A Time And Motion Study Of Strawberries

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.


  1. says

    And I will bet that the best part of the whole thing wasn't the finished product. I'll bet it was the time you got to spend with your 'helper' doing things together. You'll have and enjoy that long after the berries and the jam are all gone.

  2. says

    I use a similar method cleaning clams and clam wings – my granddaughter, 10, loves any cooked clam product and is great at helping with the process – tho yucky, as she says.

    The only difference is we have 2 similar setups, and two finished bowls…. that way I get a chance to "discretely" check her finished bowl for any missed brown specks before dumping the two bowls together. As I have a double sink, we each have a mess proof work station.

    And yes, it is a great bonding and talking time for us…. It's when she again tells me it embarrasses her when Grammi dances in public… I said someday she'll figure it out that dancing is joy – and contagious! lol!

  3. says

    i am a mess in the kitchen. an absolute mess. my husband is constantly annoyed with my inefficiencies. i am taking this to heart and will be implementing this assembly line strategy (with sink of soapy water for quick clean up) for next week's strawberry picking. if only i could find a super organized person that i could follow around for a day so that i can get all the good tips :)

  4. says

    Yes I do a bit different. I rinse first, then lay out on towels to dry, covering all the counters. Then I trim and as I trim I sort. Jam ones go in one bowl and ones I want to freeze go onto cookie sheets to freeze. Iffy ones go in a third for slicing and sugaring for dessert and immediate use.

    I have to sit while working for anymore than 5 minutes, so I work off the kitchen table for all the hand work. There is very little eating. I am actually allergic to strawberries and do not eat them raw. I only eat them cooked. That seems to make a difference and I don't get all rashy.

    I like an efficient kitchen. Cooking, canning, baking takes up most of my evening after work. I really enjoy it and could never work in a mess. I still use the techniques drummed into us by the "HomeEc" teachers back when I was in school (back when you actually learned to cook and sew). I write up a list, make a schedule if needed, have the kitchen cupboards organized for their use…baking supplies, spices, oils and vinegars, sweeteners, pastas etc. There is no hit or miss as in "just stick it somewhere". I know where every food item in in both my pantrys. Since I need a lot of help with lifting, fetching etc I can tell someone exactly where to look.

    My biggest wish would be a second dishwasher. That way I would never have dirty dishes pending. I have seen them in magazine layouts but we don't have the room.

  5. says

    Hey Erica- I saw a video online the other day about making preserves. It said the only ingredients I needed were 2 lbs berries, 12 T sugar, and 2 t lemon juice. Does that sound right? Someone told me I had to use pectin, but I am guessing the lemon juice covers that. Sorry- I am new to this. I need to pick up the one of the books you recommended. Which was your favorite, or should I say… most basic… for a newbie? I have an abundance of raspberries that I have to do something with. Oh- do you boil your jars and lids or is the dishwasher fine?

    Do you have any canning parties soon where I can come help in exchange for learning?

    One last question, zucchini… can I cop and freeze or does it need to be cooked and then frozen?

    I will leave a tip in the tip jar for my many questions later tonight :)

    Thanks in advance!

  6. says

    Hi Laura. :) Well I just did a no-pectin strawberry jam for the first time and actually have a post about it and other stuff in queue for next week. So I am not an expert in no pectin jams but I can speak to my experience.

    What I can tell you is that you do not NEED pectin to make a strawberry jam. If you use pectin you'll need to follow the recipe on the pectin box (the specified amount of sugar and lemon are necessary for proper set-up of the pectin). What the pectin does is gel all the natural water/juices of the berries, so you get a more-or-less translucent gel with chunks of fruit suspended in the gel.

    Your other option is to just reduce the jam to a thickened consistency by boiling the excess water from the berries out, like you'd reduce a sauce or soup. This works best if you reduce your jam in a big, wide pan…like a paella pan or stainless steel wok or really big saute pan. You want something that will let the water boil off as steam quickly so your jam doesn't cook to mush by the time it's thickened.

