Friday, July 31, 2009

Berry dilemma

The one thing that is a "must-do" every summer is to get out of Phoenix and head towards cooler places. Preferably somewhere green. It makes living here a little more tolerable. This summer, I was lucky to be able to take 2 vacations. Italy and Portland. But Portland didn't count. I had to go shopping. To pick berries. And preserve them. Then bring them back to Phoenix. You see, berries don't exist in Phoenix, or anywhere in Arizona for that matter. Really, it's almost bad enough that I'd consider packing my bags and moving to a place with a small berry patch. Everyone needs to live somewhere relatively close to berries. Once you've seen fields and fields of berries, walked along and picked wild blueberries in a city street, bent down to pick and taste the bursting red fruit...once you've seen it and experienced it, you can't go back. You can't settle for the Trader Joe's berries. Even the Whole Foods berries are lacking the sweetness that can only exist when you pick them straight from the bush.

Of course, I make things a hundred times more difficult when I decided a few years ago to eat mostly local and seasonal fruits and veggies. I give myself a 2 state radius, but prefer to eat food grown within my state. My exemptions are bananas and avocados and cherries and mangos, because, well, I can't seem to live without them. How could I walk past the guy with the mango cart, selling mangos on a stick, with limes and chili? I couldn't resist. So what if they're from Chile or Australia or Argentina? I might have a big carbon footprint when I pop a cherry in my mouth or eat a banana, but I'll make sure to offset it by riding my bike somewhere...for a year.

So, I was craving strawberries. I called Flagstaff farmers markets in the north...nothing. I called Sierra Vista farmers markets in the south...nada. I called my forager friends and asked if they found any berry patches in the Valley. Empty. Zilch. No berries in Phoenix.

So, the next logical step was to fly to Portland and pick them. Technically, I'll be eating local and in season. Only it happens to be in a different state. And I had to fly to get there. But that's besides the point. Then, there's the issue of preserving them and bringing them back home.

Luckily, my friend Emma and her family were happy to have me visit them. She and I left the kids and spent an afternoon picking beautiful organic strawberries on Sauvie Island, a small island just off of Porland. It was a cool morning and we had a nice drive around the island before we found the perfect, fresh, u-pick strawberries. 2 hours later, 50 pounds heavier, and $80 dollars spent, we headed home to start cooking.

How I make Strawberry Preserves:

2 Quarts of strawberries (or a big pan full of strawberries)
2 cups of sugar
one or two lemons

* clean and de-stem strawberries
* cut in half or quarters
* put about 6 cups (enough to fill a large stock pot) of strawberries in a bowl, little at a time, and begin to mash them. They'll start to produce sauce. If you want the preserves to have more strawberry chunks, then don't mash too much.
* place the mashed strawberries into a large stock pot.
* add 2 cups of sugar
* add one or 2 lemons (to preserve the color)
* cook about 40 minutes, stirring often. Cook until mixture is thicker
* scoop off the top layer of foam. (you can save it/set aside and use it to put over ice-cream!)

* while strawberries are cooking, disinfect canning jars and lids. We used the dishwasher and set it at the hottest setting.
* Be sure to not touch the lids by hand. Use tongs to remove and place on a clean, dry towel. Dry lids.
* When the Strawberry mixture is done cooking, and still VERY HOT, pour into HOT canning jars. The canning jars AND THE STRAWBERRY PRESERVES should be hot, so they seal appropriately.
* Close the jars and place UPSIDE DOWN for at least 5 minutes.
* Turn right-side-up after 5+ minutes. If you hear a POP, then the jars are sealed! If you don't, then you need to re-do that jar.
Heading over the Sauvie Island bridge to pick some strawberries.

Emma and I picked 4 boxes of strawberries. We definitely have enough to get us through the summer. Then some!

Step 1: washing and de-stemming the strawberries. They look so pretty!

Step 2: this is after about 30 minutes of cooking the crushed strawberries. Almost ready for canning.

Step 3: Emma is putting hot preserves into the clean, hot jars.

Jars and jars of strawberry preserves. It was actually really easy to do, only it took all day to finish.
It might have made more sense to just buy them from someone, but now I can say I know how to jar!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post! If you ever do find a berry patch in Phoenix, let me know, and I'll help you make preserves...or just eat them on the spot :)lk