In order to eat locally in East Central Illinois year round, it’s essential to take time in the middle of the season to preserve part of the harvest for winter. With some crops this can involve actual canning. But with strawberries, you need only have a freezer.
Freezing berries is easy to do, and making strawberry freezer jam isn’t much harder. In fact, both are great projects to do with kids.
You should plan to freeze berries the same day you pick them or purchase them from the farmers market. Select fully ripe, firm berries that are red both inside and out. Do not freeze discolored or damaged berries, use these instead on shortcake or to top yogurt or cereal. Rinse berries in cold water, removing stems. Don’t allow the berries to soak in water as this will make them icy and less flavorful. Drain the rinsed berries in a colander or on toweling that you can afford to get stained. Once the berries are dry, place them on a baking sheet in the freezer. Freeze berries overnight. Once frozen, place berries in a zipper freezer bag and remove any air.
Strawberry freezer jam
Strawberry freezer jam is one of the easiest jams to make. Plus, it tastes more like fresh strawberries than canned jam. You can find liquid pectin at most grocery stores, as well as some hardware stores and general stores like Farm & Fleet. You can halve the recipe if you need to and save the extra pectin in the pouch (fold the open end down and seal with a close pin or packing tape) in the fridge for a future batch of jam.
- 1 quart strawberries mashed to yield 2 cups
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
- 2 T fresh lemon juice
Wash four, 8 oz (1/2 pint) jars or plastic containers and their lids.
Rinse and stem one quart of strawberries. Crush berries in a large bowl one layer at a time. You can do this with a fork, potato masher, or well scrubbed hands. Measure out two cups of mashed fruit and juice into a separate large bowl. Add four cups of granulated sugar. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Yes, it is a frightening amount of sugar, but use it all lest you produce fermented strawberry syrup instead. Yes, you can use evaporated cane, but Turbinado probably will be too coarse to dissolve properly.
In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice and pectin. Add the pectin mixture to the strawberries and sugar. Stir three minutes or until the sugar is dissolved. Overall the mixture should no longer be grainy, but a few sugar crystals may remain.
Fill all containers to within a 1/2 inch of the top of the jar. This allows the jam to expand in the freezer without blowing the lids off your containers. Wipe off rims and top edges of containers. Cover with lids. Let jam stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
Store jam for up to three weeks in the fridge or up to a year in the freezer. Allow frozen jam to thaw in the fridge before using.