It’s strawberry season! Last year we planted three different kinds of strawberries (18 to 20 strawberry plants each), two of which were “ever-bearing” and one of which was “June-bearing.” The idea was that the June-bearing strawberries would give it up all at once so I would have enough at one time to make strawberry preserves, and the ever-bearing would keep producing so we would have strawberries all summer.
All the garden books said to pinched off the blossoms of the June-bearing strawberries the first year so they would develop a good root system and yield copious amounts of strawberries the following year (i.e. this year), which was difficult since that meant no strawberries last year! I did the same with the first flush of blossoms from the ever-bearing, but we did manage to get a few strawberries from one of the flavors of ever-bearing bushes although for some reason the other kind didn’t produce anything — so luckily it is producing well so far this year. I also had a battle with the gophers – I forgot to put hardware cloth down when we built the raised beds for the strawberries and one day when I was weeding in the strawberry patch I saw a shaking under the earth where something was clearly tunneling, then all of sudden, poof! the strawberry plant disappeared underground. Fortunately I had just taken the Vertebrate Pests class the day before through my master gardener training program, where I learned the two most effective ways to control gophers: strychnine in the hole or kill traps. Ramon went out and bought some traps and set them to get the gophers. That seemed to take care of them last year, and so far they haven’t visited the strawberry patch, although I imagine they will be back.
A friend of mine came and helped me thin out the ever-bearing strawberries about a month ago (thanks Amy Welker!), and now both kinds are producing well. Enough to yield a scant basket-full a day. I didn’t get to the June-bearing strawberries in time so they are a tangle of plants all matted together, with vines leaping out of the beds and strawberries climbing into the grape vines.
They are producing prolifically, as advertised. Over the last three days I’ve harvested 12 baskets of berries and they are still growing strong. But I wonder if I had pruned them out earlier and mulched them with compost (as I did the other strawberries) if they would be producing even better. It’s difficult to get to everything that needs to be done, though, so I have to keep telling myself it’s okay if I don’t do everything and not beat myself up over it. I should be happy with my 12 baskets of berries, which I used to make the following strawberry preserves:
(from Saving the Season by Kevin West)
3 lbs small strawberries
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
Briefly rinse the berries, and remove their caps. If some are larger, cut them into halves or quarters. Layer the fruit with the sugar, and sprinkle the lemon juice over the top. Set aside for an hour.
Turn the fruit-sugar mixture into a preserving pan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Once it’s cool, cover and store overnight in the refrigerator.
The following day, strain the mixture through a colander and capture the syrup in a bowl. Allow to drip for 15 minutes. Reduce the syrup in a preserving pan over high heat to the gel point, 8 – 10 minutes after the full boil. The temperature of the syrup will be 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. As a subjective guide, watch for large bubbles to form mats that cover the surface of the hot syrup.
Add the berries to the preserving pan, and cook over moderate heat for three minutes longer, shaking the pan or stirring gently. At this point you can stir in additions such as vinegar, liqueur, herbs/spices for the last minute of cooking. I experimented with rosemary and black pepper in one batch (I was thinking that might be nice served with goat cheese) and with dried Thai basil and vanilla in another.
Ladle the hot preserves into four prepared ½ pint jars, leaving ¼ head space. Seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.