Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stokes Berry Farm

This morning I trekked up to Wilmington to visit Stokes Berry Farm.

My goal was to pick enough strawberries to make a batch or two of strawberry-rhubarb jam. This was my first time picking strawberries since my Grandparents closed their patch, and when I turned the bend in the gravel road and spotted the rows of plants and straw, tears welled up in my eyes as I recalled so many tender memories from my childhood.

Everyone at Stokes is extremely friendly. I was amazed by the variety of people picking at 9:30 on a Sunday morning: a Latino couple, several Indian families, a caravan of young Japanese families, a group of soccer moms, and little ol' me. The woman at the counter told me that all of their berries are "All Star" variety - a type that my grandparents grew and I'm familiar with.

Picking was pretty good - not a free-for-all, but steady. The berries were medium to small sized, but as any seasoned canner knows, the smaller and sweeter the berry, the better jam they make.

I quickly filled my tray with the intoxicating crimson beauties. I only wish I could bottle the smell of warm sun-drenched strawberries - the aroma is flowery, fruity...quintessentially STRAWBERRY.

After picking more than enough strawberries (it was really hard for me to stop myself), I noticed that yesterday was Stokes first day picking red raspberries. I was warned that picking was slow, but what the heck, I was having such a good time. The morning was dewy, there was a slight breeze, birds were whizzing through the air and singing, and bees were orbiting fruit blossoms in a drunken stupor.

I found the red raspberry patch and while there wasn't a boatload of fruit to be had, I managed to pick a very rounded quart. As far as I'm concerned, I lucked-out that there were even raspberries in season. I've always liked red raspberries better than black raspberries; I'll be back in a month or so to pick some blacks.

When I got home, I commenced to cannin'. First up was the strawberry-rhubarb jam - I had decided to do a double batch (some for us and some for gifts). Mind you, I've never made jam before, so I'm putting my faith in the Ball Blue Book and my mother's seasoned advice. Wash berries, chop rhubarb (bought at Findlay Market yesterday), heat with lemon juice, sugar, and pectin, wash jars and lids, pour in the goodness, screw on the lids, and boil in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Next up was the serendipitous red raspberry jam. Just a single batch this time. Same procedure as before, only no pectin or lemon juice. By the time I was finished the windows in the kitchen were completely fogged over. Canning is not for those who have a problem with sweating over a hot stove.

Final count:
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam - 17 half pints
  • Red Raspberry Jam - 6 half pints
Isn't nature amazing? Two completely different shades of red and all 100% natural:

All 23 jars clicked giving me 100% sealage - nice! The final test will be tomorrow morning when I have some jam on some homemade bread. I'll be able to see how well the jam set up.

I have to say, I'm pooped, but satisfied (and, dare I say it, pretty proud). Knowing that I can carry on two family traditions - picking strawberries and canning summer's harvest - makes me appreciate and love my roots that much more.

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