Preserving Strawberries: hello disaster, meet success

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It was too good to be true – a large supply of organic strawberries, and all for me. To turn into the sweetest of christmas gifts – after all, what says ‘thank you for everything’ better than a jar of exquisite, edible rubies?

Nothing, that’s what! However manifesting those jars of jewels proved trickier than I thought it would be… 

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Things started off so well. I had sourced a large quantity of amazing organic strawberries from Common2us on the fringe of Sydney. And they were the sweetest things I had ever tasted.

My plan was simple: to jar them up in a light syrup and present them proudly to loved ones and comrades in 6 weeks time.

I could feel my inner authentic homesteader points rising by the second. I might be hellishly busy, but I could still make time to make things. Beautiful, edible things.

Because we live a slow, authentic life, you see… whenever I want to (I told myself), I can take time to make a suite of beautiful, successful homemade preserves, no problem.

Heck, I don’t even need a recipe, or to check somehow that this will work. I live this. I am this.

Cross all that with a new camera to document the process, and I was prettymuch beside myself with how excellently this project was going to turn out.

It started out well. If you like spending 3 hours washing and cutting the tops off bucketloads of strawberries, that is.

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I then jarred up my beauties and added a light syrup of 10 parts water to one part sugar, which had been simmered with star anise, cinnamon, and a splash of rosewater.

They looked incredible. I was mega-stoked (that’s a technical term). One more step, and I would be done.

Into the pressure canner (which you can read more about here) they went, and after 15 minutes at 10 psi, there was nothing to do but wait till i could open the unit after it had cooled down, and pat myself on the back.

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In they go
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And out they come

And then I took them out. Hmm. Not the “jar o’ jewels” I was expecting, really.

More like a half-jar of squishy, pale things in blood. Sure, they might taste great, but I was hoping for a major Aesthetic Hero Moment here…

In retrospect, it all makes perfect sense – fruits like ripe strawberries are structurally more delicate than say peach or pear, which I had preserved this same way quite successfully.

At this point I may have had something in my eye for five minutes or so. Bummer. But there was the second batch to do as well. Abort the mission now?

What should I do with them all to do justice to my unique load of amazing organic strawberry goodness?

The answer was, as usual, make jam.

Except with all this light syrup around, my liquid to fruit ratio was waaay too high to reduce the mix to jam in under 48 hours of solid simmering.

I opted to decant some of the liquid and boil that down separately with the juice and rind of a lemon, for strawberry cordial.

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In the end, it was the usual story as per my jam experiments. I added all the sugar available in the house (as usual, probably not enough), and lemon juice and rind in lieu of pectin .

At 9.30pm the pot was still simmering, smelled and tasted great, but was not behaving in any way that could be called ‘setting’, which is the point at which you can call your concoction ‘jam’.

And, as usual in this situation, at 10pm, I jarred the mix in the pot up into clean hot jars, screwed the lids on tight, and went to bed.

The results, I should say, taste incredible, and behave mostly like jam. The syrup and rosewater lent a truly rockin flavor to both the cordial and the, er… preserved jammish strawberries.

I suppose we’ll just have to eat them all ourselves, at home. Oh well.

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Ok now we get to the SUCCESSFUL part of the 24 hour strawberry experiment. Hooray.

I love dried fruit. So much.

This could be due to my deprived, healthy childhood (hi mum!) where lollies were off limits except for birthdays, and so dried fruit took the shining place at the core of my sweet tooth.

Clearly, life should contain more dried strawberries, if at all possible.

This was something that I have previously suspected, and can now confirm to be absolutely true.

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Our trusty Excalibur dehydrator once again did a brilliant job, just like it did on the last two years of peaches and apples. 10 hours later, a large amount of strawberries were crispy dried leaves of lurve…

If i can keep this stash hidden from my family for long enough, these might make it to Christmas.

Then I can use them for the “gosh you’re awesome” presents for those loved ones and comrades I mentioned earlier.

But they’re so delicious. Maybe a card would say it just as well?

Any preserving disaster-meet-success or otherwise recipes you’d like to share?

>> More posts about mostly successful food adventures here…

See the comments

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45 responses to “Preserving Strawberries: hello disaster, meet success

  1. I’m so glad I’m not the only brave experimental and overconfident preserver who occasionally fails to produce shining jeweled jars of perfection. But now I feel I must have a dehydrator to bolster my success rate.

  2. I feel your pain and we cried along with you ( after I had a good laugh). Great post. Is there nothing more disappointing than taking the lid off the pot to find something that’s at the other end of the spectrum to what you had in mind.

  3. My belief is that there is no such thing as jam that doesn’t set. Mine just miraculously becomes syrup for ice cream or cake and usually gets eaten up quicker and with more delight than the jam. Seems to be a more appreciated gift too

  4. Oh, your marathon did so well mirror many of mine . . . and with a similar motley box of results. Thanks for sharing, and remember: TASTE is all that really matters!

  5. Oh yes! I know that feeling! 😉 Start preserving / jamming -oh no where’s that bag of sugar? Where are the number 4 rings and the number 5 clips?!! Sooo nice to have a win, well done dried strawberries! Xxxxxxxx

  6. I’ve been there too….sometimes things just don’t go to plan… I intended to make mulberry jam to donate to a community garden stall last week…well the fruit reduced down to a not-so-pleasing amount..that I made Mulberry and Apple Jam…lucky I had bottles of preserved apple sauce on hand that made it all easier.
    I’ve also made dried strawberrys,…they are delicious. Well done with your marathon in the kitchen.

