Few things herald the beginning of summer better than fresh strawberries. Baseball? Yawn. Swimming? Public pools, enough said. But fresh strawberries straight from the vine? There's nothing at all wrong with them. If Memorial Day marks the start of grilling and pool season, then May 20 marks the height of the strawberry picking season, which is why it was named National Pick Strawberries Day.
Though most people are in the dredges of their work week and won't be picking anything other than their seat on the El, there are some farms around the area where you can pick your own berries. Olive Berry Acres is a lovely family-owned, pick-you-own farm. They have two varieties of strawberries and raspberries, and about an hour and a half from the city in Mazon, IL. Check their Facebook for more information and what is ready to pick right now.
If you can't clear your strawberry-picking schedule until next month, you're in luck. Susie's Garden Patch in Rockford and Heider's Berry Farm in Woodstock will be opening their pick-your-own strawberries patches in mid-June. Most of the farmers are hip with the new tech, so check their websites for definite dates, times, and crops before you go.
But what do you do once you stuff yourself with fresh strawberries and cannot fathom looking at another? Make jam of course. When I make jam or preserves I am almost always making it for an event and using it quickly, so I don't go through the whole process of canning. That being said, if you are keeping the jam for more than a week, go through the whole process. There are a lot of opportunistic pathogens that love canned/jarred food as much as we do.
The recipe below is for an unbelievably simple jam. It is also really versatile. Enjoy it on bread with peanut butter, blend some into a batch of daiquiris, or add some to a chocolate cake mix for a little fruity surprise. If you keep the consistency fairly smooth and don't add too much pectin, this little jam can do wonders in your kitchen.
Simple, Fresh Strawberry Jam
(recipe adapted from WikiHow, which has an excellent photo slideshow of these steps if you need it)
10 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and roughly chopped
4 cups sugar
1/4 fresh lemon juice
1 pkg fruit pectin (your vegan friends will thank you for not using gelatin)
Mix 1/4 cup sugar and the package of pectin in a small bowl. Put a spoon in really cold water. Pour strawberries into a large, non-reactionary pot (no aluminium) and add the pectin-sugar mix. Cook over medium to high heat, stirring constantly so the sugar doesn't burn. You are mostly trying to coax the liquid from the berries right now. Once the berry mixture is boiling, add the rest of the sugar. Let the mixture boil hard for one to two minutes, stirring constantly. Turn off heat and let rest for a minute. Test the consistency of the jam by dipping the super cold spoon into the jam. When you pull it out does it look like jam? Is it gelled the way you want? If not, you can try to reduce the mixture over medium heat to thicken it or add a little water to make it thinner. Remember as it cools, it will thicken a little.
The next process is canning. I am definitely no expert in the area, so I am leaving it to my friends at Ball jars to guide you all through this process. The biggest tips/tricks with canning are making sure the jars are completely sterilized, following the jar manufacturer's instructions, and checking the seal on every jar after canning to make sure they are tight.
Do you have a favorite place to pick berries around Chicago? Any fun recipes for what to do with all the berries you pick? We'd love to see them. Comment below or send them along to any of our social media sites. Don't forget to tag @Foodseum and use the hashtag #FeedYourCuriosity for a chance to see your ideas and photos on our page.
Growing up in a Mexican family in the South, Rachel Valdéz started loving food before she could hold a spoon. When she eventually gained control of her motor functions, she was entrusted with tortilla duty in her grandmother’s kitchen. From then on it was near impossible to get her out of that tiny, Missouri kitchen. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism, Rachel decided to go back into the kitchen professionally. Having just finished her culinary arts degree at Kendall College she is anxious to start work at one of Chicago’s food nonprofits to help alleviate the pressures of food access issues in Chicago. In her spare time, Rachel enjoys cuddling her puppy, haphazardly doing yoga, and writing about herself in the third person.