It’s strawberry season here in Maine. If I’m not mistaken, it’s been strawberry season for quite some time now on the other coast. I used to pick my own berries, but I have since discovered that I’m a Celiac- I can’t have anything to do with wheat, rye, barley, spelt, non-gluten free oats, and a couple others, like Einkorn or semolina, and strawberries are grown in straw. If you can’t be around gluten, don’t worry- there are two basic types of straw, and the other comes from rice. I’ve also spoken with people who have successfully washed their berries of the wheat straw dust and been just fine, or grown their own. I’ll post more about this topic later.
If you’ve never canned before, this is a really good place to start because you don’t need a pressure cooker. Don’t be intimidated by the process, because once you’ve got it, it’s easy.
Begin by acquiring jars. You should start with 8oz jars- they look just like the size jelly jars that you would get in the store. You can also use the 4oz jars and get the same results. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what type of jar you use, but remember that you cannot keep foods in the refrigerator indefinitely, so think about the size of a jar you would consume in a week to 10 days (because this is real food, once it’s opened, it needs to be refrigerated). You can get these jars at the hardware store or your big box store. It’s also ok to get the jars second hand, so check Freecyle. Once you have your jars, give them a good soapy scrub, and put them either in the dishwasher or a stock pot covered in water. You’ll want to bring your stock pot water to a boil (with the jars in it) and then turn the heat off, leaving the jars in the hot water. This whole process (or dishwasher shortcut) is to sterilize your jars. The Amish wash their jars and stick them upside down on the fence posts- the heat of the sun and the steam from the residual inside moisture sterilizes them.
You’ll also need to acquire lids and rings, which should be available in the same place that you got your jars. Put the rings and lids in a pot of hot water and heat it stovetop until it is about to simmer, and turn the burner off. You’ll need these lids to be hot. Don’t bring them to a boil. We reuse rings until they begin to show signs of rust, but you may not reuse lids (the flat round part).
The next step is to slice your berries. You’ll need about 2 quarts. I don’t recommend making large batches at once- as with other types of cooking, smaller batches are more successful. This should yield approximately 7.5 pints. Once your strawberries are washed, hull them (cut off the green part- and make sure you get the tough nubby stem that goes down a bit into the top of the berry). Then cut them lengthwise.
Some people skip this part, but we mash our berries before putting them in the pan. What we do is we add 4 cups of the sliced berries with a cup of sugar and have at it with a manual masher. Then we let them sit 15 minutes.
Next we put the mixture in a saucepan with 6 cups of sugar, and mix it well. Yep. Six cups of sugar. Bring this mixture to a full boil- big bubbles. Boil it for a full minute while stirring it constantly. Take the pan off the heat and stir in 1/2 a bottle of liquid fruit pectin. Stir it and skim the foam off of it periodically for about 5min, putting the foam aside to be discarded. Then you can use a scoop or a pitcher to pour it into the jars. DO NOT TOUCH THIS. It will burn you VERY badly.
Get out your jar lids and rings using tongs. My grandmother has a stick with a magnet at the top but always ends up using her fingers- I don’t recommend that. Make sure that you don’t have any food particles along the top edge of the jar. I recommend taking a damp clean rag and running it along the edge to make sure it’s clean, because debris could effect your seal. Put on the lids and then twist them on tightly (using oven mitts if you have to, gram uses a dish towel). Then turn all of the jars upside down.
When the jars are cool enough to touch without howling, turn them over and press down on the lids- if they make a popping sound, they haven’t sealed, and may need more time (don’t give it more than a day). If they don’t pop, they’re done and you can go put them in the pantry. I strongly recommend dating and labeling them. Some folks remove the rings, and you can, but I don’t recommend it because the ring can prevent the lids from getting accidentally popped off.