My second favorite thing to do with fresh strawberries is make strawberry preserves. The last step in my family’s strawberry tradition. We would go to the field pick the berries. We ran home and put the strawberry pies in the fridge as soon as possible. My family went through two in an evening because you can’t have just one piece. Then we would prepare all the extra berries for preserves.
It took me years to figure out why my mom picked berries the way she did. My basket would always be full of the biggest, brightest, most succulent looking berries. My mom on the other hand would pick berries with a couple centimeters of green at the bottom. Then she would spend most of her time looking for the little teeny tiny ripe berries. They were not even big enough to call bite sized, just a nibble. I was always confused, and year after year I would roll my eyes at her basket, moving forward with my bountiful basket full of enormous berries. The ones my father would always praise me for.
I finally figured her out though. Those green ends are full of pectin, which is necessary to make preserves, and that way you don’t have to add suregel. The bitty berries hold up the best when cooking because you didn’t cut them up into chunks. They turn into the perfect little berry morsel inside your preserves. I highly suggest you try them out against your impulse that the bigger the berry the better.
I am not going to list off and share the process of making the preserves. Head over to the pioneer woman’s site to see her amazing pictures of the process. Remember preserves are whole berries or large pieces of fruit. Jam is mashed fruit. Jelly is the sugared fruit juice with the fruit chunks strained out. There are multiple ways to store your preserves. You can put them in the freezer. You can boil them in water so they seal. I prefer this process because freezer space is a limited resource, and I do not want to spend it on something that can sit in the pantry. The pioneer woman details canning on her site. You can also follow the directions that come with the pot you have to buy.
I added extra flavorings that made the preserves extra special. I made Strawberry Vanilla, Strawberry Lemon, and Strawberry Balsamic preserves. To make the vanilla, you buy a whole vanilla bean, slice it, and drop it into the strawberries for the entire cooking process. You pull it out right before you put it in jars. I used 1/2 a vanilla bean because they are expensive, and it worked great. Most recipes call for some lemon to add acid to the preserves. I added the zest and juice of two lemons for my strawberry lemon batch. It is delicious. The preserves have a tangy tartness to them. For the balsamic vinegar batch, I stirred five tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar in right before putting it into jars. I have a fig balsamic vinegar from a local store that adds a great flavor to the preserves. If you want a gourmet preserve you cannot find in the store, you should try any of these recipes, and you won’t be disappointed! The secret ingredient is fresh-picked field berries. They are superior to the ones you get in the store. Just remember to gather the kiddos to count the “pops” when you pull the jars out of the hot water. It’s the best part! 🙂