Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Sweet Strawberry Season

Last Friday was the first day of strawberry season, so the kids and I headed out that morning to do some picking. I knew this would be our only opportunity to go picking during the short season since we have VBS every morning this week, and I definitely did not want to go out to the fields in the heat of the afternoon. Plus, very, very soon we will be leaving for our vacation. (Tropical island! No children! Eeeeeee!)

{Riding the wagon out to the fields is a favorite!}

Things went very smoothly this year, and I decided to ask for another big box so we could continue picking after we filled the first one. By the time they were tired, we had 16 pounds of sweet, juicy strawberries! This is probably twice the amount we picked last year, and it is fair to say that we have gone a bit overboard. (It helped that I had remembered the check book this time around, so I wasn't worried about going over my limited amount of cash.)

In general, I was more prepared than last year. We had quarters for the animal feed stations since there is a petting farm at this berry patch. (I didn't know that before...) Other essentials that we know to bring besides sunscreen and the camera included: our hats, our rain boots (good thing, too, because it was very muddy!), our dark-colored shirts (old clothes are crucial, here; I was surprised to see what nice clothing some other families dressed their little ones in!), and our very helpful, hands-free, belted berry buckets (just some old milk jugs -- half gallon for the kids and a gallon-size for me; I wrote about how to make them here).

{I always caught him eating...}

The only downside to picking all of those berries was that I had to do something with them, and very quickly before they spoiled. The upside, of course, was that we were able to make LOTS of delicious things! The first thing we made was 4 jars of strawberry jelly using this easy recipe for any-berry jelly. Next, we made 4 jars of strawberry jam using this recipe, which is as the name implies, quite simple:

Easy Berry Jam
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 pints fresh sliced strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, or a combination (about 4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (1 lemon)
  1. Pour the water into a large saucepan and add the gelatin packets. Let stand 1 minute. Stir over low heat until completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.
  2. Kids can help by juicing 2 halves of a lemon. (Fortunately, mine knew how to do this from our lemonade stand experience.) They can also sort and rinse berries.
  3. Add the strawberries (or other berries), sugar, and lemon juice to the pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing berries slightly with potato masher. (This is a step that I allowed Mia to help with, but not Logan because he is kind of young to be that close to the stove, in my opinion.)
  4. Spoon into jars (mine had been washed and sterilized in the hot water bath while we were doing the other steps to prepared the jam). Cool slightly before refrigerating. Chill until set, about 3 hours. This will keep for up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator or up to 1 year in the freezer.

{Well, it's not as pretty as can be, but I am improving...}

I also made a strawberry pie to serve for Father's Day dessert since it is one of Brett's favorites. I used this recipe for Shimmering Strawberry Pie, but cheated and used a store-bought graham cracker crust in place of the oil pastry. (I really do need to learn to do that, but it's been kinda crazy 'round here.) I did step up my game a little bit, though, by making some whipped cream using my new stand mixer. This was actually my first time making homemade whipped cream (although, it is so simple, I am not sure why I never did it before) and I tried this recipe:

Basic Whipped Cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream (This is the smallest package available at the store, in case you're wondering.)
  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Chill the bowl and whisk attachment to a stand mixer in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  2. Add ingredients to bowl and whip on high speed for 1 minute, until medium peaks form.
  3. That's it. Be sure not to do it for too long, or you will end up with something more the consistency of butter. I stuck the whipped cream in the refrigerator to let it chill before putting it in my pastry bag and using it the garnish the pie. (Is this the best way? Who knows? It's just what I tried.)
Next up, I made some strawberry topping, which I served over waffles for our very tasty dinner. I later made a triple batch, put it into 3 different half-pint canning jars and froze them to use for ice cream topping or topping for more waffles or pancakes. So good! I found the recipe here last year, pinned it, and finally tried it out this summer. Some people had commented on the site that the recipe was not very clear, but it seemed difficult to mess it up, in my opinion.

