On Strawberries with April McGreger, Farmer's Daughter Preserves

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April McGreger is a pickling pro and her preserves are probably better than your granny's. Growing up on a sweet potato farm in Mississippi, her mother and grandmother taught her southern-style canning. In 2007, she started The Farmer's Daughter in Hillsborough, NC, making preserves, pickles, chutneys, and chow-chows, selling them at local farmers' markets and shops. April is keen on sourcing locally, using pesticide-free produce and employing traditional techniques to make only small batches. You won't find any preservatives or sneaky, hard-to-pronounce ingredients in anything she makes, and her jams typically contain no more than three ingredients. She is a stickler for using less sugar so that each fruit shines through. One of the most admirable things about April is her hands-on business style. From picking the fruit, to the label design, it's all done by hand and each batch of jam is made by April herself. She's the real deal.  

Interview
It seems like there are lots of different methods for making jams and preserves out there. Which method do you most prefer? Tiny batches, no commercial pectin, reduced sugar, hand-cut, premium local fruit I macerate most of my fruit for 24 hours with sugar to draw out the juices before I ever cook them. This speeds up the cooking time. You want to cook the preserves long enough to achieve a soft set, but not so long that you lose the vibrancy of flavor.    Commercial pectin certainly makes the jamming process go faster and increases yield, but the taste is not even close to the concentrated flavors you get from the traditional preserving process (which relies on evaporation to thicken the preserves). In addition to the fact that pectin-thickened preserves are watery in flavor, pectin has a flavor and a mouth-feel of its own. It's reminiscent of vitamins for me - and not pleasant!   

Is there a rule of thumb to figuring out the fruit to sugar ratio when making jam or preserves? When you are making small batch preserves without pectin, you are free to sweeten to taste. The most important thing is to keep your sugar and acid in balance.  The more sugar you add, the more lemon juice (or other acid) you need to pull back on that sweetness. You should also know that jams and preserves with more sugar keep longer, set (or thicken) faster, and retain better color. The safety of jams has nothing to do with sugar content, but with acidity.  And almost all fruits are high acid except for figs (which is why they are traditionally cooked with lemon slices).    Most of my preserves are around 30% sugar by weight. The industry standard is 70%.    

Where do you like to get your strawberries from and what is your favorite variety? We make so many strawberry preserves that we pull from several sources.  John Soehner of Eco Farm grows strawberries just a few miles up the road from me and is one of my favorite sources. When I get strawberries from him, I'm able to have them picked, delivered, and macerated in sugar all in a matter of hours, without them ever going into the flavor-zapping refrigerator. Whitted Bowers Certified Organic & Biodynamic Farm just north of Hillsborough has a lot of different varieties, and it is the best place to pick your own and taste to discover your favorite varieties. We put up over 1000 jars of strawberry preserves this year so Eastern Carolina Organic's farmer cooperative has been amazing for us - a source of delicious organic strawberries in volume. Most farmers in North Carolina grow Chandlers and Sweet Charlies, both of which are delicious. Earliglows are another favorite variety of mine if you can find them. They are tiny, delicious, and perfect for whole strawberry preserves.      

It seems like using green strawberries is a trend right now. What are your thoughts? They look really cool and are as tasty as your pickle brine! I prefer mine ripe, red and luscious.      

What is the best thing you've ever eaten with strawberries?
My birthday falls during strawberry season, and I always requested my mother's Strawberry Tall Cake as my birthday cake. These days I rarely see her on my birthday so I make my own version, with 4 layers of vanilla bean & orange zest-scented chiffon cake, topped with juicy, sugar and honey-macerated strawberries and fresh whipped cream. I slather the whole thing with whipped cream and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours so it has time to absorb all the juices. It doesn't get any better!     Really good, homemade strawberry ice cream (no strawberry rocks, please!) and a hot, crunchy-on-the-bottom, buttermilk biscuit with whole strawberry preserves come in as number two and three. I like the classics.  

Farmer's Daughter Brand

6916 Union Grove Church Rd.
Hillsborough, NC 27278
(919) 259-3946
info@farmersdaughterbrand.com

http://www.farmersdaughterbrand.com/ 

Eco Farm

Cindy Econopouly and John Dennis Soehner
2501 Butler Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516


Whitted Bowers Farm

8707 Art Farm Road
Cedar Grove, NC 27231

Eastern Carolina Organics

2210 E. Pettigrew Street
Durham NC 27703


Hayley Teater is a baker and writer from Greensboro, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter (@tiptoes86)!

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