Sunday, May 1, 2011

Canning! Strawberry Preserves!

I went back to South Carolina last week. Now my epic April/May/June has begun. I am going to be home for a total of 5 days for the next 5 weeks. When I am not at home I am going to cultural centers like Cookeville, TN and Lancaster, SC. Jealous, anyone?

After five days in South Carolina, I came home for a wonderful weekend with my husband. We went to the farmers market, saw friends, drank beer, and did laundry.

It is strawberry season down here and for about 4 weeks (maybe more) strawberries are cheap, plentiful, and delicious. I was sitting in my depressing hotel room this week thinking about strawberries and summer produce generally. I want strawberry season to last all year. Of course, I had my laptop on my lap and started perusing Amazon for ideas about using our produce. I had an eureka moment. Aha! I need to learn to can. After much debate about book quality and recipes, I bought a book. It is called Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Lisa Krissoff.

I was so excited about canning I downloaded a free canning ebook for my Kindle entitled, Every Step in Canning by Grace Viall Gray. I wanted to read about canning immediately, not in a couple of days when I was back in North Carolina. Because the book was free, I did not look at the description. I started reading the next day. My canning enthusiasm was boundless. Now I got a little suspicious about this book when I read that in addition to the normal canning equipment you will need "another kettle for water - if you haven't running water - for the 'cold dip.'" Huh, who doesn't have running water? After about twenty references to "housewives" and then this water thing, I checked the copyright date. It was published in 1919. I love public domain books!

Another piece of wisdom from Ms. Gray (incidentally, I bet she was a kick-ass housewife), "Test each rubber before you use it by pressing it firmly between the thumbs and forefingers, stretching it very slightly. It is seems soft and spongy discard it. All rubbers fit for canning should be firm, elastic, and should endure a stretching pull without breaking." Got to make sure your rubbers have no holes in them, bad things could happen. DO NOT USE OLD RUBBERS (you might get diseases)!

Okay, so when I got home my modern canning book had been delivered. We went through our weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box and the book. Mostly it is greens season, but we decided to make pickled radishes out of our radish selection. It is strawberry season so I had to make strawberry jam. Then Derek went through the book and found a strawberry lemon preserve, which meant we were making that. Derek has never met a lemon product he did not enjoy (well, as long as it is tart enough).

Some might say that two different types of canned products is too many for your first time. I say, that might be true, but it is produce season and time is a wasting. Plus, we promise to check all of our rubbers and practice safe canning (never gets old, I promise).

Strawberry Lemon Preserves
from Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Lisa Krissoff

Makes 5 half-pint jars

2 lemons
3 pounds rinsed and hulled strawberries
1 1/2 cups sugar

1. Scrub lemons and quarter them (removing seeds). Slice the lemon quarters crosswise into 1/8 inch thick pieces. Layer the lemon slices, strawberries, and sugar into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day:
2. Heat up a large pot full of water (enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch) with a rack in the bottom and the jars sitting on the rack. We were to cheap to buy a fancy canning set with a special rack, so we just made a rack by tying together a bunch jar tops (see below). This was only moderately successful because the jars did not sit on the MacGyver rack very well. But it worked, you just can't put the jars on the bottom of the pan. Allow the jars to boil for 10 minutes, to sterilize.

3. Put the flat lids in a heat proof bowl.

4. Move the strawberry mixture with a 1/2 cup of water into a 6 to 8 quart non-reactive pan (we used our enameled cast iron). Bring it to a simmer, stirring it gently. Cook it for about five minutes. Then, place a colander over a bowl and pour the berry mixture into the colander. Return the juice to the pan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Stir this occasionally until the mixture reduces to about 1 1/2 cups. This will take about 15 minutes.

5. Add the strawberry mixture and any juices that have drained back to the syrup. Bring it to a simmer and stir the mixture frequently until the strawberries are glossy and tender, but still hold their shape. It took us about 20 minutes.

6. Skim off as much foam as you can, then remove the preserves from the heat and stir it gently to distribute the fruit into the liquid.

7. Ladle some of the boiling water into the flat lid bowl. Using a jar lifter (something we did buy), lift the jars out of the boiling water. Leave all of the water in the pot and place the jars on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.

8. Ladle the hot strawberry preserves into the jars (we used a special widemouthed funnel so we did not make a mess). Leave a 1/2 to 1/4 inch head space on the top of the jar. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rim of the jar free of any preserve debris.

9. Use a wooden (non-reactive) chop stick to poke out any air bubbles. Place a flat lid on each jar and a ring on top of the flat lid. Tighten the rings, making sure not to make them too tight. That is bad. Add the jars back to the water, making sure there is a 1 inch of water on top of the jar.

10. Bring the water to a boil and boil the jars for 5 minutes to process. Lift the jars out and place them on a towel. Now we you should hear little popping sounds. That is the jar sealing. After an hour push down on the center of the lid. If it can be pushed down it did not seal and should be refrigerated and eaten immediately.

11. Lick the pot now. It tastes like strawberry lemonade.

I had time to make pickled radishes and strawberry preserves, but I did not have time to blog about both of them. Maybe later, who knows?

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