Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Preserving the harvest

By LORI HOLCOMB

Years ago, my relatives gardened and harvested seasonal vegetables and fruit to survive. It supplemented the meat and dairy from their farms while fresh in the spring and summer; and much of that harvest was canned or “put up” to continue to feed their families during the long winter months. I have spent many a summer snapping beans by the bushel with my mom. She grew up on the canned beans, vegetables, fruit butters and preserves that her grandmother made. Snapping and canning beans for her was just an extension of that heritage. And most of us can agree, our mother’s or grandmother’s home-canned green beans are one of the best things to come out a garden, right up there with heirloom tomatoes, homemade pickles and summer sweet corn. I can’t remember a summer breakfast at my Grandpa Charlie’s house where his wife, Delores, didn’t add fresh tomatoes and fruit preserves to her usual menu of homemade coffee, biscuits, gravy, sausage and eggs.

My mother canned from our garden throughout my childhood, too, although more out of a need to keep our bountiful harvest from going to waste or to reminisce and recreate the bread and butter pickles of her childhood, than to survive like her parents and grandparents did. Even as a child, I can remember our little strawberry patch off the patio and the large garden full of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers out in the yard. We’d pick strawberries, sprinkle them with a little sugar, pour on some milk and we had a real treat! She always made preserves, too. Strawberry, peach and, one time, ­­­­­grape jam with grapes from our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Burton. And I loved it.

In the early summer, blackberries are coveted in our family like no other harvest – even more so than our heirloom tomatoes. I’m even planting a few blackberry bushes this year in hopes of a big harvest next summer for cobbler, pies and preserves. We also have a garden with mostly tomatoes and peppers, although we expand that each year, too. This year, we added cucumbers because last summer my mom and I had so much fun making bread and butter pickles. And they were good, very good, if I do say so myself! And easy. That’s the thing. Canning is really easy. And sharing the things you’ve canned with your family and friends not only blesses their heart, but yours as well.

As a working mom with two busy kiddos, I don’t have nearly as much time to can as I’d like. The one thing I do get done every year, though, is to make strawberry preserves. One of my most favorite things to do is to pick strawberries with James and our kids – we usually pick a 5 gallon bucket, or two, full! I make about half of those berries into preserves following the basic recipe in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It’s the best and most helpful tool a beginning, or even a well-seasoned home-canner can have.

Once I am done with the preserves and a fresh strawberry pie (or two!), I take the remaining berries, wash them gently, remove the stems and leaves and freeze them whole, spread out individually on cookie sheets. Then I transfer the berries to gallon or quart freezer bags for use later. This method prevents them from freezing in a giant clump, that way, if I just need a few, I can get just what I need.  These berries are for smoothies, strawberry pancake syrup, strawberry bread and frozen strawberry merlot (a divine, not-too-sweet, adult summer beverage my father came up with last year after picking berries that was an instant hit!)

On the next page are a few of my favorite early summer canning recipes for strawberry, raspberry, blackberry jam and preserves, with a few other early harvest recipes, too. I hope you enjoy them. Here’s to a delicious and blessed summer, from my kitchen to ­­­­yours.

Strawberry Preserves
2 quarts strawberries, cleaned, stems removed and crushed
6 ¾ cups sugar
½ teaspoon butter
1 pouch powdered fruit pectin


Wash jars and bands thoroughly in hot water. Pour boiling water over lids and set aside.
Stem and clean strawberries. Pulse in food processor until strawberries are broken down and small pieces remain. Measure 4 cups strawberry puree into a pot and place over high heat. Add sugar and butter, stirring constantly. Bring to a rolling boil. Stir in pectin and return to full rolling boil and cook at rolling boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam from mixture.
Pour or ladle into prepared jars to within ¼ inch from top. Clean rims of jars with damp cloth and top with lid. Screw on bands tightly and place on jars on rack in canner filled with boiling water. Lower rack into canner making sure at least 2” of water covers tops of jars. Bring back to a soft boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel or wire rack to cool. When cool, check to make sure each jar sealed by pressing middle of the lid with your finger. If lid pops back, it did not seal and any jam remaining unsealed should be stored in the refrigerator. Sealed jam can be stored in pantry. Enjoy.

Berry Butter
Delicious with homemade biscuits or bread, hot from the oven!
½ cup butter, softened to room temperature
2-3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons preserves or jam


In a bowl or food processor, combine above ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate to firm. Serve with rolls, biscuits or bread.

Blackberry or Raspberry Jam
4 cups blackberry puree
6 ¾ cups sugar
½ teaspoon butter
1 pouch powdered fruit pectin


Wash jars and bands thoroughly in hot water. Pour boiling water over lids and set aside.
Stem and clean strawberries. Crush blackberries by hand or pulse in food processor until smooth. Pour through a wire strainer to remove all seeds. Measure 4 cups of the seedless puree into a pot and place over high heat. Add sugar and butter, stirring constantly. Bring to a rolling boil. Stir in pectin and return to full rolling boil and cook at rolling boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam from mixture.
Pour or ladle into prepared jars to within ¼ inch from top. Clean rims of jars with damp cloth and top with lid. Screw on bands tightly and place on jars on rack in canner filled with boiling water. Lower rack into canner making sure at least 2” of water covers tops of jars. Bring back to a soft boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel or wire rack to cool. When cool, check to make sure each jar sealed by pressing middle of the lid with your finger. If lid pops back, it did not seal and any jam remaining unsealed should be stored in the refrigerator. Sealed jam can be stored in pantry. Enjoy.

Frozen Strawberry Merlot
2 cups fresh strawberries
4-6 oz Merlot
Sugar or sweetener, to taste
Ice (2-3 cups)


Place strawberries, Merlot and 1 cup ice into blender. Blend until smooth. Add ice ½ cup at a time until desired thickness. Sweeten as desired with sugar or sweetener.
Blackberry Crisp
4 - 4 ½ cups fresh blackberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup oats
¾  cup brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cups butter (not margarine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine berries and white sugar in a baking dish. In a separate bowl, c­ombine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cut in butter until you have coarse crumbs. Sprinkle crumbs over fruit in baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool slightly. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Strawberry Banana Smoothie
1 cup strawberries, frozen
8 oz plain or vanilla yogurt
1 banana
2-3 tablespoons milk


Combine strawberries, yogurt and banana in blender. Add milk a tablespoon at a time until desired thickness. Serves two.

Strawberry Bread
1 (10oz) package frozen strawberries, thawed and crushed
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 ½  cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½  cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, sugar and oil until smooth and creamy. Stir in strawberries. In a separate bowl, combine remaining dry ingredients. Add strawberry mixture to dry ingredients until just combined. Pour into a well-greased and floured loaf pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 8-10 minutes, then turn loaf out on wire rack. When cool, wrap tightly in plastic.

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