Using Your U-Pick Bounty

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So you’ve visited the U-pick farm and enjoyed the hard but rewarding work of picking pint after pint of strawberries. But what should you do with your bounty when you get it home? After I’ve unloaded the bags and plastic containers onto every available surface in my kitchen, the first thing I do is pour a few handfuls of strawberries into a colander. I rinse them quickly with cold water and carry the colander out to my back deck, where I allow myself to devour fresh berries for a good 15 minutes before I return inside. The berries are still warm from the sun and only 30 minutes old, and they’re scrumptious. Then I survey the pounds and pounds of strawberries covering my countertops and spilling into the sink and ponder my options (besides eating them fresh): freezing, preserving, and/or baking.

My favorite thing to do is simply freeze the berries and use them throughout the winter in smoothies, muffins, or desserts. First, de-stem the berries, put them in a colander, and gently wash them. Pat them dry, or, alternatively, spread them out on kitchen towels and allow to air-dry. When the berries are perfectly dry, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer for about two hours (or whenever you remember they’re in there!). They should be frozen by then, and you can pour them into freezer bags and seal tightly. This method prevents the berries from clumping together and allows you to measure out exactly how many you want for a recipe.

Another option is to preserve, can, pickle, or dehydrate your stash. One of the easiest things to make is freezer jam—it’s super simple, even for non-chefs like me. You need strawberries, sugar, and pectin, a thickener. Pectin can be found at any larger grocery store, usually in the baking aisle.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

  • Mix 2 cups of crushed strawberries with 4 cups of sugar (or less if you prefer tart jam). Let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, stir 1 package (1.75 ounces) of pectin into ¾ cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 1 minute.
  • Stir boiling water into the strawberry-sugar mixture and let stand for 3 minutes. Pour into clean glass jars, plastic tubs, or other storage containers with tight-fitting lids.
  • Put the lids on and allow the containers to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Place in freezer and store until you’re ready to use. (Note that the consistency of freezer jam will be looser than that of typical store-bought jams, which just makes it easier to spread on your toast or spoon over your ice cream!)

I’m not much of a cook—I leave that to my husband—but I do enjoy making pies and crisps, and with these fresh-off-the-farm fruits, I know that almost everything I make will be delicious. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for strawberry pie (scroll down for recipe). You can also make your own traditional pie crust. Have some rhubarb handy? Strawberry-rhubarb is a match made in heaven. Just combine 2 cups of strawberries with 3 cups of chopped rhubarb, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and 1½ cups of sugar; mound it all into a bottom crust; top with a top crust; and bake for 35 minutes at 400°F for an old-fashioned strawberry-rhubarb pie that tastes just like summer.

T. J. Ford is a health and fiscal fitness coach, educator, and writer who usually eats dessert first. She lives with her husband and their cat, Kiwi, in Portland, OR.


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