Field of Strawberries

Last week, my friend Christina and I went strawberry picking. I like Christina. Christina is sharp and funny and unassuming enough to regularly surprise you as you get to know her over time. She’s one of the maybe three friends I’ve ever had who is a twin. I’ve always wished I were a twin. People sometimes mistook my brother and me for twins (do you see it?) but, as his knee-jerk reaction has always been sheer and absolute horror when these assumptions have been made, I think it’s safe to say I’m the only one flattered there. I met Christina’s twin, Nicole, a few months ago over tacos at a table barely as wide as a paperback book; I liked her, too.

Freshly Picked Strawberries

Christina and I met in a way that would not have been possible even three decades ago: connecting through a connection that had been made over what else but, you guessed it, the Internet. Since our first chat, I think in December, about writing and freelancing and the creative life, we’ve shared pizza on Easter, attended a live interview with Anne Lamott, had teas in East Nashville and launched a book club. You know how C.S. Lewis famously said that friendship begins the moment one person turns to another and says, “me too”? The first time our book club met was in late January. I’d taken every chair in our house and set it out in the living room, ten of us gathering around to eat sweet potato fries, popcorn and cookies. We were supposed to share a favorite book and say why you liked it. When it was Christina’s turn, she pulled out Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life.

Circle S Farm Tennessee

Other major “me too” moments have included hometowns in the Midwest (hers is Holland, Michigan), agreement over certain books and bloggers (including everybody’s favorite, Ashley) and a long-abiding fascination with all things architecture and home design (when I told Christina Tim and I have been house-hunting, she started emailing me listings she liked). Also, it was her idea to drive out to a local strawberry field where, she’d emailed me ahead of time, strawberries were “$10 a gallon!”

And so last Tuesday, at the end of our parallel writing-from-home workdays, the two of us went to Lebanon.

berries and christina

Circle S Farm in Lebanon is about 40 minutes east of Nashville, set on a quiet, rural piece of land with rows and rows of strawberries and plenty of containers to pick and put them in. While it’s not a certified organic farm, I have it from the owners themselves that they don’t spray the berries with anything and try to stay as wholesome as possible. And as a true testament to small-town charm, payments at the farm are on the honor system: Just put your cash in the locked box when you go.

Strawberries

I came home to Tim that Tuesday night with three full flats of fresh berries, some of which we immediately washed and froze, some of which we stuffed into quesadillas and some of which we saved for jam (something Christina also planned to do!). The next morning, in the midst of getting ready and handling a phone meeting, we made our first-ever strawberry preserves together. We didn’t have pectin on hand, so we went with a version that uses gelatin instead; also, instead of traditional sugar, we used honey.

boxes of strawberries

Fresh Strawberries

cooking strawberries

The result? Sheer delight—the kind of thick, sweet, plump strawberry preserves that require a spoon rather than a butter knife for dolloping and spreading on toast. Clear, unadulterated strawberry flavor. I love when you make strawberry something and it truly tastes like strawberry something, as if there were nothing but pure fruit inside. We made two versions, one with balsamic vinegar and one with basil; both solidifying slowly into stable, gelatinous masses that beg to be paired with peanut butter on bread.

Homemade Strawberry Basil Preserves

Then, a day or two after we made jam, we turned some into ice cream. We’re talking about a crazy simple ice cream—an ice cream with four ingredients, maybe three: jam, coconut milk, vanilla extract and a little extra coconut sugar if you like. It was wonderful. Refreshing. Creamy and milky and the palest pink.

Strawberry Jam Ice Cream

Strawberry Jam Ice Cream

And the thing that amazes me most about all of it—the jam and the ice cream and the strawberry picking—is how they are a testament, again, to the power of connections, wherever they begin—from across a crowded table to across computer screens.




Strawberry Basil Jam (or, technically, more of strawberry basil preserves)
Adapted from Cooks.com
Makes about one quart

I’m calling this strawberry (basil) jam because the first time we made it, we didn’t use the basil—but then we used the jam to make ice cream. The second time, we did use basil, and that’s the recipe posted here. You may make the same recipe with or without basil, or with balsamic as explained below.

(In the first version of preserves, instead of adding the basil leaves, we added a few drizzles of balsamic. A slightly more acidic flavor result, perhaps for a more refined palate, but we loved it.)

Ingredients:
4 cups of washed, trimmed fresh strawberries, halved
1/3 cup of honey
2 tablespoons of lemon juice (which is about the juice of one lemon)

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water

10 fresh basil leaves, chopped finely (optional)
(Another option is a few drizzles of your favorite balsamic)

Directions:
Assuming you’ve got your strawberries all prepped, set a large stockpot on the stove and combine berries, honey and lemon juice. Warm over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, put 1/2 cup of cold water in a bowl on the counter, and sprinkle a tablespoon of unflavored gelatin on top. Let it stand while you return to the stovetop.

Stir the boiling liquids for about three minutes. Add the bowl of gelatin water to the mixture, and stir until it’s totally dissolved. Turn off the heat, and let the pot sit for about five minutes. Skim off any foam from the top. Add the chopped basil and give the mixture a good stir.

Ladle the jam mixture into a quart-sized mason jar (or whatever jars you prefer). Cover the top with parchment paper and secure it; cool slightly on the counter. Place in refrigerator to store. It will need about a day to fully set.

Preserves keep for a month in the fridge or a year in the freezer.

_______________________________

Strawberry Jam Ice Cream
Makes about a quart of ice cream

Calling this strawberry jam ice cream is a little misleading: The resulting ice cream doesn’t taste like jam. It tastes like creamy, milky, thick strawberry puree with wonderful sweetness and a slight tart kick. I’d love to add chopped dark chocolate next time, but I’d love to add chopped dark chocolate to every ice cream.

