Preserving Scott’s Strawberries, Part II
This was the first time i’ve ever canned ANYTHING, much less made strawberry preserves. I am so proud of myself for actually getting it done. It was quite satisfyling seeing those little jars all lined up on the counter at the end.
The first decision I had to make was whether or not to use pectin. A lot of sites make a big deal about pectin. I don’t know enough to have a valid opinion, but since so many folks seems to dislike it, I decided to make my preserves without it. I used the recipe in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preservingfor Heirloom Strawberry Preserves. Since it’s their recipe I won’t reprint it here, but it’s very simple. It only requires whole cleaned, capped strawberries, lemon juice, and sugar. There is a calculator on the Fresh Preserving web site that allows you to type in your strawberry quantity and it will adjust the pectin and sugar requirements for you, but I didn’t find one to do the calculations without pectin.
First, I combined the strawberries and sugar. The Ball recipe calls for them to stand for 3 – 4 hours. Here’s my first tip, especially if you’re new at this: MEASURE your strawberries! I was so happy to finally have the stems removed that I didn’t remember to actually measure them. I had to esimate what I had based on the size of the bowl. DUH!
While researching this whole idea, I found variations on this theme everywhere. Some said to let them stand overnight (prior to cooking), some cooked a while and then had them stand for 12 – 24 hours, some didn’t call for standing at all! In my case, after they sat around for 4 hours, I began the cooking process (because the recipe said to!). Some recipes specified that the preserves be cooked to a specific temperature, but the Ball recipe instead just specifies to cook until the sugar is dissolved and then add lemon juice. Because the acid content of bottled lemon juice is standardized, you’re supposed to use it instead of fresh lemon juice. I don’t use bottled juice for ANYTHING, but I did for this. It’s especially important to use bottled when canning tomatoes, by the way, to make sure they’re acidic enough to be safe.
After adding the lemon juice, you continue to cook the preserves until the strawberries are transparent and the syrup is thick. Again, all over the Internet are specifications regarding how long to cook them, testing the thickness using a cool/frozen plate, etc. I did put my therrmometer in the pan, just out of curiosity to see if my flat top stove would get hot enough to have the preserves reach the temp I saw specified so many places. It didn’t. This ceramic stove thing is going to be a problem…
The Ball Blue Book didn’t go though all that in the recipe, so I didn’t either. Once the preserves have cooked to thick syrup, they get ladled into a shallow pan to stand uncovered for 12 – 24 hours. At that point, I started wondering how I was going to keep the cats out of them, but it wasn’t a problem. Apparently my cats aren’t that crazy about strawberry preserves, thankfully! The mixture needs to be stirred every few hours to ‘redistribute’ the syrup. Since I have to get up to go to the bathroom at least every two hours, this wasn’t a problem, LOL! Sorry if that’s TMI.
So, the next morning after checking in with my little strawberry friends through the night, I started nervously getting things ready for the big event: Water Bath Canning! I will admit the whole notion made me nervous, what with fears for food safety annd all. I knew I’d give away at least one of these little gems to my next-door neighbor, since he shares his apple butteer with me! I didn’t want to make him or his wife sick! I must have read 25 websites, and reviewed the instructions in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving a dozen times.
So, feeling as ready as I would ever be, I put the preserves back on the heat, skimmed off the little bit of foam that formed as they got really hot and rigged up my ”make-do-till-I-get the-Ball Stinless Canner that I want.
I used a large stockpot that (frankly) isn’t good for much else. In the bottom, I placed one of those collapsable steamer baskets to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot. I used another large pot to heat water for the jars and lids. The jars had all been cleaned already, so once the water was hot, I put the jars in. I also put the rings in the warm water.
Here’s another tip for new and nervous canners: Those jars are hot! Figure out how you’re going to handle this before you begin to fill them with the preserves!! I used the jar lifter that came in my utensil set to remove them ffrom the water, but then I needed to better aim them where they needed to be placed, and the jar lifter just didn’t seem all that stable to me. I used a silicone glove to get the jar where it needed to go. I then filled each jar, leaving 1/4″ headspace (the headspace tool if really handy – I thought I would just eyeball it, but that wasn’t that reliable). You also use the headspace tool to ensure that there aren’t any big airpockets. My strawberry preserves were still liquid enough that that wasn’t a problem.
I used the magnetic lid lifter to remove the lids from the warm water (I was so paranoid that I kept my candy thermometer in the water to ensure it didn’t get too hot). Placing the lids on the jars without dunking them into the preserves. I was still nervous, and that din’t help my klutziness one bit! I’m sure with time I’ll get over the paranoia that I’m going to contaminate everything. Once I got the jars filled, lids on, and rings in place, it was time for the main event.
Using the jar lifter, I placed the jars on the steamer in the large pot I had rigged up (the water is supposed to be @ 180 degress while you’re in this part of the process). The water must cover the jars by 1-2″. I then put the lid on and cranked up the heat. Once the water starts to boil, the jars must process for 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes, I turned off the heat and removed the lid. The preserves are supposed to cool for 5 minutes prior to removing. At the end of that time, I used the jar lifter to remove the preserves and set them on a folded kitchen towel. The jars aren’t supposed to be moved for 12-24 hours after you place them, so think about that before you take them out.
Then, as I was emptying water and cleaning up, I heard the first POP! That joyous sound of the jar sealing – there’s no more beautiful sound in a rookie canner’s life! My first successfully canned food. I was (and still am) so proud. That first pop was followed by 4 more in succession. They all sealed beautifully, and at the end of their ~20 hour rest, they moved into the cabinet to await consumption. I cracked the seal on the first jar the next day. They’re delicious! I didn’t crush the strawberries for the preserves like I did for the freezer jam, so there are huge berry pieces along with the yummy deep red gel that formed from all that cooking.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Scott’s Strawberries so I can have more. I really wish I had made MANY more batches. Alas, there just wasn’t enough time in the short season to make more. If I just didn’t have to work to help keep a roof over our heads…