the bottom crusts. To make a lattice, peel off the top piece of waxed paper and use a pizza cutter or table knife to cut the dough into ½ inch strips. I run five parallel strips across the pie (left), then turn the pie and run five more strips on a bias. Finally, I run a strip around the rim of the pie plate (right)… this helps hold the components together when I add fluting.
To add fluting and crimp together the lattice with the bottom crust, I use my index finger and thumb on one hand to push the dough against the end of the thumb on my other hand. So, I push in with my thumb and index finger while pushing down with my thumb. Pinch the next flute where the previous one ends, and eventually you’ll get back to where you started… but the pie will have an attractive scalloped edge.

Make a Pie from Your Home Kitchen Garden

The photos in this post demonstrate every key step of making strawberry-rhubarb pie with the exception of taking the pie(s) out of the oven. Oddly, we ate the baked pies before it occurred to me to take a photo.

Before the season passes you by, harvest some rhubarb, pick some strawberries, and make some pies! Oh, and if you prefer video instructions, please visit my sister web sight, Your Small Kitchen Garden, where I’ll post links to videos demonstrating how to make strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Recipes for Pie

Pie Crust for One Pie (top & bottom crusts)

  • 2 Cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ Cup salad oil
  • 5 Tablespoons milk

Stir salt and flour together in a medium-sized bowl. Fill measuring cup to ½ cup line with salad oil. Add 5 tablespoons milk to the salad oil; do not stir. All at once, pour the oil and milk into the flour and stir until it makes dough. Form dough into a ball and use half to make a bottom crust and half to make a top crust.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling

  • 4 Cups prepared strawberries (wash and cap the berries)
  • 5 Cups prepared rhubarb (wash and cut to ¾ inch lengths)
  • 3 Cups sugar
  • 10 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

Put strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and flour thoroughly. Then toss the sugar/flour mixture with the fruit. Evenly distribute the fruit and sugar into two pie plates lined with raw pie shells. Cover pies with lattice crusts and bake on jelly roll pans at 400F degrees for 45-to-60 minutes. Pies are done when crust is golden brown and filling is oozing thick, bubbly syrup.

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