As soon as the weather starts to warm up I start thinking about the upcoming preserving and pickling season. I already picked up a couple of gallons of distilled white vinegar at the supermarket a few weeks ago, and yesterday I saw that strawberries were on sale, so I bought a couple of pounds. What you see above is the result of those 2 pounds of strawberries and a little more than a pound of sugar: almost a quart of really fresh tasting strawberry jam. I've been making jam and preserves of different kinds for almost 50 years but I have to admit that I've really refined my methods for sweet preserves like these only in the past couple of years. Here are my "rules" for making great fruit jams and loving both the process and the results:
- Make small quantities; a few pounds of jam cooks up in a matter of minutes and then you're off and running to other necessary projects without devoting an entire day to the jam.
- Don't be a slave to jelling; I cook my jam and marmalade to 220 degrees F - it's a soft set and not jelled hard at refrigerator temperature.
- For the same reason I don't pressure seal the jars after they're filled. I fill the sterilized jars with boiling jam and close them with a new sterilized dome lid and ring. Technically they're not entirely safe, so I label them to be stored refrigerated.
While we're making rules, here's all the equipment you'll need:
- An enameled iron or other non-reactive Dutch oven. Your preserving pan should be squat rather than tall and narrow to allow for maximum contact with the heat. 6 to 8 quarts is ideal...
- A stainless ladle, a silicon spatula, an instant-read thermometer are all essential.
- Jars - standard Mason jars like the ones above, or recycled ones. Yes, recycling is a no-no to the safety experts, but if jars and lids are sterilized and the jars refrigerated after cooling, the risk is almost non-existent.
- A jar funnel, either a standard one or a homemade one that I used in the photos below. A jar funnel you buy perfectly fits the top of a standard Mason jar. But if you're using recycled jars, frequently the tops are more narrow than a standard canning jar. My $1. solution was to saw off the end of a plastic funnel; now I hardly ever use my fancy stainless steel funnel.
Here are the steps in making the jam. The full recipe follows at the end.
Here you have the rinsed and hulled berries crushed with a potato masher with the vanilla bean and seeded lemon half. The lemon imparts some flavor contrast as well as some pectin for a soft set once the jam has cooled.
Add the sugar all at once before beginning to cook the jam.
Bring the jam to a full rolling boil, stirring occasionally.
Decrease the heat to medium/high and cook, stirring occasionally.
Continue to cook until the temperature increases to 220 degrees F.
Ready to jar after skimming.
Filling the jars! This took about an hour from start to finish.
EASY STRAWBERRY JAM
2 pounds ripe strawberries
1 vanilla bean
1/2 lemon, quartered and seeded
2 1/2 cups/18 ounces granulated sugar
3-4 half-pint capacity jars
- Bring a large pan of water to a boil and immerse the jars in it to boil for 2 minutes. Use tongs to remove the jars and place them upside down on a pan lined with paper towels to drain. Keep the pan of water for sterilizing the lids later on.
- Rinse the berries in a colander under cold running water and drain them well. Use the point of a paring knife to remove the hulls.
- Place the berries in a non-reactive pan that's about 6-quart capacity and crush them with a potato masher. Stir in the vanilla bean, lemon, and sugar
- Place the pan on high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally; at the boil, decrease the heat to medium low.
- Continue cooking the jam until the temperature reaches 220 degrees F.
- Off heat, skim and foam from the surface of the jam.
- Reheat both the jam and the pan of water to a simmer. Quickly fill each jar through the funnel to 1/4-inch of the top and cover the jar with a sterilized lid. Screw on the rings and let the jars cool to room temperature.
- Label and date the jars and remember to include "store refrigerated" on each label.