By Erin Gardner, Contributing Blogger
Summer and strawberries go hand in hand. And when picking strawberries, you’ll often find me putting more in my mouth than in my basket, but I’m not going to apologize for this gluttony. If I’m going to spend the morning out in the fields with the sun on my back and my bum on the ground, I think I deserve a second (or third!) helping of that summer goodness while it lasts!
Ontario is jam packed (pun intended!) with pick-your-own strawberry farms. The Ontario Berry Growers Association has some great information on their site which provides berry lovers with helpful information about all of the farm fresh berries offered over the summer months and up until October.
Surprisingly, many Ottawa suburbs have a variety of local fields for your strawberry-picking pleasure. I had no idea that my little Barrhaven burrow, and surrounding areas, was home to at least four of these hidden gems.
Shouldice Farms has three separate fields – one on Woodroffe Avenue, one on Merivale Road, and the third is smack dab in the middle of Bells Corners on Richmond Road.
The Richmond Nursery Strawberry Farm is always a field favourite. Had it been open when we were planning our strawberry-picking adventure, it would have been my first choice as it has a few little extras for young children like a bunny hutch, duck pond, picnic tables and a swing set in the shade.
I recently took my daughter, Claire, on her first strawberry picking experience and was she ever thrilled. While I’ll admit she didn’t consume the same number of juicy berries that I did, she showed me every single one she picked. She was very concerned about the size, colour and shape of her berries for only the biggest and best berries could go into our homemade strawberry jam! She picked many white berries, or teeny-tiny green berries with flowering stems attached, but it is all just part of the wonderful process.
Once I told her she could sample some of her bounty, the floodgates opened. I didn’t think a 30-pound three-year-old could consume so many berries in one sitting, but she proved me wrong! And when I told her that we were going to make freezer strawberry jam with our 8 litres of berries, she giggled with delight at the prospect of being Mommy’s Little Helper.
Once we were home, Claire did a great job washing the berries after the stems were removed, and she was VERY eager to mash them to a pulp with a heavy duty potato masher. I have to admit, that was my favourite part of our jam-making experience as well!
She was cautious with measuring out the sugar, but insisted she do it all herself. I was pretty proud of my little girl!
Not to miss out on any pectin action, she very carefully stirred the thickening agent with Mommy overseeing the process, of course. We then combined everything in the mixing bowl, poured the jam into 12 mason jars, and let the jars sit on the counter for 24 hours.
The next day, after the pectin had set, we placed all of our jam jars into the freezer. I wanted to wait at least another 24 hours before we did our taste test. Claire was not so happy about having to follow this one rule, but I think she realized it was worth it in the end once that first jar had thawed and came out of the fridge.
That following Monday morning, with the first bite into her peanut butter and jam toast, Claire became a strawberry jam-a-holic for life. She has refused any and all other breakfast options. Even though we are now on Day 9 of our early morning toast ritual, she still tells me how much she loves her jam.
It’s these simple moments together with my girl that make me so happy to be a Mom.