I often forget how close Oakland is to the coast. Not just to any coast, to the amazing Northern California coast; to Highway One, teal colored water, rugged cliffs, and quaint coastal towns. I was determined to partake in berry picking season this year. I lived in Portland, Oregon for several years and used to always head to the farms just outside the city limits to pick red, purple and blue colored berries when the season hit. When I reviewed lists of recommended spots to pick berries in the Greater Bay Area, I knew the coast was going to be preferred over inland spots. What resulted was a family day trip to Pescadero last Saturday. An early departure meant no traffic. Blue skies equaled that teal-colored water. A list of recommended stops yielded delicious indulgence. Eighteen pounds of bright red organic strawberries meant I had work to do when we got home.
Pescadero sits just inland from Highway One between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. It’s along a stretch of Highway One I don’t think I had traveled before, at least that I can remember. A trip over the hill on Highway 92 into Half Moon Bay, and then a meandering seventeen mile drive down the coast will take you to the turn off for Pescadero. Our destination was Swanton Berry Farm’s Coastways Ranch, which sits about thirteen miles farther down Highway One, right across from the Ano Nuevo State Park. Swanton has two farm locations; their farm stand and strawberry fields in Davenport are open daily. We chose to head to their Coastways Ranch U-Pick Farm, open Friday thru Sunday, because it was a bit closer to Pescadero which we planned to explore afterwards. We arrived right as they unlocked the gates, giving us the strawberry field to ourselves for a bit. The kids “helped” and filled their bellies; they should have weighed our children before we got started :o)
After we paid for our eighteen pound harvest and changed our shoes (fields were muddy in the morning, I recommend boots), we jumped in the car and headed back up Highway One to Pie Ranch. Pie Ranch is an amazing place working to educate the next generation of farmers. Striving to create healthy food systems, to protect productive farmlands, and to teach, inspire, and feed the community through their farm stand, events, and educational programs. It is awe-inspiring, I highly recommend watching the video on their website located here. We popped into the farm stand for what else, pie. With a peach galette and a “cutie” strawberry rhubarb pie in hand, we found a spot outside at a picnic table, watched the local birdie watching us, and enjoyed our late morning snack. I headed back in for another galette for the road, and grabbed a back of their whole wheat flour to make more at home.
Full on berries and baked goods, we wound our way back up the coast, past Piegon Point Lighthouse. Built in 1871, the lighthouse is tied with Point Arena as the tallest on the West Coast. We weren’t able to stop on this visit, but plan to add it to our future itineraries. We turned right on Pescadero Creek Road, headed past the turn into downtown Pescadero and popped into Harley Goat Farm. Set on nine acres, the farm is a restored, “new and improved” version of the 1910 dairy farm that once operated there. Two hundred alpine goats produce milk for the award-winning cheeses, decorated beautifully with edible flowers. The farm offers daily tours which you can book online in advance. However, a tour isn’t needed to stop in; you can wander by the paddocks and pastures to say hi to the goats, and enjoy the restored gardens, historic barn, and gift shop. Be sure to go upstairs to see the barn hay loft which has been restored into a gorgeous event space with an amazing fir table.
After our visit, we headed back into town and had lunch at the Pescadero Country Store. They have burgers, pizzas, and a wonderful outdoor lawn and picnic area. Also inside is a quaint general store and a bar with great beers on tap. We wrapped up our meal outside listening to music, which on this day was a gentleman singing kid-friendly songs about monsters, lobsters, and bugs; our crew got in lots of giggles. We popped over to Arcangeli Grocery Co. for their fresh baked artichoke bread, which was blazing hot when I picked it up. The kids played while we ate ice cream sandwiches out front and then we piled in the car and headed home. The berries were dumped in the sink to wash and then dried in the sun, while I figured out game plan.
