If you've read this post, then you know I'm a strawberry fan. And you also know that May is National Strawberry Month. So, of course, in celebration of this (and other things), I found myself happily picking strawberries with friends early Saturday morning. We were pretty industrious. My husband and I managed to pick several pounds (our friends picked even more!). So, what's a girl to do with several pounds of fresh, ripe berries?
Well yeah, washing and snacking happened pretty quickly when we got home. But after that, it was time to do something I'd never done before -- make strawberry jam. Lucky for me I have a super talented friend (thanks, Vicki!) who walked me through the process, which was super fun and not as complicated as I had imagined. You can find step-by-step instructions in cook books and all around the Web (for example, there's some great info here), so I'm not going to duplicate all of that now. I'll just share a few key tricks my friend shared with me.
First up, Vicki had all the necessary gear on hand (gigantic pot, funnel, magnetic lid lifter, jar lifter and more), which you can get in a cool kit, and plenty of jars at the ready. You can wash/sanitize your jars in the dishwasher and keep them hot in there while you're preparing the jam mixture. A potato masher like this makes crushing the berries easy. When you're new to the process, it's good to make a few batches trying both powdered and liquid pectin to see what works best for you. Some people prefer to make jam without added pectin, but the process takes longer/requires added cooking time.
Even after jam-making, we still had berries. I have this great piece of art in my kitchen by Paul Friedrich that asks the question, "Am I in the mood for evil ... or pie?"
My answer to that is (almost) always: PIE! So I made some.
Here's my recipe -- it makes two pies:
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Mix dry ingredients (flour and salt) and then add shortening using a pastry blender to mix. It will start to look like pea-sized crumbles. Add ice water by the tablespoon -- start out with 5 tablespoons at first -- and continue to blend. Add additional ice water sparingly until dough takes shape. Divide into two equal-sized balls. Roll dough out on floured work surface and place in a ceramic or glass pie plate. Crimp the edges and use a fork to poke a lot of holes in the crust -- along the bottom and up the sides. When both crusts are ready, place in oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes (when crust starts to turn light golden color, it should be done). Remove from oven and place on cooling racks.
When the crusts are cool, fill each one with 2 ½ cups of sliced strawberries.
Next, mix the cornstarch and sugar together in a small bowl. Place mashed strawberries in a medium-sized pot over med-high heat. Stir in the sugar/cornstarch. Continue to stir until mixture starts to boil; it takes about 4 or 5 minutes. When it starts to boil, turn the burner off and stir mixture until it takes on a gel-like texture and goes from a slightly milky/lighter pink to a clear/deeper color. Set pot aside for a minute to cool slightly. Then pour over fresh berries in pie shells. Use a spatula to spread warm filling evenly over the fresh berries. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours.
You can prepare fresh whipped cream to serve on top or just serve it as is. And if you're someone who doesn't think it's a dessert unless it includes chocolate, don't worry -- you can add some. Sometimes I drizzle melted dark chocolate in the pie shell and up along the edges of the crust prior to adding the fresh berries. It looks nice and tastes good, too.