  7. Love this. I preserve using the microwave as I don’t have a pot big enough. And it’s quicker too. But I am loving the idea of dried fruit made at home. Actually been wondering if I should buy a dehydrator. Wonder if you could do sultanas????

  8. Dried peaches too tough to do a thing with, runny jam, burned jam (that was doing a favour for a friend too 🙁 ), running out of FV lids and rings necessitating in an hours drive to get them as nowhere local had them, oh the disasters I’ve had! I’ve been up unti 3am to finish runs on tomatoes, starting again at 7am, the list goes on. I am the QUEEN of kitchen disasters! Still and all I love it I have a pantry now about 1/2 filled with preserved goodness so plenty to finish the season, at east in bottled fruit. Still, we soldier on and keep trying don’t we.

    Your jam looks delicious and if it’s not exactly set, gift it as ice-cream topping! As for the dried strawberries, you might need a safe with a very secure combination to keep them unti Christmas. They look fantastic! 😀

  9. I once made quince paste which done correctly should have been a soft spreadable lovely clear jelly. After far too long stirring the spluttering pan because I was sure it was still not setting I gave up and left it over night convinced it was destined to be syrup. It then set so hard it could bend a strong butter knife. Tasted lovely though.

    I’ve since invested in a jam thermometer and rather more success.

    Protip regarding strawberry jam, it is easier to make firm if you add a little peeled and grated granny smith apple. No one will even know.

  10. Ha! Fantastic tale of strawberry woe (and success). I have had exactly the same problems with jam making! I tend to think that if it tastes amazing and doesn’t have the same consistency as water then it’s jam :p Beautiful photos by the way!

  11. I am making liqueurs from my excess mulberries and strawberries. Just the first stage now. Mulberries in spiced smoky rum for a month or two and strawberries in Vodka for a week or so. Then add honey/ sugar/ maple syrup, lime / lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, mint, etc etc etc. Hope I have blackberries over to make Blackberry nip. Any berries that are just not up to scratch or just over the hill go great. Few months to go but the finger dip tests are promising.. You could make dehydrated / dries strawberry strips or leather as well??, like soft beef jerky???

  12. Arrrgh. wrote a long reply and not logged in yada, yada. Making Liquers from excess strawberries and mulberries, while to go yet.
    Try strawberry jerky / leather.

  13. This being the first time I have ever tried to make jam, I decided to make freezer jam. I also tried to see how little sugar I could use. I got down to 4C strawberries to 1C sugar. Not cooking the strawberries into jam left them with an incredibly fresh taste and me with a bunch of jars in the freezer.

  14. Sounds fabulous! and great inspiration as we enter the season of plenty here in Canberra. Our strawberries are only just starting to ripen but we too expect acroppa. Can I ask Kirsten, what kind of drier you have, and if you are happy with it?

  15. The pomes (apples, pears, quinces) are also high in pectin. I often use the cores to help set jam. It’s never a totally solid set, but that’s what happens when you make berry jam naturally!. Apparently cracked apricot kernels are also high in pectin, but there is some issue with a naturally occurring cyanide like compound if you use too meant. Never tried it myself

  16. A Jamie Oliver recipe for Strawberry Compote – 1 Kg Strawberries to 350 Gr Sugar, simmer 20-30 mins, bottle hot. As not such a large sugar content, i don’t keep mine for too long and will store in fridge. Delicious over home-made yoghurt or hot over ice-cream.

  17. I usually boil the skin and stones separately when making satsuma plum jam.Then I include the liquid in the measurements for the recipe. That way the pectin is extracted without having to ‘over boil’ the jam, resulting in a better colour and taste. You could probably do the same with the apple cores, ie, boil them well, strain, then add to the berries when making the jam. That way, no need to go ‘fishing’ for cores and seeds later.

  18. We have been picking strawberries daily for about 5 weeks now and get between 200-400 grams every day from about 80 plants. Except for a few days when we picked many so were able to freeze the excess, every evening we have been able to eat them fresh with homemade ice cream. Very yummy!!!!
    I am sure my waist line hasn’t changed too. So good.

  19. This post made me laugh out loud! Oh man, this has happened to me so many times. Not specifically with strawberries, but in general whenever I’ve had a project that I envisioned would turn out so awesome that I would get a standing ovation for my awesomeness. The universe usually uses this as a chance to bring me back down a notch or maybe to add a more positive spin, it’s the universe telling me that the glory comes not from our perception of perfection, but rather from the lessons we learn trying. Thanks again for such a wonderful post!

  20. I made a green tomato cake so bad even the chooks wouldn’t eat it. The kids still refer to it in awestruck tones – The Day Mum Made The Worst Cake Anyone Ever Made, Ever. I was so tragically pleased with myself that I was ‘rescuing’ a bowl of green tomatoes. Have since tried green tomato chutney and that was awful too. No more green tomato recipes here!

  21. Disasters:how about the ancient Fowlers jars blowing off their bottoms in the preserver? Floating fruit in boiling water…….great!
    Agree that icecream and/or alcohol make any unset fruit jam a real treat

  22. HI Kirsten. My 91-year-old lovely mum’s lovely Fowler’s Vacola unit has finally rusted away … leaving me looking with interest at the pressure canner. Anything that uses less gas in the bush is a good thing. What size did you buy?


    1. Kerrie we got the 921 All-american one – about 20 litres – if it’s gas/heat energy that’s the issue , i rekon the pressure canner wins bigtime – in terms of time, i’ve eventually found them to be the same (because you need to wait quite a while for the pressure in the canner to come down before you take the lid off).

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