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As the first strawberries of summer arrived this year, people who discover I now live on Bainbridge Island keep telling me that the island has the best strawberries in the Pacific Northwest. I've had great strawberries all over the country, but after sampling the local berries here on the island, I'm convinced these are the best berries I've ever eaten. I'm surprised more Seattle restaurants aren't demanding them. Many of berries are this deep almost blood red color all the way through to the core and they almost melt in your mouth as you eat them. Pity you can only get them for a few weeks each year.

Strawberries and Freezer Jam

Making strawberry freezer jam is one of the best ways to preserve real strawberry flavor, allowing you to enjoy a wonderful summer flavor in the middle of winter. When you make freezer jam, be sure to use a no-cook freezer jam recipe like the one below, because cooking the berries breaks down some of that fresh sweet flavor you expect from homegrown strawberries. This is also a great project for kids of almost any age.

I decided to try Simple Creations No Cook Freezer Jam Pectin rather than Sure Jell, because it required considerably less sugar to activate the pectin, I think seeing Robin spooning the jam out of a jar the next day suggested I found a winner. The recipe is straight from the back of the package, with some minor procedural changes.

Ingredients

  1. 4 pints whole fresh strawberries
  2. 1 packet of Simple Creations No Cook Freezer Jam Pectin
  3. 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  4. Start by halving all the strawberries into a large bowl.
  5. Sliced Strawberries
  6. Crush the strawberries with a potato masher or similar flat utensil.
  7. Smashing Berries for Freezer Jam
  8. In a second smaller bowl, combine the pectin and sugar so they are evenly mixed.
  9. Pour the sugar mixture over your crushed strawberries, stirring it in as you pour. Continue stirring for about 3 minutes to make sure sugar and pectin are distributed evenly.
  10. Stirring in Pectin
  11. Ladle jam into clean jars leaving room at the top of each for the mixture to expand when it freezes. Having a funnel on hand at this stage is helpful in reducing mess (even for adults).
  12. Filling Freezer Jam Jars
  13. Screw lids on and let stand on counter for 30 minutes - 1 hour until the jam firms up. Place in your freezer for up to a year.

Yield: approximately 5 8oz jars or slightly less than 3 pint jars.

I freely admit the first time my wife had me try heirloom tomatoes I was suspicious because none of them were that perfect red color I'd grown up eating. The purples, greens, and inconsistent reds and oranges just didn't look like what my brain expected from a tomato. After sampling several different varieties, I'm now hooked on heirloom tomatoes as a great alternative to many of the choices that look "normal". Growing them at home means I don't have to pay the high prices heirloom varieties have come to command at both farmers markets and stores like Whole Foods. As the fruit ripens, I'll share some great recipes for heirloom tomatoes.


5 Heirloom Tomato Varieties

This year I'm planting 5 specific varieties of heirloom tomato, focusing on shorter growing season heirlooms from Russia along with a couple of North American favorites. On the list of this year's heirlooms:
Green Zebra - an heirloom variety that found its way to the Seed Saver catalog via Washington State farmer Tom Wager.
Japanese Trifele Black - The name is misleading as these are actually a Russian tomato.
Black Prince A tomato variety originally from Irkutsk in Siberia.
Cherokee Purple - a North American pre-1890's variety passed down from Cherokee Indians.
Paul Robeson - another Siberian varietal known for a unique flavor with a smokiness not typically found in other tomatoes.

Planting heirloom tomatoes is very similar to the traditional varieties specifically cultivated for backyard gardens. Because heirloom varieties tend to be less disease resistant and more susceptible to the cold, I opted for pre-hardened plants from a local grower. I'm planting them in 15 gallon pots specially to show that you don't need a giant garden in order to grow heirloom tomatoes. Each pot is first filled 1/3 full with organic compost.

Tomato Planting Pot with Organic Compost

Next the plant is seated deep in the pot, so that most of the existing stem is covered with soil. Tomato plants send out roots from any portion of the stem that is submerged in soil, which provides both a stronger base for the plant and a larger root system for absorbing nutrients from the soil.

Heirloom Tomato in Pot without Dirt

Be sure to pinch the leaves that will be submerged from the stem so that the plant isn't trying to provide nutrients for leaves that will ultimately die back.

Heirloom Tomato in Pot with Dirt

Make sure your plants are in an area that gets a good southern exposure, whether you plant in a garden or in pots as shown here. I'll post additional photos in the coming weeks as the plants progress.

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