Build An Ark: Strawberry Fields Forever!

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Strawberry Fields Forever!

Up here in Vermont we just finished our strawberry season and I processed 68 pounds of berries, with the help of some good friends. I was able to make strawberry jam; dehydrated chips, fruit leather, and I also froze whole strawberries to be used later in pies or for shortcake, which is one of my favorites.

After sorting and cleaning all the berries I froze 20 pounds of them. I then took the largest of the berries for my dehydrator to make chips out of. I ended up processing 28 pounds of berries that made about 5 quarts of chips. The process was very simple, allowing the time needed to dehydrate the fruit.

I cut ¼” slices out of the berries and placed them on a lightly greased tray for my dehydrator. It took about 2 pounds of berries to fill a tray.

I set the dehydrator to a temperature of 130°–135°. Filled her up and just checked on the berries every few hours to see how things were going.

I dehydrated my chips until most of the moisture was evaporated to get the longest shelf life out of them. It ended up taking about 10 hours to complete with a full 10 tray dehydrator. When they were all done they looked great and tasted wonderful! I can’t wait to grab a handful to re-hydrate the next time I make muffins or pancakes.

I also made strawberry jam for the first time and found that process to be pretty simple as well.

Out of approximately 10-12 pounds of berries I was able to make 21 pints of jam. I processed these in two batches, starting by chunking up the pre-washed berries into bite-sized pieces. Once I had 16 cups I placed them into a medium sized stockpot and added 3 packages of Sure-Jell (no sugar needed) pectin.

The berries and the pectin then needed to be brought to a rolling boil before I could add about 12 cups (or 7 lbs.) of honey.

While the berries were heating I sterilized my jars and lids and filled the jars with hot water to keep them warm while the berries continued to cook.

Once the honey was added the berries again needed to be brought to a boil and stirred continually so they did not overflow my pot with the foam that builds up. Once they reached a boil I cooked them for two more minutes before I removed them from the heat.

For the next 5 minutes I removed as much of the foam from the surface as I could. This process allows any floating berries to sink back down into the pot.

From here it was easy! I simply took my warm sterilized jar and filled it with the jam and placed my lids on.

This process required no water bath, so I put my jars in a draft free location with a towel over them to help them cool slowly. As they did, the lids sucked down on my jars, so I knew they were sealed. The jam turned out to have a beautiful red color and you could just taste the sweetness of the honey over the berries. Yummy!!

I made the remaining 9 pounds or so of berries into fruit leather. Basically the same kind I loved to eat from the store when I was a child, only it’s much better when you make it yourself.

The ratio I used for the fruit leather was:

• 2 lb Berries
• ½ C Honey

I cooked this on low heat, mashing the berries as they cooked to try and thicken them up as much as possible. There is allot of water in strawberries, so even after cooking the berries down I needed to add a premixed portion of ¼ C of cornstarch with ½ C of water to the whole batch. After the berries returned to a boil I removed them from the heat and pureed them to make a more smooth fruit leather.

The puree that came out was good enough to eat right from the bowl, but I continued to proceed with the fruit leather.

I ended up with about 8 ½ cups of puree, which covered three trays in my dehydrator. After covering my trays with plastic wrap I spread the fruit puree out so that it was about ¼ inch thick, leaving 1-½ inches on the sides so it did not spill over. I set the dehydrator to 130°-135° and let it sit.

After about 7 hours had passed the leather had dried out enough to peel it from the plastic wrap and flip it over. This allowed the underside a chance to finish dehydrating.

With only an occasional check to see how things were going the leather was done in approximately 12-14 hours and boy did it look good!

I set the trays out to cool and when they were ready I removed them from the plastic wrap and cut them up into squares. Then I took each square and rolled them up in plastic wrap to be eaten and enjoyed at a later time.

I have had the pleasure of putting away my first harvest of strawberries and will gladly do it again next year. Being able to enjoy strawberries through out the year will be a joy to my taste buds!