The start of Carlsbad strawberry season yields the biggest, sweetest strawberries I’ve ever had. I remember my 4 year old walking up to the strawberry stand and asking “basket please” and being given a giant ruby red strawberry as an extra treat. Between our acquisition of berries and the fields of flowers, that day was a little piece of heaven.
When strawberries become available, I always save them because I know that in the fall I will end up with an overpriced and tasteless variety.
For the most part, the usual storage for strawberries is jam, but there are other ways to store them long and short term. Dehydrated strawberries can be used in trail mixes, pastries, and even hot teas. One of the hottest dietary tips circulating on the internet is to keep strawberries in a covered, refrigerated jar. But beware of preservatives – the berries need to be unwashed and vacuum sealed for this to work, lest you end up with fermented strawberries and an exploding pot.
Some adventurous canners have tried canning halved strawberries. And while canning strawberries works well with jams and syrups, canning them in simple syrup alone results in droopy, washed-out berries – the result is not favorable. However, canned strawberry pie filling using Clear Jel food-safe thickener maintains the integrity and flavor of the berries over the long term.
I use the pie filling to make traditional pies, pies, cobblers, hand pies, pancake or cake fillings and pancake fillings. It’s a stable home supply for picnics and company when you’re short on time. Besides capturing spring in a jar all year round, this canned fruit garnish will be one of the prettiest things on your shelf.
Don’t be tempted to use other thickeners in this recipe, such as cornstarch or flour. Clear Jel is a modified cornstarch, which produces a stable sauce instead of the liquid result of canning with other thickeners. I also use Clear Jel to put meat in sauce. Clear Jel is not commonly found in grocery stores, but can be found on internet storefronts, and I buy in bulk for a staple.
You can use water in place of juice in this recipe, but juice provides a richer flavor. Sometimes I use homemade apple juice, or strawberry juice from my steam juicer.
It’s almost strawberry picking time in my area, and I’m sure I’ll let my kids fill their buckets too high because they get carried away with “just a little more”. But no berries will go bad in my house – they’ll be cooked in syrup, dehydrated, frozen, and slipped into jars as pie filling for a well-deserved treat on a busy day.
Canned Strawberry Pie Filling
4 pounds of strawberries
1 1/4 cups Clear Jel
3 cups white sugar
4 cups apple or strawberry juice (water can also be used)
4 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
First wash, hull and cut the strawberries. The smaller berries I cut in half, the larger ones I cut three times. In a large saucepan, combine Clear Jel, sugar and juices. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, stir in the strawberries. Using a wide-mouth funnel, add the pie filling to the quart jars, leaving a 1-inch headspace. Wipe down the rims, put on your lids and rings, and bathe for 30 minutes.
For more recipes, tips and details, visit Laura Woolfrey Macklem’s Preserved Home Blog at www.preservedhome.com.
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