I knew that it was going to rain today, and so I made time to go down to The Fruit and Berry Patch to pick the first (for me) strawberries of the season. Here in East Tennessee, strawberries have actually already been around for a couple of weeks, but I've been resisting buying them, even at markets, saving myself for the enormous satisfaction of picking them myself. So yesterday afternoon, putting down ungraded papers and leaving the landlord in the middle of fixing a window that was broken during last week's hail storm, I went to pick strawberries. I think this is the first time that I've ever been berry-picking alone. When I started out, I was alone in the strawberry field--it was mid-afternoon, and the sun made the berries practically radiate that ripe strawberry smell. It was a wonderfully sweaty and gratifying experience; I picked ten pounds of berries, most of which are already designated for various projects.
After I learned how to can (only a year and a half ago?!), and then canned barbecue sauce in the fall, strawberry jam was my first spring project. It turned out fine, but it wasn't anything to write about (and I didn't, in fact); it was runny, and a little over-cooked, and a little too sweet for me. I liked it fine, but I think there's still a jar of it left. So I took it upon myself to try and make a strawberry jam that would translate the true flavor and excitement of the berries that I love so much. I looked to other bloggers for inspiration, and can say that the first strawberry jam of the season--strawberry-rhubarb jam--was a great success.
I didn't have a lemon on hand, so I substituted the lemon zest in the recipe with orange zest. This jam came out still tart, and even though I had slightly less rhubarb than the recipe suggested, it came out wonderfully. I can't quite tell that the rhubarb is in the jam, but the strawberry flavor somehow seems more genuine--maybe it's the sharpness of the rhubarb that carries it through.
I have some strawberries macerating in the fridge, awaiting another jam project; strawberries--I now know--signal the beginning of the full-swing canning season. After strawberries, the blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and plums come rolling in, one right after the other. And I'm looking forward to it all.
If you're looking for something to do with all these strawberries that are going to be pouring in for the next few weeks, and need a little guidance with canning (or if you would just like to try a new recipe), you can sign up for one of the upcoming canning classes--there's one next Saturday. Let me know if you are interested, and please--spread the word to your friends. There's very little that is more exciting than opening a jar of home-canned strawberry jam, and being reminded of the wonderful flavor of fresh-picked strawberries during the month of November!