The ol’ homestead is not yet up to growing all the strawberries my family will eat in a year. We used to have an enormous berry patch and could barely keep up on the harvest, but these days we have one main berry bed that’s situated in far too shady a spot for berries. There are a few other strawberry plants dotted around the yard, but we are currently under-represented in berry space.
So this year, when I saw a good deal on berries – Shuksans and Tillamook berries for $2 a pound from local producers – I nabbed a bunch.
Of course, then I had to do something with all those berries. The Shuksans are amazing fresh and freeze very well. The Tillamooks were less impressive as a fresh berry and were a little too large to freeze, so I opted to process them for jam.
When you are preparing 48 pounds of fresh strawberries for the jam and the freezer, it helps to have an efficient set-up. You know those time-and-motion studies that early industrialists relied upon to design the assembly line? Ignore for a moment that the assembly line concept treats humans as interchangeable cogs in the machine of production and has led to terrible working conditions for millions and the extinction of the artisan craftsman. Focus instead on the 50 pounds of berries you need to get through.
Time to borrow some tricks from industry.
Set up your work station in the most efficient way possible. Before jamming or freezing, all the berries need to be topped and rinsed. If you are right handed, set up your station as so (if you are left handed, mirror-image everything):
Notice that the berries are on your left within easy reach of your left hand. A compost bucket for the berry tops is directly in front of you and a working bowl is immediately to the left of that. A very large rinse bowl is behind the compost bucket and working bowl.
With this set-up it is easy to accomplish time-and-motion efficiency thusly:
- Right hand holds knife perpetually just above the compost bucket. Knife is never set down and right hand is never moved except for the wrist turn flick that removes the strawberry top. No motion is wasted.
- Left hand reaches slightly up to grab a berry and brings it to the knife. Right hand removes berry top and top drops into the compost bucket.
- Left hand moves topped berry slightly to the left and drops it into the working bowl.
- Left hand continues to the left to grab the next berry.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
This continues until the working bowl is full. Then, the left hand dumps the contents of the working bowl into the rinse bowl, returns the working bowl to its original spot and continues on as the berry grabbing hand.
In this way you prepare the maximum number of berries in the most time-and-motion-efficient way possible.
Of course, if you are lucky, you will have a trusty kitchen helper. Do not make your kitchen helper adhere to your Ford Motor Company-style strawberry processing procedure. Just be grateful for the help and company.
My daughter is using a large, round, stainless steel piping tip to remove the tops from the strawberries. It works great – highly recommended for kids who aren’t quite ready to use a paring knife unsupervised.
I managed to top and rinse almost 50 pounds of berries with “help” from my daughter in well less than 2 hours because I set up my work station to move quickly and efficiently.
Henry Ford would be proud.