As it turns out, processing 3 gallons of berries in a home kitchen really is an all-day event. Well, we didn't really start until after noon, but we didn't pull the last jars out of the water bath until about 10:30 that night. So, half-day/half-night; still, that's a lot of hours.
Annoyingly, we spent half the day doing math: how many cups in a gallon, how much pectin to buy, how many jars of what size, how many batches of each recipe? I finally realized why my mom and her canning buddy used to spend all day long in discussion. I used to think "They do this every year; don't they have this figured out yet?" Ha! Too many variables, my friends, too many variables.
By the time we were done, my feet were sore, my legs were sore and my mind was shot. But we were both thrilled at what we had accomplished. Miss Chef estimated we saved ourselves about $50 overall--assuming we would go out and buy so many all-natural strawberry products.
It wasn't really about the money, though; it was proving to ourselves that we could do it. Because Miss Chef has about a dozen tomato plants in the ground, and we are searching for room around the yard for another 8 or 9 homeless seedlings. So, we have future canning plans. I've even invited my mom up already to help us out when the tomatoes start coming in. Should be interesting doing all that math with three of us!
Well, back to the strawberries. First of all, a little about the process. (Bear with me, canning experts, for I know there are several of you reading this--go ahead and skip to below the picture.)
All the recipes we used involve the "hot pack method." This simply means you cook the food before you can it. After placing the food in the jars and putting on the lids, you submerge the jars in boiling water for a specified amount of time. For our recipes, that was either 10 or 15 minutes.
All this heat serves to kill any bacteria that can cause food spoilage. There's all kinds of sterilization of equipment, but it pretty much just involves a lot of hot water.
From left to right, you see the stockpot with the burbling strawberry mix, the pressure cooker / canner (which we didn't use the pressure part of) which is boiling filled jars, and sterilized quart jars awaiting their strawberry bliss. Behind the quart jars you can just barely see my favorite canning utensil: the jar lifter, a fancy, big-ass tongs designed to securely haul those heavy glass jars out of boiling water without slipping. Indispensible.
So, what did we get? This, for starters:
The large ones are pints, the small ones are 8 ounces. On the left are about a dozen jars of strawberry jam. On the right, whole strawberries in syrup (the one on the far right was the last one to be filled, thus the low strawberry to syrup ratio). In the back, you probably can't tell, but there are 4 jars filled with green. There was a recipe for mint jelly on the next page, and we have a very enthusiastic mint patch, so we went for it. Miss Chef just happened to have bought a lamb shoulder roast at the market the day before, so it was a bit serendipitous. (or however you spell that)
Oh, but wait, there's more!
We used a canning & preserving book put out by the Ball Company*, and of course, Miss Chef can't resist exploring every page of a cookbook! She found a recipe for strawberry lemonade concentrate which we both agreed sounded quite interesting. We decided to make a double batch, which required 8 cups of lemon juice. Miss Chef turned up her nose at pre-packed lemon juice; instead, she went back to the grocery store and returned with a huge sack of lemons. It took 34 of them, hand-squeezed, to get enough--plus a few oranges.
I didn't mind, though; I was busy stirrring the second batch of jam, so I got out of squeezing duty. Anyway, the deal with the concentrate is you combine it with an equal amount of water, tonic or--yummy!--ginger ale!! Miss Chef is a big fan of Vernor's ginger ale (her family's from Michigan originally), so it will be interesting to see how those two combine.
So far, the only thing we've tasted is the jam, and WOWZA! I suppose Mom's jam tasted that good, but my taste memory doesn't go back that far, so I have to say this is the best jam I've tasted. No corn syrup, no clarified pear juice, just strawberries, a whole lot of sugar, a little bit of lemon juice, and pectin. Yum!
That's it for now, folks, but Miss Chef has big plans for the next fruit crop...we'll see if we get around to picking blackberries when they ripen up. I'm quite sure I'll let you know!
*Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (2006) Kingry, Judi and Lauren Devine
We also used the "Canning & Preserving for Dummies" book, which has a nice little section explaining pectin.