Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Strawberry Pick

We have chard, onions, and a whole lot of garlic at the farm. I could fill my closet full of romanesco, our porch is covered by an enormous apple basket of flowers and zucchini is tumbling out of the truck. Despite my abundance, I don’t have a strawberry; heaven knows there isn’t an animal around who doesn’t like a berry in the summertime. It is enough to send a farm girl 75 miles up the 101 to Helmut Klauer’s Classic Organic farm to put some homemade strawberry jam in the pantry.

Cheryl Palmer and I cruised up the Coast Hwy to our own personal soundtrack of Brandi Carlile taking advantage of one of the last school days of the year. Along the way, we spoke of local food. We are some of the lucky ones who eat fresh from the farm, have friends drop by with homemade bread, and know the local wine makers. We mused that the reach of local food is much beyond our little food community in Ventura County. From Ojai, California the 100 mile “local” extends through Santa Barbara and down to Los Angeles- lucky for us since our valley is too hot for growing strawberries in summer; and lucky them, we get heirloom tomatoes in June.

We wore our usual get up for farm work, cowboy boots, long sleeves and a hat. I could see in their smile, the workers at Classic Organic tagged us as suburbanites dressed for the part. I enjoyed our little secret. Cheryl and I meet up every week to pick vegetables for Rio Gozo Farm’s Ventura CSA program and we are country. We know how to select a radicchio, bunch kale and dig a carrot.

After the pick we denim-dirty boot clad girls had lunch in Montecito in a room full of well-heeled women. No one seemed to mind. Then we headed home to pick up the kids and turn our berries into jam. The neighbors came over and gathered around the kitchen as we cooked. We uncorked an Evan’s Ranch Syrah gathered that day and clinked our Ball jars as if to say: it wasn’t so much that we followed our grandmother’s instincts to pick our own food and put it up, or that doing so was even cost effective, nor am I sure it is the best strawberry jam in the market (although it is the best I’ve tasted), but it was the perfect way to spend the day.

Strawberry Jam in a Day

(makes approximately 14 pints)

You will need:

8 cups of ripe strawberries picked that day, washed and hulled (do not use old, overly ripe berries)

3-4 cups organic sugar (depends on taste)

1 box Pomona’s Universal Pectin (4 teaspoons calcium water, 4 teaspoons pectin powder)

2 lemons

For canning you will need:

Large canner

14 glass pint jars with lids and rings

Jar grabber and lid magnet

Tea towels

Ladle and large spoon

Jar funnel

Step one:

Prepare jars. Wash and sterilize jars. Bring lids to a boil and let stand in hot water.

Bring water to a boil in the canner for the water bath.

Step two:

Prepare fruit. Wash, remove stems and hulls, cut into halves or quarters.

Measure 4 teaspoons of pectin and put into a large bowl with the sugar. Set aside.

Make the calcium water. ½ teaspoon calcium powder and ½ cup water in a small, clear jar with lid. You will only use a portion of the calcium water. Store the rest for a later use in the refrigerator. Measure 4 cups of strawberries.

Add ½ cup lemon juice and 4 teaspoons of calcium water (shake well before using)

Cook on medium high heat in a large cast iron pot. Bring to a boil.

When berries are soft, use a plunge blender to macerate. If you like your jam chunky leave some whole fruit.

Add pectin-sugar little by little, stirring constantly while cooking to dissolve pectin. Return to boil and remove from heat.

Step three:

Fill jars with jam to ¼ inch of top. Wipe rims clean with the wet towel. Screw on two-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water in the canner to cover. Boil 10 minutes (add one minute more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level).

Remove from water and let jars cool.

Do not disturb jars, lids should seal while cooling and you will hear a pop. If lids are not sucked down, you may repeat the canning process (check to make sure there is no jam between rim and seal. Pectin completes it jell when thoroughly cool. Lasts about 3 weeks once opened.

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There is plenty of gozo at Rio Gozo Farm. That is JOY in Spanish and joy is one of the most dependable products we have. Gozo is commonly found in gardens and farms. Once you get a little gozo up and going it is very tolerant of most pests, withstands dry periods, and grows with a modicum of fertilizer. After gozo becomes a staple of one's diet, it goes with about anything. Actually folks crave it so much it is a wonder everyone does not have a patch of it growing close at hand. Grab up some gozo and get with the flow.