Few things say summertime like a bowl of handpicked strawberries brimming with the perfect balance of sweet and tart. My favorite thing is eating them fresh and warm off the vine. My favorite way of allowing myself to revel in their glory all year long is to make preserves. This way on a dreary winter day I can pop open a jar and be instantly whisked away to the rolling hills and the warm sun light of summer days.
Some people will tell you that making strawberry preserves isn't possible without using store bought pectin. They will tell you that it won't gel up at all and you'll end up with strawberry sauce. Of course... I don't agree. I like doing things the old fashioned way so the thought of grabbing for the pectin isn't one that sits well with me. I like my preserves to be a little looser than what you buy at the store, but not so loose that it is a sauce. I don't want to be able to turn the jar upside down and not have the contents move... that just ain't natural.
Most recipes for strawberry preserves without pectin will call for cooking for long periods of time. This will work, but will leave you with a less than bright flavor. So what I do to combat this is to leave the fruit to macerate in sugar for a while... overnight is great. This will leave you with a beautiful mix of softened strawberries floating in their own syrup. Strain this syrup from the berries into a large heavy bottomed pan and add the zest and juice of one lemon. The lemon juice and zest will give a bump to the pectin since citrus fruits are higher in pectin and will lend a bright note to your preserves. Bring this mixture to a boil over medium heat until the mixture reaches 228 degrees Farenheit making sure to skim off the foam that will form. Then mush up the macerated berries and add to the hot syrup and bring back up to 223 degrees (again... skim the foam) and take off of the heat... and that is it. Cooking the syrup separate from the berries allows you to bring the temp up nice and high without cooking the fruit to death and stripping your berries of their fresh, summery glory. To finish you just ladle your manna from heaven into prepared canning jars and process in boiling water for 5 or so minutes and you are good to go. Great as a gift (if you can bear to part with some that is) or spread on just about anything, you will not regret the little bit of effort it takes. There's something about looking in the pantry and knowing that those jars came from your hard work picking and cooking and canning.
- 8 cups of fresh picked summer strawberries
- 5 cups of granulated sugar
- 1 lemon
If your berries are small you can leave them whole, but if they are bigger you should cut them in 1/2 or into 1/4's. Place in a large glass bowl and pour the sugar over the berries and toss together. Leave to macerate for an hour or so stirring occasionally to get the sugar dissolved and then leave in the fridge for a few hours... overnight if you can. You can also use frozen berries... just adjust the sugar if needed... you will probably need more. Strain the syrup from the berries through a fine meshed sieve into a heavy pan and mash the softened berries in the sieve. Add the zest and the juice of the lemon and bring syrup to a boil over medium heat and boil until it reaches 228 degrees (this can take some time). I'm editting to add that you should make sure to mash the berries well. You don't want them all to be whole. You can also add some fresh berries after you mash them to make it more chunky. Now add the mashed softened berries to the hot syrup and raise the temp to medium high. Boil until the mixture reaches 223 and remove from the heat. Ladle into prepared canning jars (4 oz and 8 oz jars are best) and process in boiling water for 5 minutes before removing to cool. If you don't want to mess with canning, you can use this recipe to make freezer jam as well. Place cooked and cooled mixture into freezer safe containers and pop in the freezer. Once opened you should use your jam within a couple of weeks... trust me... there will be no problem doing so.