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you can buy your local strawberries

you can buy your local strawberries

 

hurry, season almost over!

...or pick your own as I did with my granddaughter

…or pick your own as I did with my granddaughter

Okay, no excuses here. Somehow the month of June has — or is — slipping past me all too quickly. Strawberries here in Connecticut were a bit late this year due to the cool spring. Then, the past week, we’ve had tropical summer temperatures. According to local farm stands, the berries will disappear within the next few days. So, here’s something that you can do to quickly capture the local strawberry experience all winter long. I stress local because in my taste bud’s opinion, there is simply no point in strawberries unless they are local and in season. The others may be beautiful, but they are generally all for show. Bred to be large, beautiful, and easily transported. Okay, enough sermonizing. Here’s the plan: strawberry freezer jam!

strawberry freezer jam — kid’s play

This really is a great activity to share with your favorite little one!

This really is a great activity to share with your favorite little one!

In my Can It! book, I have a recipe for strawberry freezer jam and tell how I used to make this with my kids when they were preschool age. Well, now I’m making it with my preschool grandkids. It’s that easy. I made a batch last weekend and timed myself. From start to finish — including all prep and clean up , everything back in its place and six lovely jars of jam waiting to freeze — took me about fifty minutes. That’s less time than going to the store to buy some jam. And the flavor of freezer jam is amazing. Because you don’t cook the berries, they keep their full, fresh, just-picked flavor. (Sounds like a commercial, doesn’t it, but it’s true.)

recipe for strawberry freezer jam

Yield: 5-6 half-pints Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mashed strawberries (just about a quart)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 box (1.75 oz.) dry pectin (such as Sure-Jell or Certo)
  • 3/4 cup of water (or the amount required on the pectin that you purchase)

method

  1. Thoroughly wash and rinse freezer containers. Straight-sided plastic in one- and two-cup sizes are best, but glass jelly jars can also be used as long as you leave sufficient head space, i.e, room at the top for expansion.
  2. Thoroughly wash berries and remove and compost stems. Cut in halves or quarters to make mashing easier.
  3. Measure exact amount of sugar.
  4. Mash the strawberries and measure exact amount. Do not use a blender, a potato masher is perfect. You want the jam to have some texture.
    4b: Here are the berries mashed up

    4b: Here are the berries mashed up

    4a. Mash the strawberries, one layer at a time. here I'm just starting.

    4a. Mash the strawberries, one layer at a time. here I’m just starting.

  5. Add the sugar to the mashed strawberries; stir until it’s mixed together, and let it stand for ten minutes.

    5. Stir until the sugar and berries are completely mixed. I've still got a ways to go here.

    5. Stir until the sugar and berries are completely mixed. I’ve still got a ways to go here.

  6. Dissolve dry pectin in water and boil for one minute.
  7. Add the pectin/water mixture to the fruit/sugar mixture and stir constantly for three minutes. The sugar should be pretty well dissolved, though you may see a few grains.

    8. Pouring jam into my jelly jars. I use my canning funnel to make it easier.

    8. Pouring jam into my jelly jars. I use my canning funnel to make it easier.

  8. Put the jam in straight-sided freezer containers, being sure to allow one-half inch headspace for expansion when frozen. Put top on containers.
  9. Let it stand at room temperature until set, usually twenty-four hours.
  10. Label and date. Store in refrigerator for three weeks or in freezer for up to one year. Trust me, you’ll eat them way before then! When ready to use, thaw in the refrigerator. When you spread it on your morning toast, you’ll be transported back to summer.
9. Let stand for up to 24 hours, until jam is set.

9. Let stand for up to 24 hours, until jam is set.

finally cleared driveway to the street!

finally cleared driveway to the street!

Last Friday night, we in central Connecticut got somewhere between two and three feet of snow. I waited patiently all day for it to pick up momentum, but it wasn’t until after sunset that the action really began. It was a perfect storm (for us — others, who lost power were not so fortunate), perfectly beautiful, perfectly peaceful. Yes, there was a fair amount of cleanup afterward — our only exit from the house was through the garage since the 33″ on snow prevented us from opening our doors.

can't you just smell it?

can’t you just smell it?

the perfect bread for the perfect blizzard

So Saturday we spent the better part of the day trying to extricate ourselves from the house. A major victory was when we cut a swath from the garage and made it to the street. On cold days like this (temps in low single digits), warm, homemade bread soothes the soul and loads the carbs. But what do you do when you don’t have time to make bread? Answer: you make No-knead bread. I take no credit for this recipe. It appeared a few years ago on the New York Times and is credited to Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. There are lots of other recipes out there, but I can vouch for this one. I was skeptical my first time, but this bread is everything it claims to be. There is little to no work involved, no kneading, and close to 100% success rate. You simply stir the ingredients together (flour, water, little bit of yeast, and salt), cover it, and let those microbes take their time to create a crusty, sourdough-tasting boule.

so what’s the deal?

The “deal” is that you trade work for time. All this bread asks of you is a little advance timing. While I’ve been known to rush the process and still enjoy a wonderful result, this dough likes anywhere from fourteen to twenty hours to rise. The baking method is a bit unconventional, and key to the process. Rather than baking in the typical loaf pans in a 350 degree oven, you’ll bake this loaf in a preheated Dutch Oven at 450 degrees, covered  for most of the baking time. I use a cast-iron, enamel clad Dutch Oven. And don’t grease the pan.

So Friday night — taking a chance that we wouldn’t lose power — I took the five minutes required to quickly stir up the ingredients. Dinner on Saturday night after a day in the snow featured this warm, flavorful bread with pools of olive oil for dipping. Honestly, it didn’t matter if there were anything else for dinner.

Even if you don’t bake bread, give this a try. It really is as easy as it claims!

no-knead bread recipe

Also see YouTube video by Mark Bittman

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with lid or plastic wrap. I put the dough in my Dutch Oven and put the lid on. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 to 20, at warm room temperature.

you don't really need to use a mixer for this. often I simply stir the ingredients in the same bowl I use to raise the dough

you don’t really need to use a mixer for this. often I simply stir the ingredients in the same bowl I use to raise the dough

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. It may be quite sticky, but don’t worry. Just use a bit more flour on your hands. And don’t try to knead it, just fold it over a few times to squeeze out some of the air bubbles. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

dough in bowl, ready to raise. sometimes -- depending upon the moisture -- dough will be softer than this, don't worry, that works too.

dough in bowl, ready to raise. sometimes — depending upon the moisture — dough will be softer than this, don’t worry, that works too.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Again, don’t worry if it’s stickier than your usual bread dough. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

when raised, dough will be soft with surface covered with air bubbles

when raised, dough will be soft with surface covered with air bubbles

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel,  ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

the finished product!

the finished product!

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