Oh, and also: This ice cream is especially nice topped with a few dollops of homemade jam.

Ingredients:
1 can of full-fat organic coconut milk
1 cup of strawberry jam (recipe above)
A few teaspoons of coconut sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:
Combine coconut milk, jam, coconut sugar (if desired for added sweetness) and vanilla in blender. Pour into ice cream machine and follow manufacturer directions.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 48 Comments

  1. Megan

    Lovely post, Shanna! We went strawberry picking this weekend, it was my first time. I am planning on making some jam too, here’s hoping it turns out as good as yours looks!

  2. Jacqui

    This time of year, I am obsessed with strawberries. I’m growing a couple of strawberry plants in a container on our back patio — it’s so fun watching them grow! More fun eating them. And hooray for Internet-friends-turned-real-life-friends! Christina’s blog is so pretty.

    Have a great week, S.

  3. Lindsey @ Pas de Deux

    Thank you for this lovely glimpse into your friendship with Christina. I have a similar friend, Sarah, who I met through a mutual blogging connection–our first meeting with a homemade nut butter/SCOBY exchange, which turned into a coffee dates, which turned into regular meet-ups on Saturday mornings, now at the City Market. When there’s a true connection, it doesn’t matter how it begins!

    I am salivating over this ice cream… Thinking I need to get an ice cream maker very, very soon… :-)

  4. lindsay c

    As always your words are thoughtful and inspiring. I love the images and sincerity behind this post and the recipe sounds terrific. keep em’ coming :)

  5. felicia | Dish by Dish

    Shanna, it never occurred to me that a friendship starts to blossom with the first “me too!” realization – but how apt is it- because even though we are attracted to some others because of their differences and how interestingly foreign they may be, we’re bonded to many more because of the similar qualities & mindsets that unite us.

    btw, the strawberry jam and ice cream both look amazing – i must imagine a trip to the farm & a sunny afternoon of strawberry picking has the power to inspire their creation! Is there any other way of making ice-cream without an ice cream maker? I mean, can’t we just put the ice cream mixture in a tub in the fridge and freeze it directly?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Felicia, You know, I read a long time ago about a method where you pour the ice cream mix into a freezer-safe pan or dish; put it in the freezer for an hour; take out and whisk vigorously by hand; put back in the freezer for an hour; repeat; and do this three times. It’s supposed to simulate the churning of a maker. I’m pretty sure I tried it, too, and while the results aren’t *exactly* the same, they’re a next best thing.

  6. Maxine

    Ah, a post on jam–one of my favorite things to make! Adding basil is interesting; I will try that this year. I’m wondering how the honey changes the taste over using regular sugar. As I usually can my jams, I’m wondering if I can still do a water bath canning process with the honey. (Thinking out loud.) You need to add banana next time and make strawberry banana jam! The possibilities of jam making is endless! Can you tell how much I love it!!! :)

  7. Nicole

    What a lovely post! I went strawberry picking with my future sister-in-law last summer and it was such a pleasure. We giggled the whole time and couldn’t get enough gorgeous strawberries. The jam and ice cream you made sound perfect. I’m from Holland, Michigan, too :) I don’t think I know Christina, but how funny!

  8. sara forte

    just made something similar today! I had a bowl after lunch and am fighting going for another…knowing I’ll then want another after dinner ;) very sweet post, Shanna. Looks so fun to pick big buckets of berries.

  9. Niki

    It’s been a while since I’ve commented on your posts, but I still read them every time I see a new one! I wanted to comment this time b/c I wanted to tell you about my roasted jam!! I started roasting them at my job for the jam instead of in the pot and it is beautiful! It takes a bit longer than your recipe, but it is delicious, just add the ingredients to a pan, roast at 350 degrees, stirring every 20 mins after the first 40 mins until done. I’ve done strawberry peach mango, raspberry champagne, strawberry basil, peach cobbler, and many more….. You should definitely try it! Works great using frozen fruit too!

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  11. Vicki

    Love strawberries!! What wonderful ideas for my favorite summer fruit. :) Any tips for freezing strawberries? I’ve tried this before but when I thaw them it always ends up being a gooey, syrupy mess that I end up throwing away. Also, you’re probably the perfect person to ask this question. For my birthday I got a KitchenAid stand mixer and I’m not sure where to begin to use this. I’m not very good at baking, although maybe this stand mixer will help batters come out better. I’m thinking of getting the ice cream maker attachment since I’ve been wanting to get an ice cream maker for sometime. Any suggestions/recipes on how to break in my new toy?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Vicki, We washed and removed the green tops from the strawberries and froze them in small ziplock bags a handful or two at a time.

      As far as the KitchenAid stand mixer, fun! I actually don’t have one anymore, but I’ve heard so many people love theirs. : ) The main time I wish I had one is when I’m mixing dough. Sounds like it’s time for you to try your hand at bread! : ) Don’t know much about the ice cream attachment, but I’d love to hear how it goes if you get it. And happy belated birthday!

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  13. Ashley

    My goodness, I just think you are wonderful. Catching up on some of your posts and I always leave your site happier than when I came. Thanks for your words, your stories, your food and for being you.

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  15. Sarah

    The strawberry jam recipe is amazing! It was so easy. I’ve always shied away from making jam because of all the sugar. It’s so nice to have a recipe that just calls for honey to sweeten the jam. Do you know if this recipe is transferable to other fruits like raspberries and peaches? Thanks again!!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh, Sarah, I’m so glad you liked it, too! And, you know, strawberry is the only fruit I’ve tried here, but I can’t imagine why the technique wouldn’t work with other fruits, too. The main question would probably be if the honey needed to be upped or lowered based on sweetness. Let me know if you try it!

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