Strawberry picking at a local farm has been a family tradition since my kids could walk. It’s a great activity for toddlers because they’ve had enough within a half hour, sufficient time to gather berries enough for a day or two of snacks, and maybe a pie. But the attention span grows as the child grows, and by grade school they’re picking pounds and pounds. Fresh berries don’t keep for long, so as my kids got older, I learned to freeze and can them. Eventually the kids learned how to preserve strawberries, and this year my oldest did all of it herself, adding dried strawberries to our pantry for the first time. Here’s a summary of the most common methods for preserving strawberries, including our favorite recipes.
How to Preserve Strawberries
While dehydration is my favorite way to preserve apples and tomatoes, water bath canning is my favorite method for preserving strawberries. Strawberry jam and preserves are delicious and useful in so many ways. If you’re not familiar with water bath canning, see the “Sources” section at the end of this post for a link to outstanding introduction to this method.
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This extremely simple 2-ingredient recipe is my favorite strawberry jam. The old fashioned cook down method with no added pectin, yields an intensely flavored jam. To minimize clean-up, I crush the berries in the pan I will use to boil the jam. The final product is relatively smooth, but for an ever smoother jam, puree the berries instead. Have your canning jars and lids ready to go before you begin making the jam.
Yields 7-8 half pint jars
- 9 cups hulled strawberries
- 6 cups sugar
Crush the berries with a potato masher in a large, tall, heavy saucepan.
- Add the sugar and slowly bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves.
- Stirring frequently to prevent scorching, boil until desired thickness, 20-40 minutes. To test thickness, put some of it on a small plate, and place the plate in the freezer for about a minute. If it’s still thin and runny, continue simmering.
- Pour preserves into sterilized half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth, and cover with lids and rings.
- Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves
Preserves are similar to jam, but contain large chunks of fruit. Use whole, hulled berries for this recipe. Many of them will break apart during the boiling process, but plenty of large chunks will survive. You can, of course, make pure strawberry preserves, but adding the rhubarb makes it different from our usual strawberry jam and makes it taste like strawberry rhubarb pie filling. My daughter Alison made this delicious treat last week. I like it stirred into yogurt, and Alison uses it to make scrumptious dessert bars with layers of shortbread, cream cheese, preserves, and chocolate. You should check out her Instagram posts – she posted a mouthwatering photo of those bars, along with photos of her many other culinary creations: Alison Zak on Instagram. Have your canning jars and lids ready to go before you begin making the preserves.
Yields about 8-10 half pint jars, depending on how much you cook it down
- 1 quart of rhubarb diced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 8 cups sugar
- 2 quarts hulled strawberries
Put the rhubarb in a large, tall, heavy saucepan in which you plan to cook the preserves. Cover the rhubarb with the sugar and let stand at room temperature for 12 hours or overnight.
- Bring to a boil while stirring.
- Add the berries and simmer, stirring, for 15-25 minutes, until desired thickness. To test thickness, put some of it on a small plate, and place the plate in the freezer for about a minute. If it’s still thin and runny, continue simmering.
- Pour preserves into sterilized half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inc head space. Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth, and cover with lids and rings.
- Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Canned Whole Strawberries
You might find recipes instructing you to pour sugar syrup into jars of raw, hulled berries before placing in the water bath, but the safest way to do this is to cook the berries in sugar syrup before canning, as described at PickYourOwn.org (see Sources at end of this post). However, the latter method will yield something similar to preserves.
Drying is an excellent way to preserve strawberries. The flavor of the final product is deliciously intense with no added sugar, and takes up far less storage space. Strawberry chips or fruit leather are great to carry along on a hike, because they don’t add much weight, don’t take up much space, and don’t make your hands wet and messy. They can also be added to oatmeal, cookies, breads, or muffins. You might also rehydrate them in water and sugar to make a syrupy topping.
Slice hulled strawberries 1/2 inch thick, or, if they are very small, halve them. Do not slice thinner than 1/2 inch, because it is difficult to peel very thin dried slices off the dehydrator tray. Place them close together on dehydrator trays, and dry at 135 degrees F for 6-12 hours. It might be tempting to dry them at a higher temperature so they will dry faster. But the higher the temperature, the greater the loss of some of the nutrients. On the other hand, too low a drying temperature allows bacteria to grow on the food, risking spoilage.
They are dry enough for storage if you cannot squeeze any water from them. It shouldn’t appear wet when you tear one. You must remove most of the water to prevent bacteria and enzymes from breaking down the berries. They do not have to be crisp; a pliable, leathery texture is fine, too. Store them in an air tight container. We use ziploc bags for dried strawberries, squeezing out all the air before sealing. It is safest to store home dried strawberries in the freezer, just in case some pieces have a bit too much water.
Strawberry Fruit Leather
To make fruit leather, puree and cook the berries, usually with sugar or honey, and spread onto parchment paper and bake, or dry in a dehydrator.
I have a strong preference for the dry sugar pack method. The fresh berry flavor is well preserved, and there couldn’t be a better topping for vanilla ice cream.
The easiest way to freeze strawberries is to spread them on a tray, freeze them solid, then bag them and store in freezer. I don’t use this method because I don’t like frozen whole strawberries, because the berries are mushy and release a lot of water when defrosted. However, they would be fine for smoothies, so consider this method if you make a lot of smoothies.
Dry Sugar Packed Strawberries
For every quart of hulled strawberries, sliced or halved, use 3/4 cup of sugar. Place the prepared berries in a tray or large bowl and sprinkle the sugar over them. Mix gently, until some of the water is drawn out of the berries and the sugar dissolves. Fill plastic bags with the mixture, squeeze out the air, and close the bag. Or, fill containers, leaving 1/2 inch head space, and cap the containers. Store in freezer.
These frozen, sweetened strawberries are outstanding on vanilla ice cream, a vanilla cake, or with a biscuit and whipped cream. We freeze some like this every year for wonderful berry treats in winter.
Strawberry Freezer Jam
The idea here is that you make the jam as usual, but instead of processing in a hot water bath to prevent spoilage, store the jam in the freezer. If you have lots of freezer space, this might be the way to go, but I want jam that can sit in the pantry until opened.
- Boiling Water Bath Canning: Including Jams, Jellies, and Pickled Products. This is an excellent introduction with great photos, illustration, and information, from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
- Canned Whole Strawberries (from PickYourOwn.org)
- Chadwick, J. B. 1995. The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food. Storey Communications, Inc. Pownal, VT.
- How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables
- Rombauer, I. S. 1975. Joy of Cooking. MacMillan Publishing Company. New York, NY.