Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Slather on the Sweetness

Fresh jam doesn't last long in our kitchen
I made two batches of strawberry freezer jam this week.  To say that I made them is stretching the truth a bit, since it was actually my saintly mother who picked, cleaned and trimmed all the berries and washed the jars and lids.  I’m spoiled, I know.  I’ll probably make two more batches before strawberry season draws to a close, but I’ll give my mom a break and do those myself.  If you’re content with Smucker’s take on strawberry jam, then you really should - scratch that - you absolutely MUST find a patch and craft your own jam.  There’s nothing simpler.  You’ll walk away from the experience shaking your head, because it boggles the mind how something so simple can produce something so marvelous. 

No patch, you say?  I too, am a strawberry nomad.  Have been one for all of my adult life.  One of these days I’m going to sink some strawberry plants into the ground, but until that day, I wander hither, thither and yon in search of available berries.  For the last 5 years, I’ve trekked out east of town, down a crunchy gravel road off Route 17, to Mary’s Berries. 

Here you’ll find row upon row of juicy red gems.  If you’ve ever picked strawberries in a patch, you’ll be familiar with the where-do-I-put-my-feet-without-stepping-on-berries dilemma.  This inevitably leads to an invisible game of Twister, as you reach for that elusive berry with your right hand whilst tottering on your right foot and your left hand with the fourth appendage balancing upward into the wind.  Mary’s tidy rows eliminate this graceful goofiness. 

Mary and Nick
Mary planted her first berries back in 1993.  She and husband Nick had been renting out their extra acreage to local farmers when Mary decided it was time for a change of scenery.  Out went the corn and beans and in came strawberries.  What could induce someone to start on this berry growing venture?  Mary likes working outside and eating Strawberry Pie (ask her for the recipe).  As one of three girls growing up on a farm, she was her dad’s right-hand-girl.  To this day she enjoys pulling weeds and as a former P.E. teacher, she’s got the get-up-and-go to stay ahead of them. 

This year was a tough one, due to the frost that I caused (again, my apologies to everyone).  Mary saved her berries by irrigating them through the freezing temps.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but it works.  The practice is based on the latent heat of fusion.  When water freezes, it releases heat.  Eighty calories of heat per gram of water, to be exact.  This small release of heat will keep the strawberry near 32 degrees as long as the water is actively freezing, even as the temperature surrounding the plant drops below freezing.  Mary said her thermometer dipped down to 19 degrees this spring.  Once one begins irrigating through a freeze there can be no stopping until temps rise above freezing.  This form of frost protection has been used in the horticultural industry for over 60 years.     

Picking strawberries is a drafted event in our family.  The kids are recruited – willing or unwilling – like little berry picking soldiers.  I, myself, was a reluctant picker in my youth and it comes as no surprise to me that some of my kids don’t leap with joy on picking day.  They certainly come by this attitude honestly.  My son, Ryan, works industriously in the rows for approximately 10 minutes.  For 15 minutes after that, he is heavily invested in exploring and inspecting bugs, toads and mutated double strawberries.  After that, the whining begins.  My goal is an hour and mathematically that leaves me with 35 minutes of “How much longer?”  Thank goodness Mary has pre-picked berries.  I wonder if she would wash my jars and lids.  I’ll have to call and ask.  Just kidding, Mary!  But Mary’s Berries can be reached at (815) 472-6015. 

Freezer jam-making is the simplest thing in the world.  Mush up some berries and sugar, boil a box of Sure-Jell in water (directions are on the box), mix it all together and pour it into some clean jars.  Simple as that.  Slather your fresh, sweet deliciousness on a slice of warm homemade bread and you’ll understand why I wrote this article.  

1 comment:

Casa Mariposa said...

I love strawberries but have never made jam or gone picking. We're a bit tall and all that bending seems like torture. Actually, my daughter is usually referred to as the "Normal Sized Child' since she stopped growing at 5'7" while my son hit 6'5". But I do LOVE strawberries so I may have to make a batch of jam this summer. :o)

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