Supreme Strawberry Topping
  • 1 pint berries (about 2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  1. Wash and hull strawberries. Halve large berries or roughly chop them. 
  2. Combine strawberries, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan. (After reading another person's suggestion, I reserved about 1/3 of the berries for later.) Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Mash a few strawberries with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula to help produce the syrup. (I used a whisk.) Cook until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. 
  3. Remove from heat. In a blender, puree about 1/3 of the sauce, then mix back into remaining topping. (This was the reserved berries. I cooked it a bit longer, and just skipped the pureeing step, which seemed unnecessary.) Store in refrigerator. (Again, I froze mine, so hopefully, this will thaw and still be delicious when we are ready to eat it.) 
For another quintessential taste-of-summer treat (at least this is one we always had when I was younger, often times in place of dinner, although I always serve it as dessert because I'm not as cool as my mom!), Mia and Logan helped me make strawberry shortcake. This is the healthier version that I have been using for the past couple of years:

Strawberry Shortcake 
  • 3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 Tbs. butter (recipe says "or margarine," but obviously, there is no substitute for real butter)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk* (see below for how I make this)
  • whipped cream (homemade or store-bought)
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together strawberries and 2 tablespoons sugar. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. 
  2. In another bowl, stir together flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. (Kids can help measure and pour dry ingredients.) Using a pastry blender, but in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (My kids loved helping with this step.) Combine beaten egg and buttermilk* and add to the flour mixture. Stir until moistened and drop by rounded tablespoon into 8 mounds on an ungreased baking sheet. (I lined mine with parchment paper.) 
  3. Bake at 450 degrees for 7-8 minutes or until golden. (I find this takes an additional minute or two, but oven vary.) Transfer to a wire rack and cool for about 10 minutes. 
  4. Serve with strawberries and whipped cream. 
To Make *Buttermilk* These are my reduced measurements from the amounts that are called for here. I just don't need a full cup for this recipe, so I have altered the measurements.
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used whole milk.)
  • 3/4 tsp. distilled white vinegar (Can also use lemon juice) 
  1. Place 3/4 tsp. vinegar into a 1 cup measuring cup. 
  2. Add enough milk to fill the measuring cup. 
  3. Let set for 5 minutes before using.
{Helping make shortcake}

{Finished shortcake}

Okay, here's the grand finale, folks. After the kiddos were in bed, I served up some really tasty, adult-only Father's Day strawberry goodness in the form of frozen daiquiris. Mmmmmmmmm! This is a simple, but insanely brilliant idea for make-ahead drinks. Brett and I each enjoyed a cocktail that evening, and now we have 4 more waiting in the freezer for whenever the mood to chillax strikes. This is one I saw on Pinterest last summer and just now have gotten around to trying. So glad I did! It was a very satisfying ending to a sweet strawberry season.

Frozen Fruit Daiquiris
  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate (I used lemonade.)
  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) rum (I used Bacardi.)
  • 4 cups frozen fruit (her recommendation -- I used fresh strawberries, obviously)
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • sweetener (optional -- I skipped this)
  • fresh fruit for garnish (optional -- yeah, skipped this too, but maybe if we are ever entertaining...)
  1. In a blender, combine lemonade or limeade concentrate, rum, and fruit. (I used whole strawberries.)
  2. Blend until smooth. Add ice and blend again until smooth, with no remaining chunks of ice.
  3. Taste and add sweetener if desired. (Brett and I thought these were perfect.)
  4. To freeze and save for later, add daiquiris to clean, half-pint mason jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Then, screw on lids and freeze. They will keep for up to a month. 
  5. To serve, remove from the freezer and allow to warm up for 5-15 minutes. Then use a fork to break the frozen daiquiri. Easy, and so tasty! I think we will have to try this with some other fruits, too.
{Brett asked, "You added exclamation points to the labels?" Yes, sir! I was that excited!}

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