Strawberry season has arrived in Maine, which in mind equates to sunny days involving porch sitting and evenings making pies. To celebrate I got together with my friend Kate McCarty to make some strawberry jam. You might know Kate her from her blog The Blueberry Files or new book Portland Food or as one of the Master Preservers with University of Maine Extension.
Kate had this brilliant idea of adding honey, something I’ve got loads of as a beekeeper that knows a lot of beekeepers. The honey (a combination of my friend Todd’s from Vermont and Overland Apiaries right here in Maine) added a slight sweetness that makes the jam a little more interesting.
Later today I’ll be heading over to Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth – by way of Scratch Bakery in South Portland of course – to check out this year’s strawberry crop. Picking berries, or just purchasing tubs of them from a farm stand, means summer is here and it’s time for porch sitting and swimming in the lake. It means another season of memory making, eating and drinking outside with friends, and a garden flush with ingredients for the day’s evening meal.
The site Local Harvest maintains a list of pick your own farms by state. Here is a link to Maine. A few things to keep in mind (1) contact the farm(s) before you go – I’ve found this site to be about 75% reliable re hours, what’s open, what’s available (2) leave your pet at home where he/she will be comfortable (3) bring a tote or reusable containers (4) bring cash (5) bring a snack for a roadside picnic or check out what’s nearby on the map – make a day of it or at least an afternoon!
As far as preserving goes there are a lot of resources out there. I’ve found the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to be the most reliable. My friend Allison Carroll Duffy put out a fantastic book for Pomona Pectin called Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin: The Revolutionary Low-Sugar, High-Flavor Method of Crafting and Canning Jams, Jellies, Conserves, and More a couple years ago – also highly reliable with wonderful recipes.
Storey Publishing sent me a copy of Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answering Book, which I really like – especially for novices like myself. In addition to recipes it has 399 solutions to all your questions – e.g. How do you prepare plum tomatoes for canning? and I have some really pretty decorative jars. Can I use those to can? My advice, between the Ball and Pomona’s books you’re going to have all the recipes and solid advice you will ever need, however this could be quite the treasure chest for those who but me would ever think of this question (that would be me). I also strongly recommend taking a class and/or getting together with friends who know what they are doing. Canning and preserving is a lot of fun, but it can go wrong = you could like me end up with a fleet of marmalade syrup (great on pancakes, waffles..) or worse make yourself or someone sick – not so great.
A few questions and answers with Kate:
1. Most common mistake when preserving? I’d say the most common mistake is deviating from a recipe. A lot of people are so intimidated by food safety concerns when it comes to home canning, that it prevents them from preserving local or homegrown food. As long as you follow a recipe from a trusted source (like Ball or a Cooperative Extension), your risk of food poisoning is low. So don’t let fear stop you from canning!
2. Best thing about preserving your own food? The best thing is most definitely the incredible taste. While we don’t typically think of canned food (from the grocery store) as the freshest, when you’re enjoying a sauce in the wintertime made of Maine-grown tomatoes, preserved at the peak of their flavor, they couldn’t taste better.
3. Difference between using fresh and frozen fruit? To use frozen fruit when you’re jamming, just let the fruit thaw partially and follow your recipe as if you were using fresh fruit. Freezing fruit when it’s in season and using it later allows you to can jam when it’s not so hot in your kitchen (i.e. in the fall) and to make jam from fruit that comes in at different times. I love a rhubarb blueberry jam or a strawberry peach jam.
Kate will be teaching the class Hot Water Bath Canning and Freezing: Low-Sugar Strawberry Jam on Thursday, June 26 at UMaine Extension, 75 Clearwater Dr., Suite 104, Falmouth. Cost is $15 materials fee per person. To register phone (207) 781-6099 or online.
Honey Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (adapted by Kate McCarty from Pomona’s pectin recipe)
7 cups mashed strawberries
5.5 cups chopped rhubarb
3 cups honey
2 tablespoons Pomona’s pectin powder
4 tablespoons prepared calcium water (included in Pomona’s pectin)
Measure strawberries and rhubarb into a large stockpot. Add calcium water and stir to combine. Heat until a full rolling boil (one that cannot be stirred down).
Measure honey into a bowl and add pectin powder. Stir to combine. When fruit mixture boils, add honey-pectin mixture and stir to dissolve. Return fruit mixture to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
When jam returns to a boil, remove from heat. Ladle into hot 8oz. jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, and process in a boiling water bath.
Makes about 10 8oz. jars