Can you believe that I don’t have a single jar of strawberry jam left in the
garage pantry? I feel like I spent half of last summer preserving strawberries, but in reality, I guess not: there was this Ferberesque strawberry rhubarb jam, but I made it in San Francisco and left it with my friend Christina; there was this Can Jam strawberry rhubarb & caramelized onion jam, but I made that way back in March with frozen berries (sensing a trend, here?); there was a simple fruit syrup, and a dessert sauce with amaretto, but, in the end, not a lot of strawberry jam ended up in my larder.
What I do have? A lot of frozen strawberries. Since I was away during most of strawberry season last year, Tai was a champ and went picking at Jones Family Farms a couple of times for us, whilst I was traipsing across South Africa. I hulled some and he hulled some and we tucked bags & bags into the chest freezer, whereupon they got buried under an avalanche of kale, corn, bell peppers, zucchini, and blueberries. Now that it is March and we’ve been steadily eating the chest freezer supplies, the strawberries have resurfaced, and just in time: I have been longing for some summer fruit, but fresh strawberries are still at least 3 months away here in New York.
I have to admit that, after 9 months of freezer storage, these berries were a bit freezer-burned (mostly because some husband-who-shall-not-be-named forgot the cardinal rule of Ziploc freezer storage: always double-bag). While I wanted whole fruit, I didn’t think these would do much in a pie or dessert as they were a bit dried out; in addition, last year’s hot sun combined with ample rain yielded great, big strawberries, yet they grew so fast that the flavor was not very intense. So, to preserve some whole fruit, but intensify flavor, I opted for a Ferberesque multi-day maceration to ultimately yield whole berries (shrunken, as Tigress puts it) swimming in a thick, concentrated syrup of their own juices. And because I gotta be me, I tossed a few chipotle peppers into the mix.
The result? Quite nice. Soft, plump whole berries, swimming in a smoky, spicy-sweet berry syrup. I’ve already used a jar to braise a turkey breast and the resulting dish was (dare I say) delicious. I tweaked the recipe a bit over the week to dial back the chipotle (see Options for details) and I still think I could dial back a touch more, as I think it overwhelms the strawberry flavor just a touch. But it was perfect in the savory turkey dish, and over ice cream Tai says he tastes primarily strawberry; in fact it seems the smoky chipotle intensifies the strawberry flavor. At any rate, this is good enough that, despite taking up fridge real estate for a week during the maceration phase, I’m already planning another batch. And since the below recipe was a small, test-batch, I plan on doubling it: I heartily recommend that you do the same.
- 2 lbs strawberries, washed, hulled and left whole (fresh or frozen)
- 12 oz (3/4 cup) sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- 1/2 cup filtered water
- zest (1 heaping tbsp) & juice (about 1/3 cup) of 1 large organic lemon
- 2 dried chipotle peppers, stems removed, coarsely chopped (I included all the seeds)
- pinch salt
- 2 tbsp honey
- Day 1. If berries are frozen, rinse under warm water to begin thawing. Combine strawberries, sugar, water, lemon zest & juice, chipotle peppers and salt in a heat-proof bowl. Mix well and allow to macerate, at room temperature for a few hours, to allow juice to be drawn out of the berries, then refrigerated overnight, for up to 24 hours.
- Day 2. Strain juice from berries into a large pot or preserving pan. Bring syrup to a boil an boil for 5 minutes. Return berries to bowl, pour hot juice over fruit, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Day 3. Transfer berries & juice to a preserving pan. Bring to a simmer. (Stir minimally, if at all; remember you want to preserve the berries intact.) Remove from heat, cover, and allow to rest, at room temperature or refrigerated, for about 8 hours. Bring to a simmer again, then return to the heat-proof bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Day 4. Repeat Day 3: bring fruit to a simmer twice during the day, about 8 (ish) hours apart. Refrigerate overnight.
- Day 5. Repeat Day 3 once again. Refrigerate overnight.
- Day 6. Prepare canner, jars & lids.
- Strain juice from berries into your preserving pan (strawberry juice will foam a lot; I use a 5-quart Dutch oven for this step). The juice will have thickened considerably over the week; gently stir the berries, taking care not to break/bruise the whole fruit, to yield all of the syrupy juice; leave the berries draining over the bowl. Taste juice and add honey if desired.
- Bring the juice to a full boil; continue to boil over high heat, stirring minimally if at all, until most foam has subsided and the syrup begins to bubble thickly (about 218 degrees F). Immediately add strawberries and any additional juice that has strained into the bowl. Gently stir berries into syrup; return to a boil. Cook at a low boil for another 2 minutes to heat the berries through, or until the syrup returns to 218 degrees F. Turn off heat, and with a slotted spoon, pack fruit into hot sterilized jars to 1/2-inch headspace. Ladle piping hot syrup over fruit to 1/4-inch headspace. Carefully remove air bubbles, wipe rims, affix lids and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Yields about 3 cups (recipe can easily be doubled).
- True confessions: I actually added 3 chipotle peppers to my recipe. After a couple of days of simmering & reducing, I decided that the strawberry flavor was being overwhelmed by smoky chipotle flavor. So I popped a jar of my strawberry syrup and added that to the mix. It toned down the chipotle flavor sufficiently, which is why I think 2 chipotles will be perfect; if you want just a hint of smoky chiptole however, you should probably go with only 1 pepper. When canning, at the end I had almost exactly one 8-oz jar of syrup leftover, so I do believe the amount of fruit and sugar stated above will yield sufficient syrup to cover the berries.
- As usual, you can adjust to amount of sugar here without regard to canning safety, but you will impact the texture of the syrup.
- I stopped cooking the syrup at 218 degrees because I did not want to form a solid gel (in fact, when it seemed like my jars might be setting up I shook them to discourage the gel); what I was shooting for was a thick, syrupy glaze, just barely pourable, but not “set.” If you would rather yield a more traditional set, with whole berries suspended in jelly, continue cooking the syrup until it reaches 220 degrees F; you may also want to add 1 cup of pectin in order to avoid overcooking the berries once you add them back to the syrup. Since I did add a jar of my strawberry syrup, which contains corn syrup, your mileage may vary; watch the syrup carefully as you boil, use the frozen plate test as well as a thermometer, and stop as soon as you think you are there. Either way, set or not, you will find plenty of uses for this preserve, so there is not much risk in making a mistake.
- You can replace whole dried chipotle peppers with ground chipotle; Tigress used 1 tsp ground chipotle to 3 lbs strawberries in her smokin’ strawberry preserves.
- I processed these jars for only 5 minutes, to encourage a good seal but minimize cooking the whole berries. In this instance, it is particularly important to sterilize your jars first, and fill with piping hot syrup, as 5 minutes is not long enough to sterilize the internal contents. If you have any safety concerns, feel free to process your jars for 10 minutes, which is the standard recommendation for all high-acid jams & preserves.
Canned, in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.
Spring, or year round with frozen strawberries.