I was spending my birthday weekend in the Clearwater area and it just so happened to coincide with the Strawberry Festival in Plant City. I was ecstatic because I happen to know that A LOT of strawberries come out of that area and are shipped all over the east coast.
When I was still cheffing (yes, that’s now a verb) in NYC, all of the strawberry flats were from Plant City so I knew there were good berries to be had. Slathered in sunscreen for a day of walking around in the blistering sunshine, we got in the car and drove an hour to have our fill of strawberry everything… or so we thought.
Perhaps it was my own fault, I envisioned strawberry pies, strawberry jams & jellies, strawberry malts, strawberry pastries, strawberries in every way imaginable and I was practically frothing at the mouth in anticipation. I was looking forward to the creativity of locals, presenting strawberries in ways I had never thought of, I was so ready to have my mind and taste buds blown! One would assume if it’s a “Strawberry Festival”, that’s exactly what you’d find, no? The short answer: no.
There were 2 places to get strawberry shortcake, each with a line at least 100 deep and a handful of other booths were strawberry items could be purchased. It was quite a let down, but there is a BIG silver lining!
Local farms were set up in tents, like a farmer’s market, along the streets leading into the festival. I scored an entire flat (that’s about 12 pounds) of the most gorgeous, bright ruby red strawberries you’ve ever laid your eyes on for… wait for it…. seven dollars! Seven. Dollars. I was over the moon! I happily lugged that box all the way back to the car. I also had a glazed doughnut roughly the size of a baby’s head fresh from the oil, so it wasn’t a total loss 😉
Would I go to that festival again? Probably not. Would I drive the hour to buy 12 pounds of perfect strawberries for $7.00? You bet.
- 2 quarts strawberries, washed, hulled and roughly chopped
- 1 1.75 oz pkg + 2 tbsp. powdered pectin
- 1/4 cup fresh key lime juice
- 3 tbsp. key lime zest
- 7 cups sugar
- Place 9 half pint (8 oz) mason jars in a very large stock pot/lobster pot/canning pot. Add enough water to cover the jars and bring to simmer. Place the lids into a small saucepan and simmer those in a bit of water as well. No need to warm the rings, just the lids. Make sure you are using new lids every time. It's best not to reuse them.
- That being said, I have reused them when in a pinch, but it's not standard practice.
- Combine strawberries, pectin, lime juice and zest in a large stock pot. (You'll want plenty of room at the top when the mixture starts boiling)
- Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then add sugar all at once and stir until completely dissolved. Return to a rolling boil and let it boil HARD for 60 - 90 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and skim off as much foam as you can without taking too much of the jam.
- Using canning tongs (or regular tongs with a dish towel wrapped around them) remove one of the jars from the water, pour the water out and set a wide mouth funnel inside the jar. Using a measuring cup, scoop jam and pour into warm jar leaving 1/4" of space at the top. Repeat until all the jars are filled, then wipe the rim of the jar with a damp towel, making sure the thread of the jar is clean.
- Remove the lids from the simmering water, screw on the rings but do not tighten all the way. Enough to secure the lid, but not completely tightened. Repeat with remaining jars.
- Place jars into a canning rack if you have one and lower into water in canning/lobster pot. If not, use tongs and lower the jars one by one (fairly quickly) into the water. Make sure water covers the jars by at least an inch, two if possible. Bring water to a full boil. Boil for 10 - 12 minutes, let jars "rest" in the water for a couple of minutes, then remove from water. I always place my hot jars on top of a dishtowel on the counter so nothing slides around.
- Leave jars for 24 hours, you will hopefully hear that beautiful "PING" sound fairly soon after they've come out of the water, but it may take a little while. After 24 hours, tighten the rings all the way and check to make sure they have all sealed. Press on the lid. If it has ANY give whatsoever, that guy gets to live in the fridge. Otherwise, your jam is good to go!
- I don't remember where I learned this trick, but a pat of butter help keep the foam to a minimum. If you are so inclined, drop a pat of butter into your strawberry mixture while it's cooking to keep the foam under control.