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Potluck: Let’s do something ‘berry’ special

An email from Bonnie Plants has got me rethinking strawberries.

Homegrown berries are a billion times better than the ones we get at the store.

Once upon a time, I’d plant ever-bearing strawberries as groundcover around the perimeter of my house. I always figured if you go to the trouble of purchasing and planting something, it ought to give something back.

Hence my apple, plum, apricot, nectarine and peach trees.

And the blackberries, blueberries and raspberries.

But a few years ago, I gave up. I would cry every time a storm took out a tree. Or when I saw a bird or squirrel getting to the fruit faster than I could.

Besides, if you plant miniature or dwarf trees, the fruit hangs so low a dog could reach it.

And my chow loved peaches.

I almost replanted everything this spring, but it seemed like spring was never going to arrive.

So next year, I have resolved to plant a few trees and berries.

I’m going to follow these tips from Bonnie Plants to make sure I have enough strawberries for the squirrels, the birds and me:

• When planting strawberries, be sure the crown is above soil level and the upper-most roots are ¼ inch beneath soil level; buried crowns rot and exposed roots dry out. Strawberry plants should be placed approximately 14 to 18 inches apart from each other in neat rows that are separated by 2 to 3 feet each. Let runners fill in until plants are 7 to 10 inches apart.

• Use mulch to keep berries clean, conserve moisture and control weeds.

• To keep it simple, plant strawberries in a container. Just remember container plantings need much more water than in-ground plantings, usually once a day; and if it’s hot, twice. Strawberry pots are the obvious, best container choice for growing strawberries. You can fit several plants in one pot; just make sure whatever type of garden pot you use has good drainage. Strawberries have a relatively small root ball and can be grown in containers as small as 10 to 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. However, the smaller the container, the more frequently you will need to water. Synthetic and light colored pots will keep the roots cooler than dark colors and natural materials that conduct heat.

• Strawberries like well-drained fairly rich soil, so be sure to add compost or other organic matter when preparing the pot or patch.

• Strawberries need full sun, six to eight hours per day, and frequent, deep soakings. They will grow in all zones and should be fed twice a year — when growth begins and after the first crop.

• Control slugs and snails by handpicking them off plants and prevent theft from birds by covering your patch with netting as the first berries ripen.

OK, I might not follow that last tip. The one year I placed nets over my berries, a bird got stuck underneath. It took me an hour to get him out.

And he was one angry bird.

If you have an abundance of berries this year or next, make this easy microwave jam from the folks at King Arthur Flour.

And you thought the company was just about baking (me, too).

Microwave Berry Jam

2 cups berries, sliced if large

⅓ to ½ cup sugar, to taste

⅛ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all of the ingredients in a large microwave-safe bowl. Make sure the bowl is large enough; the berries and sugar shouldn’t fill more than ⅓ of the bowl, as they’ll bubble up quite a bit as they cook.

Cook the berries for 5 minutes in the microwave.

Remove the bowl from the microwave. Stir the berries and cook for another 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir thoroughly. If the mixture hasn’t become sauce-like and slightly syrupy, cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Stir to combine any liquid and refrigerate. The jam will thicken as it cools.

Makes ½ to ¾ cup jam..

Tips: You can use frozen berries. You’ll probably need to cook them for 15 minutes rather than 10, because of their excess liquid.

To make a berry or fruit sauce, simply serve the jam hot out of the microwave, rather than waiting for it to chill/thicken. Blueberry sauce would be wonderful atop pancakes or waffles.

You can double the recipe. You’ll need to double the cooking time, as well.

This blueberry pie gets rave reviews online. If I can just stop eating the berries one by one out of the carton, I might actually make it.

Blueberry Pie

¾ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

⅛ teaspoon salt

¼ cup cold water

5 cups fresh blueberries, divided

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 pastry shell, unbaked

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and water until smooth. Add 3 cups blueberries. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.

Remove from heat. Add butter, lemon juice and remaining berries. Stir just until butter is melted. Cool. Pour into pastry shell. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Ball, the canning company, offers this decadent freezer jam.

Almond Delight Jam

1½ cups sugar

5 tablespoons instant pectin

3 cups crushed strawberries

½ cup crushed blackberries

1 banana, peeled and crushed

½ cup crushed almonds

2 teaspoon almond extract

5 plastic (8-ounce) freezer jars

Stir sugar and instant pectin in a bowl until well blended.

Add strawberries, blackberries, banana, almonds and almond extract. Stir 3 minutes.

Ladle jam into clean jars to fill line. Apply lids. Let stand until thickened, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 1 year.

Say you’ve got a potluck picnic coming up. These pickles would be a fun addition.

Dill Pickles

8-12 medium size cucumbers

2 garlic cloves, cut in small chunks

4 small onions, sliced

2 heads dill

2 cups white vinegar

½ cup canning salt

½ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon celery seed

2 teaspoon mustard seed

1 sanitized ice cream pail (1 gallon plus 1 quart size) with lid

Cold filtered tap water

Wash and slice pickles in half leaving skins on. Pickles will be packed in layers with spices standing up in pail (it works easier to lay the pail on its side while packing). Make 3 to 4 layers of pickles interspersing the layers of pickles with the garlic, onions and dill.

When the pail is packed, mix the vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seed and mustard seed and pour over the pickles. Fill the remainder of the container with water to within 1-inch of the top of the pail. Place the cover on the pail and shake vigorously. Let stand on counter for 24 hours; occasionally shake the pail.

After 24 hours, refrigerate. Pickles will be ready to eat in 48 hours.

I think it was my friend Faye who told about this easy lemon bar recipe. She loved them.

Two-Ingredient Lemon Bars

1 box angel food cake mix

2 cans lemon pie filling

Mix dry cake mix and cans of pie filling together in a large bowl. Pour into a 9x13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the top starts to brown.

Looking for a recipe? Have one you’d like to share? Write to Potluck, Times Record, P.O. Box 1359, Fort Smith, Ar 72902. email:

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