I took the day off today (using up a few extra vacation days before the new fiscal year begins at work) and spent the morning picking strawberries at the Jones Orchard patch at the Agricenter International here in Cordova. Jones Orchard is a great family-owned farm that supplies some of the best peaches in the area. They have one of the larger booths at the Ag Center Farmers’ Market as well and I always look forward to seeing them in the Spring and Summer. You can choose to pick a bucket for $12 (about 4-5 quarts) or a quart of berries for $4, not a bad price for fresh from the farm strawberries. My plan was to make freezer jam with the berries and I ended up with a freezer full.
Today was a great day for picking berries. The sun was shining but it was not too hot and the ground was nice and dry since it has not rained for a few days. I collected my buckets from the gate and picked about three pounds of berries in no time. It took an hour or so to wash and stem all of the berries and once they were cleaned it was time to start making jam.
This is the basic recipe I followed, but you can find several for freezer jams all over the internet. I decided to use agave syrup instead of sugar because it adds a richer flavor to the jam that you do not get with plain sugar. I also used Meyer lemons.
1 pound of fresh strawberries
2/3 cup agave nectar/syrup
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and grated
the juice and zest from one lemon
Put everything in a large stainless steel pot and bring to a boil. Make sure you have a very large pot, because as the berries break down there will be a lot of water and a danger of the mixture boiling over. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat and cook until the jam has thickened. I also use a potato masher to break up the berries as they soften, but you do not necessarily have to do that. The pectin in the apple will help to thicken the jam. As you cook off the water the jam will thicken and the flavor will concentrate. I think I ended up cooking mine for about 2 hours before it was the consistency I wanted. I was cooking 3 pounds of berries, however. Be sure to stir frequently and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the jam has thickened, take it off the heat and allow it to cool.
Once it has cooled, pour it into freezer-safe containers and freeze. Thaw it in the refrigerator when you want to use it. This jam is great with biscuits, toast, oatmeal or anywhere you would like to use it. I got 14 pints of jam from 3 pounds of strawberries. You can substitute other berries or use a combination of berries, add mint or other herbs to create some very nice jams using this basic recipe.
Get out there and pick some berries and enjoy them!