Strawberries. Practically everyone loves them! Imagine yourself reaching down to pluck a ripe, red strawberry right off the vine. Still warm from the sun, fragrant and juicy. Or, have you ever had the chance to go to a strawberry farm and walk along the fields trying each different variety? ‘Sparkle’, ‘Honeoye’, ‘Annapolis’, just to name a few. What is it about strawberries? Whether you like them in strawberry smoothies, shortcakes, pies or jams, strawberries are extremely versatile!
A Little About Strawberries
The strawberrry is from the genus Fragaria. They are literally delicious, fleshy seed containing vessels. The berries are high in vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. But, I have to say that I’m drawn to strawberries for their flavor!
There are basically four different kinds of strawberries. There are June bearing varieties, Ever-bearing types, Day-neutral and alpine. The first three listed are typical looking strawberries but the last, alpine or fraises des bois, is a smaller European type grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. I had a row of these in the past and I would really like to get some new plants. They grow well from seed and make a fantastic border plant, even for a perennial bed or herb garden. The alpine strawberry is not a heavy bearer, but do produce berries over a long time period. They are more like wild strawberries than the cultivated ones. They do not have runners so they stay where you want them.
You will need a sunny, protected spot for your strawberry bed. A place in your vegetable garden or a raised bed could work well. Well drained, fertile soil is ideal.
Choose bare root plants from your local garden center or they can be purchased by mail. A home gardener could start with as little as 25 plants and go from there. Getting a strawberry bed going is a multi-year process. You can find an abundance of planting info in the article at Bulletin #2067, Growing Strawberries from the University of Maine Extension. This is just one of many articles.
I definitely need help with my berry growing skills. I do manage to harvest about one berry a day from our meager little patch! Of course, if I didn’t value my veggies so much I could expand my efforts.
This year, our favorite strawberry farm, Sand Hill Farm in Somerville, Maine, was not open to the public. In my search for information on the berry farm, I found an article from a few years back that explained a lot of the in’s and out’s of strawberry production. It is called Sand Hill Farm-Happiness and Profit from Organic Strawberries on mofga.org. I was pretty disappointed to say the least. My kind of picking is to show up and in under an hour have all that I need for the year. I used to on occasion bring two teenage boys with me and really clean house in no time!
Low Sugar Jam
One day, many years ago, I set out to make my first batch of jam on my own. Having just picked a bevy of berries, I flipped open my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook only to find that a traditional strawberry jam recipe called for 4 cups of sugar! Gulp! How could this be? A ratio of one to one! Thus my quest for a lower sugar jam recipe ensued.
A trip to the local health food store produced the purchase of a packet of Pomona’s Universal Pectin. There are other brands that offer low sugar jelling agents such as Ball and Surejell. I started making so many variations of jams that I’m sure my friends were sick of them! The taste of the jam was wonderful. Having way less sweetener allowed the true flavors to shine through.
Low Sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
After washing the strawberries and rhubarb, I followed the Pomona’s recipe. For this batch I used 2 cups of mashed berries and 2 cups of chopped rhubarb. I mashed the berries and cut the rhubarb into 1/4” pieces.
After following the steps outlined in Pomona’s instructions, pour jam into sterilized jars and process according to directions.
There are so many jam recipes and combinations out there. Freezer jams are very popular especially if you have freezer space. This is just one that turned out good for me. It seems that there is really no good reason to add all of that sugar.
Our gardens have been very dry here on the coast of Maine. The beautiful weather has been a welcomed change from many past rainy June’s. Yesterday we got 2 1/2” of rain. I guess I can hold off on the watering for a while! Have a terrific week and I hope that you can get your hands on some scrumptious strawberries!