Strawberry Preserves

Earlier this month in Nashville, the rains came down, the floods came up, and a building floated down the interstate. We were lucky and escaped with only a wet basement. However, many more were not so fortunate, including “our” farmers, the Delvins, who lost 70% of their crops, including about 90% of their strawberries.


I can’t begin to tell you the lengths we went to in order to save the crops. We stood in pouring rain, lightning, and winds assembling pumps in the strawberries to pump water to drainage areas. We walked in waist high water in our greenhouses at 9 p.m. in total darkness pulling plants from the racks (which thankfully had not been reached by the water) and moving them to trailers and out of harm’s way. Through it all we feel very fortunate. We still have crops that the water did not reach, our homes are not affected and no injuries….Through all the calamities, tragedies and silliness such as birds carrying off the strawberries one at a time, we have cried and laughed with you all, but one thought resonates; you put your trust in us and we will not let you down.

from their blog


And they didn’t. While their fields may have been ruined by the torrential rains, their spirit wasn’t. They cleaned up and replanted. They are farmers. They “just do it” - day in and day out, in droughts, and in floods. They persevered and saved 10% of their strawberries, and I, in turn, made preserves.


Strawberry Preserves

pieced together from Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber, The Good Stuff Cookbook by Helen Witty, and Dixie on Chowhound

makes about 5 cups (36 - 40 ounces) of berry goodness

Although this method takes 3 days, the hands-on cooking time is actually quite short. Yes, there are faster ways, but I prefer this method because it better preserves the bright, fresh taste and texture of the strawberries. By macerating strawberries in sugar overnight and then cooking the syrup, not the berries, for the bulk of the time you get soft-set preserves with big berry chunks and distinct fresh-strawberry flavor. Delicious on toast, biscuits, pancakes, PBJ’s, yogurt, ice cream, or just straight off the spoon!

  • generous 1½ quarts (2½ pounds) strawberries (2¼ pounds net, after hulling)
  • 4 cups (1 pound 12 ounces or 28 ounces) granulated sugar
  • juice of 1½ lemons (for pectin and to brighten the flavor)

Rinse, dry, and hull the strawberries. Half or quarter large berries and leave small berries whole. Macerate the strawberries with the lemon juice and sugar in a ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowl in the refrigerator overnight, covered. Stir them gently a few times while they chill so that all the sugar dissolves.

The following day, scrape the berries and syrup into a preserving pan, dutch oven, or large (12-inch) saute pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil it briskly for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the berries and syrup into a bowl and cool uncovered. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

On the third day, pour this berry mixture into a colander or sieve set into your pan. Let all the syrup drain into the pan and set the berries aside. Bring the collected syrup to a boil and cook on high heat until you reach 220°F* on a candy thermometer.

Add the partly cooked strawberries. Gently stir and return to a boil on high heat. Boil the preserves until the berries are translucent and the syrup reaches 220°F again*. Remove from heat. (As a precaution against overcooking, start checking the set at around 218°F with what’s called the frozen plate test. While the jam is cooking, put a small plate in the freezer. When the bubbles are subsiding and the jam seems to be thickening ever-so slightly, remove the pot from the burner. Put a few drops of the jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer. Check the set after a few minutes by nudging it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it’s done. If not, heat it a bit more and test again.)

Skim off any foam (I must confess I usually don’t bother) and stir the preserves gently from time to time for 5 minutes, to prevent the fruit from floating in the jars. Ladle the preserves into hot, clean canning jars, leaving ¼-inch of headspace. (To sterilize the jars and lids, place them in a 225°F oven for 5 minutes.) Wipe off the tops of the jars with a paper towel dipped in boiling water to ensure that no drips get in the way of the seal.

Seal the jars by the inversion method - immediately turning the hot jars upside down on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then flip them right side up and wait to hear the “ping!” to know they’ve sealed.

However, to be on the safe side and guarantee no mold in your jars - although I’ve not had a problem with that and, besides, can’t you just scrape it off? - the USDA recommends processing the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath instead. (My lawyer older brother made me include that! Though, seriously, I would use this canning method only for jams or preserves. For everything else, use a water bath or pressure canner as directed.) Cool, label, and store the jars in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a year.

*This is if you’re at sea level. The jell point temperature is 8°F higher than the boiling point of water. For sea level, it’s 212°F+8°F=220°F. For each 1000 feet above sea level, subtract 2°F from 220°F. For specifics, see here.

Note: I like to double this recipe but use 2 separate bowls so the preserves don’t burn.

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