Strawberry jam runs deep in my memory. I remember Grandma always having her jam that we would slather on top of her homemade breads and Mom carrying on the tradition as we had our garden plot growing up that Dad cared for each day. When I had littles, I started into making strawberry jam. My first experience was with my Amish friends. Here is a little excerpt from my new book that will be coming out soon…
I had a jumper on with my white Amish cap pinned to my hair and they all had black ominous looking capes with big black hooded bonnets to almost entirely cover up the white caps that were beneath.This black bonnet hid their face as it overshadowed it.I hated to tell them, but they looked a bit on the dreary side.Almost like something I saw on Halloween with the circle of witches.It was nothing like that, of course, and when they explained that it was to make them look more meek and humble I erased the evil from my mind in a flash. At any rate, it also seemed much too hot to wear such things on this day that we went picking in the hot sun. When I asked they told me that they were required by the law in Amishland.It was in what they called, “The Ordung”.
Once we arrived at the strawberry patch, they all unveiled the black capes and bonnets and rolled up their sleeves.I saw them rush out into the patch and before you could even think, they had a whole flat already picked.I could see that they knew how to work and they worked fast.When you see them in motion, you immediately want to join in.They were talking in their own language and half the time I wondered if they were asking questions about me.When you speak another language that others can’t understand, it is easy to talk about them and they will never know.Every time they would chuckle out loud, I would smile and chuckle with them.If I was going to be among them, learning their language was a must.I wanted to know what they were talking about.
“I want to learn your language,” I said with eagerness.It drew them closer to me somehow because they had this sponge looking at them wanting to know all that they know.Everything I observed and everything I heard them say was like living water to me.I wanted to drink it all in and fill my longing heart.They instantly agreed to teach me the language starting with the small greeting phrases.
“Say, vee beesh du,” Katie recited.I repeated the phrase trusting it meant something nice.She continued, “That means, ‘How are you?’ In Datch.”
I said it over and over to each of the sisters and they all responded, “Eek bin aww rat.”That meant, “I am all right.”They giggled at how I would say things at first, but Katie kept encouraging me by telling me I was doing great.Each of the ladies had about 8 to 10 flats overflowing with strawberries.I have never seen a person walk off with that many.We piled the strawberries in the back of my van and met at Mary’s place to ‘work them up’.
Mary’s home looked like a shed, the kind of shed’s my husband built on a regular basis.It was part shed with dirt floors and part shop where her husband Dennis had his horse harness business.The last part on the end closest to the country road was their dwelling place.It had linoleum floors with some old recycled cabinets along the side facing the road.With a little window over the sink and a table stretched across the length of the cabinets, it had the feeling of home.When you walked through the kitchen it opened up to a living room area with old thrift store couches and chairs covered with blankets and towels.On the other side of the furniture was long sheets or curtains hanging down separating the living room from the bedroom.I was beginning to think either the Amish have no taste for decorating with all the ruffled polyester hearts and pictures of horses gracing the plain white or peach walls which reminded me of something I would have put in my closet to decorate back in the 80s.It was not what I had imagined but it was perfect.They actually could do no wrong in my eyes.Taste was of no matter to me anymore.
We made our way through the home and through the shop beside it, to the open part of the shed where the horse buggies were.I was transfixed on those empty buggies and longed for a ride.There was much work to be done so I refrained myself from asking for a ride.My children were full of dust and red strawberry smears on their clothing and faces.Miles was playing with Elsie’s boys while Molly stayed at my side.The children did not know English at all but when you have little children playing, they figure out how to communicate.That’s the great thing about children, there is no cultural divide nor language barrier.They don’t care about what color your skin is or what kind of clothing you are wearing, they just play.
Megan was sitting in her car seat while she watched us work.We started with cutting off the green stems on the end and plopping the strawberries into a clean bowl.With 6 ladies cutting, the strawberries were finished in such a short time and as we worked we talked.I saw community for the first time in my life.Good wholesome productive activity.They took a potato masher and began to crush and sugar the strawberries before cooking them on the stove for jam.To my surprise, they were making freezer jam.I had no idea that they had freezers.Apparently, they have a community freezer run on a diesel engine.It looks like a semi trailer.Once the jam was set up, I helped haul the containers off to the trailer.You can walk right down the middle and set them on shelves.We had set these on the shelf marked, Dennis.I learned that everyone refers to the woman in Amishland by her husband’s first name.She was “Dennis Mary”.I was “Mark Erin”.I also heard them refer to an entire family as just the plural form of the husband’s first name.In that case, Mary’s family would be “Dennis’s”.They called my family, “Mark’s”.
It was so kind of them to help me make my jam and put my jam into some old cool whip, mayonnaise, or sour cream containers.They used such products in their cooking, and here, I thought they made everything from scratch.I figured they never went to the grocery store because they had their Amish Bulk food stores and what they could grow on their farms.Boy was I mistaken.They have their staple items that they keep on hand for baking and cooking.In their pantry you will see boxed breakfast cereals, fake mayo called salad dressing, marshmallows, corn syrup, peanut butter, crackers, and chips.They do use fresh milk and get that at the nearest Amish dairy farm in the community.Some things they get at the Bulk Food store, but they pay drivers to bring them to the grocery stores in town several times each month. “The English”, who are anyone white and non-Amish are basically paid taxi drivers.They tried to pay me but I did not want to be just an English to them, I wanted to be grafted in as one of them.
~Excerpt from Memoirs of a Keeper: Angels and Demons Book 1
Years later I brought my own children to the strawberry patch to make many more fun memories. I made each of my children story books while they were growing up. This example is from Mikey’s book. I can’t get over how much my little batch of children have grown.
After we moved back from TN and had our first farm in Hortonville, Mark started growing strawberries of our own. Strawberries should be a part of everyone’s growing up years.
Now that most of the children are grown, a young mother in our community told me she would be glad to pick us some strawberries as she started her memory building with her little girl. She came back with a toddler covered in pink and red, strawberries smeared all over her little face, and the seat of her pants with a big red spot for each time she sat on the strawberries that were all over the patch.
I usually made the freezer jam and it was very unhealthy. Laced with sugar, it was just a luxury we took out for special occasions since we didn’t want to eat a whole lot of sugar on a regular basis. But, since then I have given myself over to researching how to avoid the huge amount of sugar the recipes call for. I found out that the pectin NEEDS the sugar to activate it. Most freezer jam recipes call for 7 cups of sugar for 5 cups of berries which sounds so BAD to me as a mom who has always tried to stay away from too much sugar.
This is what I learned…
You can use gelatin in place of the pectin! How brilliant! Any recipe I had found across the internet with gelatin, it calls for some sugar, but not near as much.
Healthy Strawberry Jam
- 5 cups mashed strawberries
- 1/2 cup sugar or you can use the THM gentle sweet (if you can do sugar alcohols, this one is best!)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 4 t gelatin
First, we cut the stems off the strawberries
Then we sent the strawberries into the vitamix for pureeing them. In a separate container we mixed the gelatin into the lemon juice until it made a paste and then added it into the berries stirring over medium/high heat for about 2 min after it started to boil.
Pour into glass jars, leaving about 1/2 inch head space. Cool for several hours and then you can store them in the freezer until you are ready to use it. After you take it out of the freezer, you can just leave the jar in the refrigerator for a couple weeks. It is surprising how fresh it tastes and you don’t have to worry about all that sugar!