Whenever we leave the city, one of us will inevitably say in the car on the way home “Can you believe we haven’t left the city since [some time we left the city]?” and the other of us will agree and then five minutes later one of us will remember some more recent time we left the city. But even if we get out more often than we think, it’s still probably only five or six times a year tops, and that includes trips to the suburbs to buy bulk diapers. So when we do manage to get out, we want everything to be perfect, and perfection is what we got this weekend when we went strawberry picking at Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction, NY. (If Fishkill seems like a weird name, it’s just Middle Dutch for Fish River.)
It was a beautiful June day with hardly a cloud in the sky and no humidity in the air and just the gentlest of breezes. Even with these perfect conditions, picking strawberries was hard work. We picked six quarts and it took us maybe an hour with one of us picking and the other watching the girls and helping them “pick.” Kids aren’t the fastest pickers and don’t have a great eye for ripeness, but they do like to help. We all got a little burnt and all that bending down made for achy backs, so we it was nice to unwind with a picnic and some ice cream before we hit the road again.
In the end, all the work was worth it because the strawberry jam and strawberry shortcakes we got out of our six quarts were the absolute best. The strawberry jam has an intense strawberry flavor that just can’t be matched by commercial jams and really, it’s not that much work to make. Besides, strawberry season is so fleeting, you’ll want something to remember it by. The deep flavor of the just-picked strawberries is supported by a single fragrant vanilla bean, and is rounded out with the quiet tang of lime. I know that strawberries, vanilla, and lime might be seem like a strange combination, but trust me, it’s not.
We had the jam on these fresh buttermilk biscuits with big pats of butter and it was kind of transcendent.
A couple notes on the recipe: I macerated my berries and cooked my jam for a long, long time. You can skip both of these steps, though I loved the concentrated, almost caramelized, berry flavor the long cook time produced. If you are not familiar with canning, please refer to the Ball Canning site for all of the basics, and follow health and safety recommendations to the letter.
Strawberry Jam with Vanilla Bean and Lime
makes six half-pint jars
10 cups of rinsed, hulled strawberries (about 3 1/2 quarts whole berries)
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla pod
zest of 6 limes
1/2 cup lime juice
Place the berries in a large dutch oven, and gently turn to coat with 1 cup of sugar. Cover, and set aside for about an hour to macerate. Place 3 or 4 large spoons in the freezer for future jam testing.
Wash and clean your jars, rims, and lids. Place in a large pot, cover with water, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and let jars hang out in the water while you do the rest.
Pour 1/2 cup of sugar into a small bowl. Split the vanilla pod, and scrape the tiny beans into the sugar, rubbing the pod with you fingers and dispersing the beans evenly throughout. Set aside.
Heat the prepared berries over medium-high heat. Add the remaining sugar, vanilla sugar, lime zest, and juice, and bring everything to a rolling boil. As the mixture is heating, use a masher to mash some of the berries. Turn heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours, stirring frequently, until the jam is a deep, winey red, and has thickened considerably.
Bring mixture back up to a boil and whisk in your pectin. I use Pamona’s which is a low-sugar variety, and followed the directions that said to add 4 teaspoons each of pectin and calcium water, though I wish I’d only added 3 each since my jam was a bit stiff. Test the thickness by placing 1/2 teaspoon on one of the frozen spoons. Poke with your finger–if it wrinkles a bit, your jam has jammed. If using an alternate pectin, follow the basic instructions for strawberry jam–you may need to double the amount of sugar.
Depending on the flavor you’re after, the jam needs only to heat to 220 degrees, so if you’re after a less cooked down jam, just get the jam up to 220 degrees, add your pectin, and process.
Remove the jars from the hot water, and spoon the jam in. Wipe the rim, and put lids in place. Bring the sterilization water back up to a boil, and then carefully add the jars with enough water to cover them by an inch or more. Cover the pot and process for 10 minutes. Remove from water, and gently set on the counter. Listen for the lids to pop closed. If, by the next morning, any of the lids have not sealed, place the jam in the fridge and use it right away.