Farmer Friday – The Sweetness of Strawberry Season
Because she was not quite busy enough as a farmer and mother of two young children, Emma Lewis-Van Vorst decided to start a small jam business out of her family’s farmhouse in central New York. Technically, the season starts with rhubarb, but it’s really not in full swing until local strawberries start popping up red and sweet in June. “I freeze a lot of rhubarb to make strawberry-rhubarb jam,” Emma says. She makes a strawberry-vanilla bean jam also, but her plain strawberry is a perennial favorite, she says. “I do a long cook, low sugar, a little lemon juice and no pectin,” she explains. “It really tastes just like the berry.”
Like all farming families, the Van Vorsts of Brookbound Farm are no slackers; their milking herd of about 100 and 200 acres of cropland keep them plenty busy. Emma’s grandparents live in one part of the farmhouse where she and her husband are raising their two children, the eleventh generation on the farm which the family first settled in 1760. Even at 80-something, grandpa still pitches in, especially at peak busy times of year like this. “He was out there yesterday helping. Right now we’re chopping silage, haying and we just got all the corn planted,” Emma says.
Her dad, Andrew Van Vorst, hopes to follow his father’s example and has no plans to retire. “I don’t know if I’d like Florida,” he jokes. On a more serious note, he adds that he is grateful that he and his wife’s only child decided that she wanted to farm: “There are so many things luring them away. She has to feel this is where she can make a good living and have a good life.”
One of the joys of farm life is being in tune with the seasons. Emma has fond memories of her mother and grandmother’s strawberry patches by the side of the house, of picking sweet, juicy berries warm from the sun. She doesn’t have time to grow her own these days but buys them from local farms in quantity, as well as regionally grown plums and peaches later in the season.
She’ll freeze some strawberries to make strawberry-peach jam, which she sells along with a variety of other flavors through one local store in Burnt Hills as well as through the Brookbound farm stand alongside her own free-range eggs (yes, she has chickens, too) and farm-raised beef. Emma also makes special small jar batches for wedding favors and loves to come up with fun, creative flavors like ginger-pear or her spiced plum with honey, clove and cardamom.
For Emma, preserving local fruit harvests as they ripen is part of the natural rhythm of the year. “I just love the actual act of doing it,” Emma says. “It’s so seasonal, a way to celebrate the abundance. It’s just a wonderful seasonal thing.” She often squeezes in jam-making early in the morning while her two kids are eating breakfast. Her youngest, 20-month-old Cecilia, loves strawberries and eats them by the handful. Although her kids are too young to realize it yet, they will surely have their own fond memories of eating breakfast while sweet strawberry jam simmered on the stovetop in their mother’s kitchen. “I was always so proud of how old the farm was and all the people that came before me,” Emma reflects. “Really my job in the long run will be encouraging my children to love this life as much as I do.”
Strawberry Jam and Chocolate Slice Bars
Adapted from Emma Van Vorst, Brookbound Farm
Makes 16 bar cookies
“I don’t eat a lot of jam,” Emma admits, but she does use her own jam in this favorite recipe of her Australian mom’s. (Slice is what those Down Under call a cookie bar.) The original recipe is a large batch baked in a 12 by 16 half-sheet (jelly roll) pan. We cut it in half to fit a 9 by 9 pan, which makes the crust a little thicker.
- ¾ cups sugar
- ¾ cups (12 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1 generous cup (1 pint jar) strawberry jam
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 by 9 pan with parchment or foil with two sides left long so that you can lift the bars out after baking as if in a sling. Butter the lining and pan sides well. Using an electric mixer, cream together sugar, butter and vanilla extract until fluffy. On low speed, blend in flour, one cup at a time. Pull ½ cup of the dough off for later use. Cream in the egg until thoroughly blended. Press dough into the prepared pan. Bake crust about 25 minutes until golden brown at edges and slightly puffed and dry to the touch in the center. Cool crust on a rack for about 10 minutes. Spread crust evenly with strawberry jam and then sprinkle with reserved dough. Bake for another 20 to 25 minutes until crumble is light golden. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips and press them lightly with your hand into the hot slice bars. (They should melt slightly to stick.) Cool completely before removing from pan using parchment or foil sling and cutting into bars.
Tips for freezing fresh strawberries:
Remove green tops and rinse berries well with hot water. Dry thoroughly on paper towels. Lay in a single layer on a large rimmed jelly roll sheet and place in the freezer. When berries are thoroughly frozen, remove and place in large heavy-duty plastic bags or containers. The berries will be frozen individually for easy removal of the number/quantity you want at a time.
Strawberry-Yogurt Super Smoothies
Frozen or fresh strawberries work beautifully in smoothies. Here are some of our favorite combinations: