Strawberry Season

I've been pining for homemade strawberry jam for months. But now, strawberry season is upon us, and I'm determined to make the most out of it!

A good strawberry is a little hard to find. The ones at the grocery store don't really cut it, taste-wise. The strawberries at the farmer's market are delicious, but at $5/quart, they aren't a terribly economical choice for jam-making. There is another choice -- pick your own strawberries. Who doesn't have childhood memories of heading out with the family, baskets in hand, to pick and sample the vine-ripened fruit?

There are a few things you should know about strawberry picking before you go. First, arrive as early as you can. You'll find the best strawberries this way, and there won't be a chance of the farm being picked out before you arrive. It'll also be cooler, and this is better for both you and your berries (if it is extremely hot and you are picking a lot, try to keep the berries under shade). Call ahead of time to make sure that the farm is open, and check to see if they provide the containers. You can find local pick-your-own farms at pickyourown.org.

We went to Patterson Farms. They have PYO strawberries on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (due to the cold snap we had around Easter), provide the containers, and charge $1.40/lb. If you're feeling lazy, they also have pre-picked berries and other fruits at their market.

I'm going to have to admit that I've never made jam before. So, when I estimated the amount of strawberries we would need, I might have gone a little... overboard. We ended up picking almost 16 lbs of strawberries. We turned most of this into jam (see the following post - we ended up with fifteen 8-oz jars!), and froze the other basket.

Strawberries will keep in your refrigerator for three to four days at best, so if you aren't planning on eating them immediately, you should freeze your berries. Wash and hull them first, and dry them on kitchen towels. Then lay them out on a baking sheet (don't let the berries touch). The berries should freeze within one to two hours. Just dump the frozen berries in a ziploc bag, and get as much air out of the bag as you can before sealing it. You can easily make jam with frozen berries, too.

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