Strawberry season finally here at the market

May. 10, 2014 @ 11:59 AM

Strawberry season is (finally) here! In the coming weeks, more and more farmers will be bringing overflowing baskets of strawberries to the market.

The strawberry season is relatively short; it generally lasts around a month. Typically, the season lasts until early to mid-June, depending on the weather. Strawberries don't like hot and humid weather. So if we have an extended cool spring, the season might just last a little longer.

So, that means that there is around one month to get in all of your favorite strawberry treats: strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream, strawberries for breakfast, salad with strawberries and goat cheese, strawberries with sugar, strawberries with French toast, strawberries with yogurt, strawberry pie -- the strawberry possibilities are endless!

Of course, not all strawberries are equally delicious. There are over 600 varieties of strawberries and the flavor can vary tremendously. Some are sweeter, some have a longer shelf life and some ripen earlier than others. Generally, smaller berries are more flavorful than larger berries. Local farmers tend to choose varieties for their flavor instead of ones that can travel long distances, so the most flavorful berries of the season can be found at local farmers’ markets.

When picking which strawberries to buy, it’s important to remember that strawberries don’t ripen after they are picked, so it’s best to pass over any berries that aren’t fully ripened. When in doubt, give the berries a smell. Do they smell like delicious strawberries? Then, they probably are. Also, remember to wait to wash berries until you are ready to eat or cook with them – strawberries don’t like to be wet.

Looking for other ways to extend your strawberry-eating season? Try freezing berries or making strawberry jam. Making home-canned strawberry jam is a great way to enjoy the flavor of the spring strawberry season all year long. The easiest method for making strawberry jam is to purchase a package of pectin, a naturally derived thickening agent that makes jamming very easy, and follow the directions on the box. Pectin can be found at most grocery stores; the most common brands are Surejell, Certo and Ball Brand. All of these brands of pectin offer instructions for making both freezer jams and classic canned jams. For detailed information about home canning, visit the Durham County Cooperative Extension website or www.freshpreserving.com.

Below is an especially delicious basic strawberry jam recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. Ball Brand is the maker of home canning jars and supplies.

STRAWBERRY JAM

Ingredients:

5 cups crushed strawberries (about 5 lbs)

1/4 cup lemon juice

6 Tbsp pectin

7 cups granulated sugar

8 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

Directions:

1.) Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.

2.) Combine strawberries and lemon juice in a 6- or 8-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that can not be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

3.) Add entire measure of sugar, stirring to dissolve. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.

4.) Ladle hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.

5.) Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Emily-Kate Hannapel is assistant market manager of the Durham Farmers Market, open 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays and 3:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at 501 Foster St.  in downtown Durham.