The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Natural Strawberry Preserves Without Pectin

Summer wouldn't be summer without certain things:  Warm weather.  Short sleeves.  And summer food!  One of the tastiest is this:

Strawberries from my garden.

We ate up all the strawberries from my garden this year, mostly in strawberry shortcakes.  Hey, summer is really short, okay?  So when Costco had organic strawberries on sale, I snapped up two two-pound boxes.  I knew exactly what I was going to do with them, too.  I had to make them last.

Yes, it was time for strawberry preserves.  I use agar powder instead of pectin, since agar is natural (derived from a sea vegetable), and commercial pectin is chemically processed.  I've already covered that in previous blog posts, and you can click here if you want to read more about the benefits of using agar and how to work with it.  You'll need that link again if you'll be using agar, as well.  Just one more note on that--if you plan on using pectin, you'll need to consult a Ball canning book for the proper amount of sugar--it's waaaay more than with using agar (another reason I go this route!).

For now, here is the photojournal to natural strawberry preserves.  The recipe is at the bottom.  :)

Strawberries, hulled, rinsed, in the colander.

Thomas mashes and adds, mashes and adds.

The canning pot is filled and is at a nice rolling boil for ten minutes.

Natural strawberry preserves!

Natural Strawberry Preserves -- with agar instead of pectin
Yield:  About eight half-pint jars.
Time:  Allow about three hours from start to finish; I was done in about 2 1/2.

Note:  If using pectin, you'll need 7 cups of sugar and 1 package regular powdered fruit pectin.  And I can't guarantee results.  Consult your Ball canning/preserving book!

4 pounds strawberries (about 8 cups)
1/2 teaspoon butter
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups organic cane juice crystals (can substitute white sugar)
3 tablespoons agar powder

Sort the strawberries (throw out bad ones!), hull them, and rinse with cold water.  Prepare canning pot, jars, and seals.  Click here if you need to know how to do that.  Measure all your ingredients prior to starting the cooking process.  I put that in bold.  It really, really helps.  Promise.

In a three-quart pot (if you're a messy cook, use a four-quart pot), place a handful of strawberries, and mash a little with a potato masher.  Go ahead and turn your burner on about medium.  Continue adding strawberries and mashing, until all the strawberries have been added to the pot.  Add the butter in somewhere in here, too; this will help reduce the amount of foam that forms as the strawberries cook.  You don't have to mash the strawberries to death; they'll soften and turn mushy on their own.  Just smash them and move on.

Stirring frequently, bring the strawberries to a gentle simmer--just get them nice and hot, pre-boiling.  Add the lemon juice and stir.

Now, if you're like me, you can use a stick blender (or process with a regular blender) to puree the strawberries further.  Like your preserves chunky?  Leave them as is.  I have texture issues and like my jams and preserves smooth.  Now you know a weird fact about me.  :)

Okay, now add the sugar and stir it up.  You may want to start with just one cup, then taste test after it's incorporated and add more if you like.  You don't need a lot!  The natural sweetness of the strawberries really gets to shine when you use agar--1 1/2 cups as opposed to 7 cups with the pectin recipe in the Ball book.

Just before adding the agar, put a small plate in the freezer.  I'll explain later.  :)

Time to add the agar!  With your strawberries at a gentle simmer (make sure it gets to this point before you start adding the agar), sprinkle the agar into the pot, little by little and whisking the whole time.  This is important!  It will gel into blobs otherwise--which, if that happens to you, you'll want a stick blender handy.  Just blend the blobs in and you're good to go again. 

Once all the agar is mixed in, set your timer for twenty minutes and whisk away.  Constantly.  This helps keep the agar incorporated, or else it'll end up all at the bottom of your pot at the end.  This is like making a roux (you know, a white sauce with butter, flour, milk?).  Stop stirring and you end up with a congealed mess at the bottom.  I had a son who helped me today, so I didn't have to stir at all.  Sweet!

At the 15-minute mark, take a teaspoon of the strawberry mixture and pour it onto that plate you put in the freezer, then put it back in the freezer.  This helps you test the thickness of the mixture.  Continue stirring!  You have five minutes left.

When the timer goes off, check the freezer plate.  Run a finger through the preserves; it should have gelled nicely.  Too thin?  Add some more agar, no more than half a teaspoon, though, and whisk it in really well.  Stir and simmer for a few more minutes, and you're ready to can.

Fill your half-pint jars, leaving 1/4" headspace.  As you're filling jars, give the strawberry mixture a whisk or two; this will help continue to keep the agar incorporated. 

Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, place seals on, place lids on (screw to fingertip tight), and place in canning pot (or canning rack, if you have one).  Lower the canning rack into the canning pot, or, once all the jars have been added to the pot, and once the water is at a good rolling boil, place the lid on the canning pot and set the timer for ten minutes.  Make sure the jars stay covered with water!  That's not too hard to do, though, since these are half-pints.

When the timer sounds, turn off the burner, remove the lid, and let the pot sit for five minutes.  Then, remove the rack (or remove the jars one by one with canning tongs), keeping rack/jars upright--no tipping!  The water on the tops of the seals will evaporate.  Remove the jars to a cooling rack, and let them sit for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, check the seals and refrigerate any unsealed jars.  With the sealed jars, I gently wash them off (there'll be residue on them) with cool soapy water, then carefully dry them, label them, and store them in our "bomb shelter."  That's what we call our basement pantry.  :)

Sweet summer, canned and waiting until I miss this season.

Back to life,

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