Saturday, May 8, 2010

DIY Gifting- Strawberry Butter

Another installment of DIY gifting. Frankly, this probably could have been attached to the previous post on apple butter and just been called "Making Fruit Butters" or some such thing, but strawberry butter is soooo amazinglyFantasticallyGood that it really deserves its own post. A note before you begin though- make strawberry butter when you've got something going on that will keep you in the kitchen for an hour or so. You don't want to leave this stuff unattended for long, and if you don't have something else to do, it would be brutally boring to just hang out watching butter bubble.

The process is essentially the same as for making apple butter. You wash about 3lbs of strawberries (I used just a few berries short of 3 quarts), remove the tops and cut into pieces. Yes, it's time consuming. It took me the better part of 30 minutes to do just the cutting up part. But it's worth it, trust me!

As you're cutting the berries up, toss them into the blender. After the addition of about every 1/2 cup of berry chunks, you'll want to puree them. In my first batch I added about an ounce of water just to get the berries going, but the second batch I didn't have to add any water-n you really want to avoid adding extra water if you can as it will have to be cooked off later.

Eventually, you wind up with about 5 cups of strawberry puree (at this point you could do all sorts of fun things with it- you could put it in a squeeze bottle to put on ice cream, you could make jam or run it through a fine sieve to strain out the seeds and go on to make jelly, you could add some simple syrup and sparkling white wine and put it in a sealable container in the freezer and make a sort of sorbet...mmmm, gotta love strawberries!). Put the puree in a large pot on the stove and heat on low-medium heat. Once it starts to steam, you can add about 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid (which you will have on hand if you make your own dishwasher detergent. It's available at brewery supply stores. If you don't have any handy, use about 1/3 teaspoon of Kool Aid powder- lemon lime works best. That stuff is almost pure citric acid. If you don't have either on hand, use a Tablespoon or so of lemon juice. Any of them will enhance the strawberries' tart bite, and also preserve the color. I used it in the first batch, but I really think I liked the second batch where I didn't use it better.) Let the butter cook, gently bubbling, for about an hour- you should notice it getting thicker after about 1/2 an hour. Make sure to stir it every few minutes so it doesn't stick in the pan. After the butter has cooked down to about the consistency you want it to be, add 1/2 cup sugar. If you add the sugar later in the cooking process, rather than at the beginning, it will be less likely to stick. The sugar part of this is a little tricky, as everyone likes a different amount. I tend to err on the side of caution with the sugar- you can't take it out once it's in. The recipes I've read say use 1 cup sugar for every 5 cups of strawberry puree. Let the puree cook get good and hot again after you add the sugar to make sure it all dissolves. It will be gently bubbling at the right temperature. DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK ON IT! Unlike applebutter, which you can ignore for long periods, strawberry butter will stick to the bottom of the pan at a moment's notice and the part that sticks, while still tasty, will turn a sort of dark brown/black color. Not very pretty in your jar when done. You can make it as thick or runny as you desire, but the key to remember is to make it a little runnier when hot than you want it once it is cooled. Obviously, it will thicken as it cools. Once it is at the point of thickness you want it, taste it and make sure that it is sweet enough to suit your taste. If you want it sweeter, add more sugar. If you like it fine, leave it. The amount of sugar you use will probably vary with every batch anyway, as the berries may be more or less ripe and sweet each time.

I then covered my strawberry butter and removed it from the heat to sit overnight. This is by no means a required step, but I prefer to be able to sample the taste and texture of my final product before I can it.

Now you're ready to can! You should remember to write the name of what you have made and the date on the canning flats BEFORE you start, as its so much easier to do before they are on top of a jar. I always forget. But I guess the important part is to make sure you've got the jars labeled. I used the water bath method described in the apple butter post. Same exact technique- you just need to bring your butter back up to where it is just about to bubble and it's ready to go into the hot jars. I'd have to say that my canning funnel is one of my more favorite possessions. Work quickly, but you can probably avoid making as much of a mess as I always do! Any jars that don't seal should go straight into the fridge to be used first- they should last a couple of months at least.

Once the strawberry butter is canned, it's ready to gift. I usually take the rings off and lay a square of pretty fabric on top, replace the ring and tie with a ribbon. Something else that looks very nice is to do a little cross stitch pattern and put that under the ring. Either can be made specific to the gift giving occasion. Christmas? use red and green or holiday themed fabric. Or cross stitch some holly berries or a wreath. Birthday? Find some pretty fabric and use a bunch of ribbon, or cross stitch "Happy Birthday". Hostess gift? Use the hostess' favorite colors, or find something to match her kitchen. You get the idea.

Another fun idea is to use strawberry butter in a gift basket. If you're like me, you make different things at different times of year. Apple butter is made in the fall or early winter. Strawberry butter is made when strawberries are at their peak (and inexpensive to buy!). So you could make a dozen jars of it and use them to make gift baskets at any time of year. The possibilities are vast, but a few ideas are: Mother's Day: make mom a "breakfast in bed" basket- a jar of strawberry butter, a jar of applebutter, a loaf of crusty bread or some croissants, a spread knife with a pretty handle, some fancy coffee, and wrap them all on a cutting board or a pretty platter. Add a large flower to the bow. Or a picnic basket- a gift idea that works for just about anyone. For men: buy a fishing creel or a small cooler and pack it with a few other "snacky" goodies. Another fun idea would be for a little girl's (heck, or a big girl's) tea party- a few mismatched pretty plates and tea cups from the thrift store, a pretty piece of fabric for a tablecloth, a loaf of bread baked into a fancy shape (flowers and hearts are what you usually see), some fun teas and you've got yourself quite a party!

Enjoy the strawberry butter- it is so worth every second of the couple of hours it takes to make. And happy gifting!

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