    Pros to pectin: you get jam that is like what you'd by in a store. It's clearer and more "sparkling." You get more jam, because the volume of berries are not significantly reduced by boiling off the water.

    Pros to NO pectin: you get a more flavorful, concentrated product. The no pectin strawberry jam I made was almost like a thick ice cream topping. Super flavorful, but also darker and more caramelized and cooked tasting. Not better or worse, necessarily, but different. I like it a lot. You can modify the amount of sugar to your taste. Because you aren't relying on the pectin to set the jam, you have more flexibility with the sweetening. You can even use honey or other sweeteners.

    Important to note that if you go for NO pectin you'll get less jam for the same amount of berries…figure on reducing your berry mixture by half to get to a thick consistency.

    OK, now on to lemon: strawberries like most fruit are a high-acid food. High acid foods are safe to water bath can without additional acid. For this reason, I do not believe it is essential to add lemon juice from a safety perspective. However you might still want to add it for the bright flavor it will add to your jam. Your call.

    Raspberries – all the above applies EXCEPT for me, personally, since raspberries are so delicate, I would go with a pectin jam since you won't have to boil them as much. That said I haven't made no pectin raspberry jam so I'm just going on speculation here.

    Sanitizing – I high-heat dishwasher my jars and rings (if dirty) but NOT my lids. I time it so that the jars are still really hot from the dishwasher when I start to fill them. I no longer boil my jars since what's going into them is boiling anyway and the whole mess is going to get heated up to 220 in the canner.

    Lids – The first time you want those lids to hit boiling water temperatures is when they are sealing your jars in the water bath. Keep them in some very hot tap water as you are filling the jars. This is to soften up the seal on the lid.

    Canning parties – great idea!

    Zucchini – I shred my extra in a food processor fitted with the shredder blade and measure it into 2 cup portions. I toss those in a qt. freezer bag and into the freezer it goes. If you have a favorite zucchini bread recipe or something, find out how much zucchini it calls for and freeze in that qty. to make life easier for yourself down the road.


  7. says

    (yet more, because I write way too much)

    Recommended info – If you are a visual learner, and want to go beyond jams with food preservation, than Preserving with Friends (http://ccpvideos.com/product/preserving-friends) by my friend Harriet really walks you through a lot of stuff.

    If you want the Bible of canning, it's probably the Ball Blue Book (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0972753702/&tag=nortediblife-20) though I don't personally own that one. I really like Putting Food By (http://www.amazon.com/Putting-Food-Fifth-Ruth-Hertzberg/dp/0452296226/&tag=nortediblife-20).

    If you don't want to commit to a book or video yet, the Ball website (http://www.freshpreserving.com/) is good and they have an excellent pdf beginners guide to check out too: (http://www.freshpreserving.com/guides/IntroToCanning.pdf).

    Hope this all helps! Thanks!

  8. says

    oh honey, i think i just creamed my panties. never heard anyone else describe such outrageously brainy analyses of food preparation before. are you sure you're married?

  9. says

    I usually just add some green apple (cooked down into a thick sauce) to most jams when I need a little pectin-oomph. Mostly, though, the reduction method works just fine by me.

    Exceptions: jellies. The elderberry jelly I made last year is the tastiest thing I have maybe ever eaten, and certainly required pectin to set the juice.

  10. Karen says

    trying to get ready for the strawberry canning season. Looking for Non-jam/jelly recipes for canning strawberries. Our family eats very little jam, (we are almost grain free and my DH is diabetic). Any good (non-jam) recipes in your files?

  11. Mary Wildfire says

    1–no surely you don’t throw the tops and bad spots in the compost, don’t you have chickens? Mine love strawberry tops.
    2–I tried a new recipe for strawberry jam recently–main difference is the addition of I think it was 1/4 t cloves and 1/2 t cinnamon and allspice. Boy was that good! I don’t use pectin but always thought that meant I needed more sugar. I guess it’s just more boiling.


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