On Friday, I took the boys out to Chile's Orchard for Strawberry picking. It's just about 35 minutes from our place - east of Charlottesville - with beautiful pastoral views.
We did have a couple strawberry plants that overwintered...barely...but I knew I wanted to make at least one big batch of strawberry jam and needed more material. So off we went into the wild blue yonder!
This wagon is so special to me. I know they are a dime a dozen, but this particular wagon is actually the one I grew up with! Since I moved from Texas to Virginia, I didn't have many large items like this until we moved my mother from Texas to Virginia in 2014. I took that opportunity to put large pictures and items like this wagon in the moving truck and it's just so special to me to cart my boys around in the same one my parents carted my brother Graham and me around in!
Both Quincy and Gabe were so good at strawberry picking!
Quincy even saved me from my ill-fated decision to dress him in a white shirt by not eating any strawberries while in the field and then being super careful (without my admonishment) eating them after we paid for them.
I didn't think Gabe would participate in the picking so I didn't even try to explain to him what we were doing, but after watching Q and I for a few minutes, he dove right in. After picking and eating a few, he plopped down in a choice spot where he could reach several without moving. Smart boy!
We were so happy to be outside in the sun! Also, can we take a moment to celebrate the return of my crown braid? I don't regret cutting off nine inches for Pantene's Great Lengths program back in January but I did miss doing my fave crown braid. Thank you pregnancy hormones and prenatal vitamins for the hair growth!
So we picked a flat of strawberries about halfway full - about 5 pounds - and paid about $15 plus a few dollars for my strawberry ice cream and a vanilla ice cream Q decided was "too cold" but which his brother happily ate instead.
By the way, in case you're wondering we envision our orchard CSA being more of a small tight-knit community of subscribers. Maybe we will grow to accommodate farm tours and the like but we don't aspire to the same scale as Chile's or Carter's Mountain. For one, we don't have as much space. Secondly, our permaculture orchard is going to be a very different experience requiring a little more education of our members to know what to pick, how to pick, and when.
So we took our good back home and I checked my recipe to make sure I had enough for a double strawberry jam recipe and I did!
By the way, I was surprised to discover recently that even some homesteaders I know via the interwebz are intimidated by canning. Maybe I should be more paranoid about botulism, but I feel pretty confident in following the simple, straightforward directions for canning in our bible of food preservation:
(See all the sticky notes? We use this a lot.)
Boiling water is a pretty trustworthy way of sterilizing your equipment and storing containers and honestly the recipes aren't that complicated.
This is the recipe we used and doubled:
3.75 cups of crussed and hulled strawberries
4 tbsp lemon juice
7 cups of sugar
1 pouch of liquid pectin
FYI It took about 4 pounds of uncut strawberries to double this recipe.
Baking is more intimidating to me!
So after you sterilize your jars and lids and make your jam in a separate pot, you fill the jars and put them back in the "canner" (basically just a very large pot - don't be intimidated).
The book tells you how long to "process" them - aka boil them in water. Then you take them out of the canner with these fancy tongs onto a towel:
And you wait to hear the "pop" of the lid going concave. This means a proper seal has formed. If you miss hearing the pop and a few minutes have already passed, you can simply push down on the top to see if it gives any. If it gives like an opened Snapple jar top, it's no good and you have to try "processing" or boiling the jar again. All but one of our 14 jars sealed this go-round. Instead of processing that one jar again, we simply put it in the fridge to use first. We used the jam on waffles yesterday and it was divine.
Have you canned before? What are some of your favorite tips for beginners? Please share below!