Thursday, July 29, 2010

Berries are ripe for the picking!

I'm lucky enough to live in a rural area where berries grow all over my yard, wild, without any input from me. Since I don't really have a green thumb (mine's sort of a bruised mix of black, blue, and yellow), I feel fortunate that nature has taken over for me in this regard. And what nature hasn't done, the local "U-Pick" farms have.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I got together and headed out to Graysmarsh Farms to pick strawberries for jam. It was my first time going strawberry picking, and even though the season was at its end, we managed to dig out 16 pounds of very ripe berries, cover our fingers in red, and keep track of a roving 2-year-old who seemed more interested in running up and down the rows and eating whatever he picked (I'm convinced that these farms should weigh small children before they go in and then once again on the way out to determine how much parents owe).

We pooled our berries into one giant bucket and headed home to get canning; which turned out to be way easier than I had expected.

Supplies we gathered:
1) berries
2) pectin (the regular kind, not the low sugar)
3) sugar
4) two very large pots
5) canning rack
6) lots of towels
7) tongs (a few pairs if you have them)
8) a few large spoons
9) jars, screw-tops, and new sealing lids

Here are the steps we took:
1) put the sealing lids in a crock pot to heat while we worked
2) heated water in one of the large pans for the "sealing" water bath
3) cored the berries and got rid of the stems
4) smashed the berries up in large bowls
5) measured out 10 cups of berries and 10 cups of sugar (we used significantly less than the recipe required because we had very ripe organic berries which tend to be much sweeter than regular store-bought berries
6) put in the requisite amount of pectin for a double batch (I believe this was two whole boxes)
7) heated the mixture in a large pot until it rose to a rolling boil
8) set the timer for one minute and let the mixture continue to boil
9) removed the mixture from heat and skimmed off the top layer of foam
10) poured the berries into jars (all the way to the very top of the jar, leaving no room for air once sealed)
11) capped the jars with sealing lids and screw-tops (using hot towels to hold the jars, being careful to keep the outside temperature of the jar the same as the inside)
12) placed the jars inside the canning rack and lowered into the water bath (boiling water in another large pot)
13) set the timer for 10 minutes
14) removed the jars and let cool...listening for the lids to "pop" signaling the the jar was now sealed
15) started another double batch

Because we used various sized jars, we ended up with a few half-filled jars. We went ahead and sealed these, too, but we just put these right in the fridge for immediate use.

We also ended up with enough berries to do one more single batch, but ran out of pectin. So, we just poured the smashed berries into a ziploc and made the final batch a few days later.

That brought us to a total of 24 jars...5 full batches.

And I must say, the jam is outstanding...I'm completely motivated to do pickles and tomatoes now (should be sometime in August). The tomatoes are an especially high priority...several months ago, Devin found an article about the lining of canned tomatoes releasing chemicals (BPA) into the fruit because their high acid content eats away at the inside of the can. Of course, there is debate over this...some people think it's fine (I actually found a comment that read: "Hello! If they sell it, it's fine!" and was mildly frightened about the mental capacity of this individual), others think we're all going to die if we eat them. I prefer to avoid the debate altogether and just make it myself. Avoidance plus self-sufficiency is my chosen way of dealing with most situations like this.

Anyhow, jam is great...we made 24 jars of various sizes, some for us and some to use as gifts.

But what else can you do with berries? Deserts, of course! The day before last, I took the little one into the back yard and picked huckleberries, blackberries, and black caps - pretty decent family quality time.

D. made shortcakes, home-made whipped cream, and heated up the berries with a little sugar. Delicious! It was the center-piece of our meal that night.

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