Strawberry Fields Forever

Two weekends ago my billy and I picked nearly 20 pounds of strawberries at Gaventa’s Farms in South Jersey. Now that I’ve recovered from my strawberry-induced hallucinations, I can share the results of the food preservation fest that followed. We froze! We dehydrated! We made jam! We made BBQ sauce! Scroll down (it’s a long post) for details and instructions.

Frozen Strawberries in Sugar

Based on last year’s experiment, I decided to use the sugar method exclusively to freeze my berries. Several readers pointed out that I didn’t actually include instructions last time. Sorry about that. sugared-strawberries-raw
1) Clean and hull your berries. The easiest way to do this is to swish them around in a sink full of water, the pop the tops off between your index finger and thumb. Yes, you’ll end up with red fingernails, but it’s much faster than a knife.

2) Cut them in half, or quarters if they’re very large.

3) Toss them with 3/4 c. sugar for each quart of berries. Then transfer them to freezer bags and freeze immediately.

Dehydrated Strawberries

My favorite. Clean and hull the berries. Cut them into thin slices, about 1/4″ thick. Arrange them on the racks of your dehydrator, allowing room for air to circulate:

Dehydrate at 125° F for about 12–18 hours. Note to first-time dehydrator users: the time range is so wide because the berries will not cook at the same rate. Start checking around 12 hours and remove the berries that are done, leaving the rest to continue cooking. When they’re done, they’ll be fairly hard and amazingly thin. Store in an air-tight container (I use jars). Your whole house will smell like strawberry pie.

Strawberry Leather

If your dehydrator comes with a tray for liquids, you can make fruit leather. Simply puree about a quart of clean fruit and spread it on a tray that you’ve wiped with vegetable oil:

Dehydrate for about 15 hours at 120°F, or until it’s firm, yet flexible. Carefully peel the leather off the sheet and divide into sections. To store, roll each section up in plastic wrap and tuck inside another plastic bag.

Strawberry Jam

I make my jam the old-fashioned way: no pectin. On the plus side, this yields a jam with fabulous, unadulterated fruit flavor. On the other hand, you have to cook it longer, use more sugar, and sometimes end up with jam that doesn’t set. This time, I ended up with something a little closer to sauce than jam, but such is the price you pay for purity. It still tastes great, and, because it’s not a solid, I can use it to make sauces and ice cream. Is that really so bad?

1) Combine 6 c. strawberries and 6 c. sugar in a large pot. Let them sit for at least 15 minutes to start releasing the juices.

2) Bring the combination to a rapid boil over high heat. Stir frequently and boil for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on character of your strawberries. Really ripe berries have less pectin and will take longer to gel—ideally you want a mix of ripe and underripe berries. After awhile, the color and texture will change, and the pot will look something like this:

When you think the mixture has reached the gelling point, you have a few options for testing it. You can put a dab on a saucer, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes, and see if you like the texture. In the traditional spoon test, you dip in a spoon and lift it out sideways. If the liquid comes off in multiple streams, it’s not done. If you get a sheet of thick liquid, on the other hand, you’re there. If you own a candy thermometer, you’re looking for a temperature of 220°F.

3) Meanwhile, while the jam is cooking, sterilize seven half-pint jelly jars in boiling water and heat new canning lids in a separate pot. Remove the jars from the pan, but leave the water in it (you’ll use it to process the jars).

4) CAREFULLY pour the hot jam into the hot jars. For safety, please consider using a special canning funnel. Place a canning lid on each and gently screw on the rings. CAREFULLY put the jars (HOT!) into the boiling water bath (HOT!). This should be obvious, but you’ll need to use tongs or some other device to set the jars into the pot.

5) Boil the jars for 10 minutes. In canning recipes, this is referred to as “processing.” Then remove the jars to a counter (I typically set them on towels) and let them cool. If all has gone well, the jars will seal within a few hours. If they don’t, you simply have no choice but to eat the contents.

Strawberry BBQ Sauce

Wait! There’s more! We also made 3 cups of BBQ sauce using a recipe developed by Big Black Dog, a Chicago-based food blog.
Gorgeous color, and terrific on burgers. This freezes well, but since it contains both sugar and vinegar you could presumably can it in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

The Total Haul:

4 quarts frozen berries
1 pint jar full of dehydrated strawberries
6 snack-sized portions of fruit leather
8 half-pints strawberry jam/sauce
3 half-pints strawberry BBQ sauce
and about 3 quarts, just to eat

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