From my weekly food blog for The Independent Florida Alligator, Chomp & Chew
Celebrate spring by picking strawberries, making jam
Becca Goldring, Alligator Blogger | Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012 12:15 am
The month of April is one of the best times to live in Florida, especially in Gainesville. There’s something alluring about this near perfect weather that beckons you to be outside as often as possible.
A great activity for this time of year is visiting a U-pick farm to harvest some of the best fruits spring and central Florida have to offer. According to localharvest.org, in Florida, blueberries, strawberries, peaches and nectarines are all currently in season. April is the best month to U-Pick Strawberries, and we happen to have a farm not too far out of Gainesville in Orange Heights. Brown’s Farm is located at 18120 NE State Road 26 and opens its doors to the public to pluck juicy, ripe strawberries from their crop all through the month of April. U-Picking is a relaxing, fun and unique way to spend an afternoon in, and the best part is enjoying your bounty after arriving home!
Strawberries can be stacked on shortcake, covered in rich chocolate or blended into smoothies. However, one of the best uses of strawberries is making strawberry jam that will last for months to come.
Below is a basic recipe for strawberry jam that uses only three ingredients: strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. It is important to note a batch of homemade jam typically makes a ton, so 8 oz. mason jars make perfect gifts to give away your excess. You can find a template to some fantastic DIY mason jar labels here.
2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled
4 cups white sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
In a wide bowl, crush strawberries in batches until you have 4 cups of mashed berry. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix together the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to high, and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F. Transfer to hot sterile jars, leaving ¼- to ½-inch headspace, and seal. Process in a water bath. If the jam is going to be eaten right away, don’t bother with processing and just refrigerate.
For more information on how to properly seal mason jars, click here.
If this all seems like too much work for you, check out local artisan jam maker The Illegal Jam Company, run by Stefanie Hamblen. Hamblen has been making jams since she was a high school junior but has only been serious about it in the past five years. She started by giving away mason jars full of sticky jams and jellies to her friends and family, but when she was encouraged by them to sell to the public she would say she couldn’t because it was illegal under Florida food laws.
Although the Cottage Food Act, passed in July of 2011, allows Stefanie to legally sell her jams and jellies, she still keeps the word “illegal” in her business name as a nod to her roots. Using almost all local fruits, Stefanie cooks up flavors like apple cider, blueberry lemon and strawberry margarita. Her all-time personal favorite is blackberry lime! Stephanie says the best way get perfect jams and jellies is to not rush, keep everything clean and go for taste perfection.
You can find Stefanie and her artisan jams at the Citizens Co-Op farmers market on Sundays from 2-5pm or by purchase through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.