The reason for our eighteen pound haul was jam. Making your own jam is quite easy, especially with strawberries since they don’t require much prep other than removing the hull. I wound up tackling it the following day. Small-batch jam is a great way to take advantage of seasonal fruit at its peak ripeness, and allows you to control how much sugar goes in. What I don’t recommend is trying to tackle four different types of jam at once :o) This is what I did in my rush to get the soon-to-be overripe berries into a form that we could enjoy for months to come. I did take away some great learnings after reviewing numerous recipes and tips online.
I made four types: classic strawberry, strawberry vanilla, honey strawberry, and strawberry lemon marmalade. I have included links to the recipes I modified below, as well as notes and tips. All the recipes were low sugar to begin with, and in some cases I reduced it even more. I chose to use recipes without pectin. All the recipes I used have lemon in them, which has a natural form of pectin. The marmalade recipe I followed actually has you soak the seeds and pith in a cheesecloth bundle in the juice for awhile; these components of the lemon have the highest concentration. All of the recipes required the fruit to macerate in the sugar, or honey, for some time. While an extra step, it also gives you the ability to make this a more leisurely process. If you have fruit fresh from the farmers market, you can prep it, stick it in the fridge, and come back to it when you have time; the next day if needed. I don’t like chunky jam, so I used my Cuisinart hand blender on all of mine after they were done cooking. This worked out really well and yielded the perfect, smooth consistency that I like.
Additional notes on my jam-making experience:
Temperature – Most recipes will tell you to cook jam to 220 degrees, using a candy thermometer to watch the temp. Mine is broken so I just watched it and turned it off when I felt it seemed reduced and ready. I noticed this was typically about 10 minutes after it stopped foaming. Once it stops foaming it will continue to bubble and thicken. I say, trust your instinct.
Hot Jars – I washed my jars in our dishwasher on the sterilize setting and kept them in the hot machine until I was ready for them. You can also wash them with very hot, soapy water. I have read that pre-boiling them in hot water is really not necessary, but if you are concerned you can add this step.
Canning – I chose to follow a tip I read online about inverting the jars when filled with the hot jam to seal them, instead of properly canning them in boiling water. This did create a seal (i.e. the lids depressed down and seem to be tight). However, I have done additional reading about this not creating a quality seal for long term storage. So I have decided to stick mine in the refrigerator. If you are doing small batches you can likely skip the canning step and just keep yours in the fridge; I can promise you it will get consumed quickly.
Strawberry Vanilla Jam, via Love and Olive Oil
Modifications – I did not add in the second cup of sugar. I followed the direction to macerate with one cup and the vanilla beans, and then went directly to cooking it a couple of hours later.
Classic Strawberry Jam, I used the same recipe above, I just eliminated the vanilla. I actually doubled the above recipe, and used only 2 1/2 cups of sugar total. I macerated in 1 1/2 cups, and then added 1 additional cup.
Strawberry Lemon Marmalade, via Love and Olive Oil
Modifications – I thought the berry to lemon ratio in this seemed low in berries, so I doubled it to four cups of berries. I again cut the sugar a bit. I macerated the 4 cups of berries in the 1 1/2 cups, and then added 1 additional cup when it was time to cook. I was a bit confused by the addition of 2 cups of water to the lemon juice in this recipe. It took a long time to cook down, and my final product wound up really thick and jelled. This could be the pectin from the seeds and pith I mentioned above. Or I cooked it too long. I might try again with less water. I also chose to use a microplane zester for my lemon zest since I prefer a smoother consistency.
Honey Strawberry Jam, via 100 Days of Real Food
This was recommended by an old friend as a great alternative to refined sugar. The recipe in the link is for blueberries, I just used 1 1/2 pounds of strawberries instead. I followed the rest of the recipe exactly, using 2/3 cups of sugar. I have not had a chance to taste it yet to see what the sweetness level is like.
I hope you are able to enjoy your own time out on the coast…if you wind up picking eighteen pounds of berries I can tell you this will yield: ten jars of jam, six galettes, two gallon size freezer bags, and plenty for snacking :o)
All photos by Adrienne Schell