Steamy, stormy and strawberry-y
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Early last week it felt like we were in a sauna. Temperatures hovered around 90°F (32°C) and we were lucky if it dropped below 75°F (24°C) at nighttime – the bare minimum I require in order to open the windows. Our house is very well insulated. That means we can forgo having to turn on the air conditioner – IF it only lasts for a 3-4 days and IF the temps drop at night so we can open windows. Often it’s more the humidity that drives us to turn on the a/c, not the heat. We did end up running the air for a couple of days for that reason.
This type of spring / summer heat in our area typically brings severe storms. There were reports of tornado and high winds all across the state throughout the week. With the Mississippi River and bluffs all around, we are in a low-tornado zone. Thank goodness. Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t end up straight-line winds that can bring destruction.
Case in point: We lost one of our plum trees. This was the tree that was “hit” by another storm two summers ago. We came home from a weekend trip to find it leaning to one side. Papa propped it up and tried to secure it by using a concrete slab to put pressure so it wouldn’t fall back over. This time, it fell completely over – in the opposite direction. It makes me sad. The still-standing plum tree has slightly sweeter plums, but I’m quite positive it is the plum tree that requires another tree to allow for cross-pollination. Which means unless we find another tree to replant, we won’t have any plums next year!
We finally had a break in the heat-wave just in time for the weekend and it didn’t even rain … much. We took the opportunity to hit a local pick-your-own strawberry place.
Around here, the pick-your-own places pretty much assume you’re going to sample some of the fruit while you pick :-). Little Chick didn’t sample as much as she did 3 years ago … but then again, she didn’t pick as many to take home either. She was more interested in running back and forth between Papa and I.
We should have insisted more that she help. One of her favorite foods is “strawberry jelly toast”. Actually, we use jam, not jelly but that’s what she’s always called it.
By the way, do know what the difference is between jam and jelly? Jelly is a smooth type of fruit mixture made juice and sugar (and pectin). Jam uses the fruit – crushed or mashed into pulp along with the juice. Preserves are typically is made up entirely of chunks of fruit, although they can also refer to any type of gelled fruit.
Little Chick will go through streaks where she would eat strawberry jelly toast every day for weeks (at least one meal or snack a day) if we’d let her. Sometimes we’ll remind her of the book Bread and Jam for Frances when she gets picky :-).
Last year Papa made 2 batches of strawberry jam. By March, we were having to ration it down to once jar a month to get us through to this time period. Actually, we didn’t quite make it – he bought a jar from the store. Not nearly as good as homemade. As jam ages, it gets darker. The store’s jam was darker than our 1-year old stuff; what does that tell you?!
This time we decided to pick THREE flats of strawberries to be sure we’d have enough. It didn’t take us long – an hour or less. The strawberries were quite small this year. We also had to watch carefully what we were picking. There were quite a few that looked nice and ripe … but were rotten, moldy or overripe due to the heavy rains we’ve had recently. Their strawberry patch is on a slight hill so the rains should roll off, but there has been so much rain I guess it has still collected. It’s hard for to see so much go to waste, but there’s not much I can do about it.
Another problem this year was that many of the strawberries were covered in dirt / mud (again because of the heavy rains). Usually we just give the fruit a quick rinse before processing, but this year we ended up filling the sink and swishing them around to get all the dirt off. However, that meant that we really needed to process the strawberries right away – as the tend to get soft and start to turn to mush when washed that way.
Working together, we washed, hulled, mashed, cooked and processed 22 pints of strawberry jam on Saturday. That was 4 batches of jam! If you’ve never made jam before, you have to realize that you can’t just double (or triple) the recipes. Each batch really needs to be made individually so they are sure to be measured and cooked properly. But nothing says you can’t have multiple pans of jam cooking on the stove at the same time!!
Our dream someday would be to have a summer kitchen. For now though we survive by doing lower heat activities such as cooking the jam, heating water to sterilize the lids, etc. in the indoor kitchen. We then create an outdoor kitchen for the actual canning.
We love using our turkey fryer for canning as it has enough clearance to easily fit the big canner, however turkey fryers usually come with a safety feature that require you to reset / press a button every 15 minutes. It’s to ensure you don’t leave the fryer alone for long periods of time. I understand how important that is with the hot oil. However, it’s annoying having to set a timer to remind you to reset the button for boiling water.
This year Papa decided to try out a new camp stove he found at a rummage sale. It worked really well. Enough room to work, no annoying 15-minute buttons and the best part: it’s all outdoors so the big canner doesn’t heat up our kitchen!!
After a long hard day, it’s good to kick back and relax with a fresh piece of bread … with fresh (it hadn’t even cooled completely) strawberry jam. Yum!