Happy Strawberry SUMMER!
It's finally SUMMER! No matter where you are, it's a season to be celebrated - longer days, warmer nights, school is out, vacations are on the horizon (hopefully!), and well, it seems that during this time of year, we tend to spend more time just relaxing.
The warm weather arrived with a bang here in the mid-west and we took full advantage two weekends ago. We spent a Saturday afternoon in the strawberry fields, just outside of Amish Country. It was beautiful. And hot. And sweaty. And yes, in the beginning, the kiddos complained the whole time...
Kid #1: It's HOT! Kid #2: What do you mean we have to pick strawberries?! Kid #3: Can I have some water? Kid #4 (yes, I took an extra child with me...): This is FUN! And off we went into the strawberry fields with our buckets, bottled water, sunscreen, and a few smiles.
It was totally worth it and we ended up having a good time. In fact, after two hours, the new complaint became...why do we have to leave? I'm not done picking strawberries!
We ended up picking about 6 lbs. of strawberries and as I explained to the girls, we would soon reap the fruits of our labor. They didn't get the quote, looked at me like I had two heads and then proceeded to ask if we could make strawberry ice cream. 😉
You know the best thing about taking four kids with you to pick strawberries? You have ten (including mine!) hands to clean and sort all those strawberries. Very efficient!
So, we washed, dried, hulled, and ATE lots of those strawberries while discussing what we were going to make with this deliciously sweet, early summer treat. We made a list: strawberry-chocolate chip pancakes, strawberry-chocolate chip ice cream, strawberry jam, and for mama bear, a strawberry cocktail! Yes, we love chocolate and sounded a bit like Forrest Gump with his shrimp, but we were totally good with that!
Before we jump into the list of what we made with the fresh strawberries, I want to point out that I am addicted to smoothies. I have one faithfully every morning so I'm very excited to have hand-picked sweet strawberries to add to my smoothies in the coming weeks. I quickly put quite a few of these babies in snack-size bags and popped them in the freezer. That was easy!
The next morning, we made the first recipe on our list: Strawberry-Chocolate Chip Pancakes. This is quite easy and really no recipe is needed. Simply chop fresh strawberries into bite-size pieces, grab some mini chocolate chips, mix up your favorite pancake batter and you have warm, melted chocolate-strawberry YUMMINESS on a breakfast plate! The kids loved sprinkling the chips and strawberries on the pancake batter. Recipe #1 was a hit!
For recipe #2, we decided that Strawberry Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream was the perfect cold treat for the start of summer. I hadn't used my ice cream maker in a very long time and I almost got rid of it earlier this year. I'm so glad I didn't because, holy cow, this ice cream was GOOD!
In my haste to get home after work, rushing through the grocery, I accidentally grabbed whipping cream instead of heavy cream. Why do ice cream companies not make their ice cream with this stuff? Talk about creamy, light, delicious frozen heaven! It was one of the best mistakes I ever made! So, what I thought was a borrowed recipe, turned out to be my own version. So here you go:
Strawberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
1 1/2 cups of fresh strawberries
1 cup of Chocolate Chips
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Note: Be sure to put your ice cream maker container in the freezer for several hours (or overnight) before making the liquid ingredients.
Start by putting the strawberries in a blender or food processor to blend. I added a little whipping cream here to help the strawberries mix a little more, so feel free to do the same. I didn't completely puree the strawberries since I like bigger pieces of fruit in my ice cream. But do what you like!
Then place the sugar, vanilla, milk and whipping cream in a bowl and use a hand mixer to blend just to dissolve the sugar. Slowly add the strawberries into the sugar/cream bowl and mix until just blended.
Once this is blended, slowly pour the mixture into the ice cream maker. Attach the paddle, turn on the machine and MAGIC! I waited about five minutes or so before I let the kids have at it and add the chocolate chips. They were SO excited!
Mix the ice cream until frozen (you'll know when it's done) and then enjoy fresh soft-serve ice cream immediately, or place the ice cream in a freezer container and wait an hour or two for it to firm up. We couldn't wait and ate the soft-serve version, topped with (oh, yes!) more chocolate!
Now comes Recipe #3 and I have to admit, it's my first attempt at making Strawberry Jam. I borrowed the recipe from this talented blogger and she makes it look so easy. I think I may try this again so there are a few things that I'll adjust, but I'll get to that in a moment.
This recipe is so simple (by the way, is anyone noticing a theme with my cooking - SIMPLE!). It has just a few ingredients and doesn't require pectin. It's a soft-set jam and the key is getting just the right consistency. Oh, and one key hint: do NOT use your meat sauce spoon to stir the cooking jam. Oh, yes, I did and that was FAIL #1. So, that batch went in the trash and back to cooking I went...
2 lbs. of strawberries
2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
(...seriously, that's it!)
Heavy sauce pan
Tall stock pot
Muddler (you know, the thing you use to make a mojito!)
Note: The key to making jam with no pectin is to not reduce measurements of any of the ingredients. The measurements listed above are the exact combination to make the jam the right consistency.
Put the strawberries and sugar in a large bowl and use the muddler to hand-crush the fruit. The kids helped with this since they love smashing the strawberries! If you don't have a muddler, you can use the back of a wooden spoon and crush the fruit against the side of the bowl.
Once the fruit is crushed, place the strawberries/sugar mixture and lemon juice in a heavy sauce pan. On the stove, stir the mixture constantly over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pan and slowly increase the heat, watching for the temperature to reach 220 degrees. You will need to stir almost constantly since the mixture will begin to thicken quickly. As soon as the temperature reaches 220 degrees, which is about 20-25 minutes of cooking time, the jam is done.
Pour the jam in sanitized jars (see below) and the jam will keep while refrigerated, for up to 1 month.
If you want to can or preserve the jam for up to one year, you need to follow the steps below:
So, whether you plan on eating the jam right away or preserving your batch to savor throughout the year, you need to sanitize your mason jars. It's really quite simple: wash the jars and lids in warm soapy water, boil a large stock pot of water, place the jars in the boiling water and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. CAREFULLY remove the jars from the pot, place on a baking sheet and place in a 300 degree oven until ready to add the jam.
When sanitizing the lids, save this part for last. After removing the glass jars, add the lids and inserts into the boiling water, turn off the heat and allow the metal parts to sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. CAREFULLY remove the lids and they're ready for use!
To preserve the jam, add the fruit mixture to the jars, place the lids on top and CAREFULLY place the jars into a pan of boiling water (enough to cover up to the lids). Allow the jam to simmer in the boiling water for around 10 minutes. Remove the jars and allow the jam to cool to room temperature. The cool thing - you'll eventually hear a POP! of the jam lid - this means that the jar is properly sealed. The kids got a kick out of that!
And finally, after ALL of that - a (you guessed it!) SIMPLE cocktail for mama!
I took a tall glass, some ice cubes, a pre-made margarita mix, quickly crushed some of those great frozen berries and...CHEERS!
Summer has arrived and I wish it would stay all year long, but there's a beauty to the change of seasons. I have learned to love all of them in their own way. But we will certainly celebrate summer for as long as we can.
The Beatles got it right when they wrote the song Strawberry Fields...we wish they were forever! But instead, I'll cherish this memory and the delicious food we made with our special day.
A Strawberry Bridge - a fun one to cross!
Happy Summer, y'all!