July 4, 2013

Freezing Strawberries, Strawberry Jam, & Canning Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate

We picked about 80 pounds of strawberries this year.  I wish we could have picked more, but picking strawberries with kids is sometimes not very fun...  I never (read 99.999 %) buy frozen strawberries at the grocery store.  I try to pick enough to last us through the year, but I'm not sure if we are going to make it through the year this time...  So sad... 
This year, with that 80 pounds, I made some freezer jam, bottled jam to eat with peanut butter sandwhiches, some strawberry lemonade concentrate, and we freeze the rest of it.  We use frozen strawberries for crepes, waffles, lemonade, shakes, smoothies, to eat with plain yogurt, and sometimes strawberry desserts and such.  I love strawberries! 
I grew my own for a few years in a small little patch, but since I've found this place to pick at, it isn't worth growing my own when I can pick them this cheap, and use my small garden plot for other things. 
The funny thing is, I'm allergic to strawberry plants, and I never realized it until a few years ago.   The allergy has gotten worse as I have gotten older - I have to drug up an hour before I pick, and I wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and gloves!  It's pretty funny!  But, not being able to breathe on the way home from picking a few years ago was a little bit scary, so I don't care if I look a little ridiculous!
My parents and grandparents grew strawberries and we always had to help weed, pick, cap, freeze, etc.   So, I never thought about someone not knowing how to do all that or someone having to look up how to do it until people asked me what to do with the berries they pick.  I've been asked so much, one day I thought I should do a blog post about it.  Some of my pictures were deleted, but here goes...
1.  Bigger berries aren't always better!  I've picked with lots of people, and they always want to go for the large pretty perfect ones.  I think smaller berries are sweeter because they have absorbed less water.  There are also lots of odd shaped berries out there that others pick over.  You don't see those in the grocery store, because those most likely get sent to the plant that makes the jam.  But you can pick those too!!  However, maybe not like the one below.  That was one of the funniest berries we saw this year.

2.  Strawberries continue to ripen after you pick them.  You can't leave them sitting too long without doing something to them or they will go bad.  Sometimes you pick the ones that are almost ripe, because you know they will be ripe by the time you get to them.  Don't pile too many strawberries on top of each other or you bruise them. 

3.  To prepare your strawberries:  My mom used to clean the kitchen sink and fill it with cool water, pour some strawberries in at a time and get the first layer of dirt, etc. off of them.  I use a very large bowl and do the same.  After that, I rinse them off in a strainer.  Put the strainer on  plate and take them to my work space.  I have a bowl to put the caps in, a bowl to put the capped strawberry in, and a bowl to put the sliced strawberries in.  That is if there are lots of helpers to do an assembly line.  I usually cap and slice my strawberries and put them in a bowl, leaving out that other bowl. 

4.  You need to make sure to cut off any unripe parts of the strawberries (green or white), and then any hard places at the bottom of the strawberry, no one wants to bite into that:  Below are examples of hard places at the bottom of the strawberry that you should cut off:

5. My five year old was better at capping than me.  She used an actual strawberry capper, and I used a knife.  She wasted a lot less than I did, but I also cut off bad places...

Mallary's caps
ahem... my caps...

6.  If you are freezing your berries, you add a little bit of sugar to make a syrup.  Use however much you want.  When John helps me he tends to add a lot more than I do... He didn't help do any this year, so these have a little less sugar!  We have tried to freeze the berries whole, we've also used containers, we think sliced berries and using plastic bags keeps the berries fresher lasting longer. 
7.  After the sugar dissolves divide into plastic bags.  We like to store them like this, so they thall faster, or we can break some off easier for shakes without using the whole bag:
It's really sad to see so many already gone and it is only July!!!!  These piles all used to be even and full!
This year we made some strawberry lemonade concentrate.  Basically, you just find a berry lemonade recipe you like, leave out the water, and you can can it (bottle it) to have your own concentrate.  This one was good, but I have had better, so we are going to experiment with some other recipes to find the best one, then we'll share.  I only canned this much concentrate with a little extra to drink right then.  It ends up being one part concentrate to three parts water/sprite/seltzer.  But, it was fun to try it, and Mallary, my five year old, loved juicing the lemons on our electric juicer!

This was all the jam we made!  A lot!  We made some to give as gifts too - those are the little jars.  We also reuse glass salsa jars and such too.  My jam was frothier this year because I left out the butter (which cuts down on the froth) to have a bit healthier jam. 

For freezer jam, I just used all the empty freezer containers that we had emptied throughout the year.  That is a good way to gauge how much you actually use.  I buy the freezer containers, but my grandma just uses any plastic containers (yogurt, sour cream, etc.).

I was also planning on trying some new yummy strawberry recipes, but I didn't.  Since I did most of this by myself (usually I wait for John to help in the evenings, but our evenings were to busy), I was too tired by the end of the night to do anything else!!! 

Did you do anything fun with your strawberries???

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