Strawberry Jam

Posted: May 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Dairy-free, Preserves, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tags: | 7 Comments »

Strawberries!

One of my fondest cooking memories growing up was canning with my mom and Grandma Lucy. When I was a kid, every summer around Grandma’s and my birthday (July 4th and 11th respectively), Grandma would go to one of the local farms and pick up several flats of Blenheim apricots. Those are the best kind, you know, and they’re at their brief peak right around that time. Grandma would bring them over to my parents’ house and, along with my mom, we’d spend a very long, sticky day canning them and making them into jam. For the year after, we’d enjoy delicious home-canned apricots on our cottage cheese, and jam on our English muffins. Sadly, Grandma passed away when I was 12, and in her absence we didn’t really carry on with the tradition (when you’re a teenager, these things stop being cool, right?). After about a year, our canned apricot supply dwindled and then, alas, was finally gone. I haven’t tasted real apricot jam ever since.

Then last fall, I read an article in Bon Appétit about how to make jam and can it at home. It included a couple of delicious-looking recipes and, Christmas gifts in mind, I decided to re-kindle my relationship with home preserving. Ever since then, I’ve been a canning maniac. I’ve made drunken fig jam, caramel pear butter (both recipes from the Bon Appétit article), pluot jam, meyer lemon marmalade (the best!), meyer lemon jelly, tangerine marmalade, kiwi jam, and prickly pear jelly. I missed the berry season and most of the stone fruit season last year, so I’ve been waiting with bated breath ever since. I’ll finally have real apricot jam again! Not to mention cherry, ollalieberry, nectarine, etc. etc. etc…

Canning really puts you in tune with what’s in season when. You start watching out for what fruits are cheap, and when you see them for a dollar a pound you can’t help but snatch up a flat of them, take them home, and turn them into delectable, sticky goo! So when I saw that huge red, ripe strawberries had started showing up in the supermarket with an unexpectedly low price tag, I started buying them up and jamming away.

Last Friday, I invited my oldest friend Sasha over for the first round of strawberry jammin’. We’ve been cooking together since we were three years old! At first, we attempted to be creative and make a strawberry-lime marmalade. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out as well as we’d hoped. The limes were just too overwhelmingly bitter and their rinds became hard, chewy chunks that really didn’t work with the texture of the jam. I had some ideas for how to fix these problems, but the allure of straight-up strawberry jam was too strong. We abandoned the strawberry-lime recipe and made a batch of some damned amazing strawberry jam. Never had a strawberry jam like it in my whole life.

Since then, I’ve made it two more times, once with my friend Kai and once by myself, and each time I’ve perfected the recipe a little more. Now I’d like to share it with you. Don’t know how to can? That’s okay, I’ll run you through the process from start to finish. I even made a little video for you.

High Acid Water Bath Canning

NOTE: Do not use this canning technique for any low-acid foods (vegetables, meats, etc.). Only use it for high-acid foods such as fruit. Here is a good canning tutorial that goes more in depth about the process.

ANOTHER NOTE: Don’t eat any food that shows any sign of spoilage (if the lid is bulging, or if it spurts out when you open it, or if liquids are cloudy or frothy, or if food is slimy or moldy or smells bad). Don’t even taste it. Botulism is no fun at all.

These are the tools you’ll need:

Water bath canner with rack
Water bath canner with rack
This is basically a huge pot with a rack and a lid. You can pick them up for about $25 at most mom & pop hardware stores. I recommend Cole Hardware if you live in San Francisco. Canningpantry.com also has everything you could ever possibly want that has to do with home preserving.

Ladle, long-handled tongs, wide-mouth canning funnel, jar lifter
Ladle, tongs, funnel, jar lifter
You probably already have the ladle and tongs. The funnel and jar lifter are canning-specific and, again, you should be able to get them at the hardware store or canningpantry.com

Magnetic lid lifter
Magnetic lid lifter
You can fish your lids out of boiling water with tongs, but this simple device does a much better job. You can buy one cheap, but the ever-resourceful Kai assembled a free version with a magnet she found on a fridge tied to a piece of string. I made one for myself using fishing line and one of our absurdly strong rare earth magnets. Overkill? Probably. Whatever.

Half-pint canning jars, with lids and rings
Canning jars
A flat of these should run you about $10. Most supermarkets carry them but they like to charge you up to $15 a pop — don’t do it. Cole Hardware and Berkeley Bowl have them much cheaper, as does canningpantry.com.

A word of caution: Don’t use the lids for canning more than once. You can use them as regular lids, but don’t re-process them. The rubber seal breaks down and you could find yourself with un-sealed jars of botulism! Yay. In my kitchen, as a rule, once a lid has been processed, it goes in the garbage because I can’t be bothered to keep track of which are okay to use and which aren’t. You can re-use the jars and rings as many times as you like, though.

The canning process:

  1. First, you want to sterilize the jars. To do this, put your water bath canner on the stove and fill it with with hot water. Put the rack in place. Turn the heat on to high. Once the water is boiling (it will probably take quite a while), toss the rings in and use the jar lifter to place your clean jars on the rack, making sure the water level is above the top of all of the jars. The jars must boil for at least 10 minutes to be sterilized. Don’t put the lids in just yet.

    Boiling jars

  2. Make your jam per the recipe. When the jam is ready to be canned, use the jar lifter to grab the jars out of the canner and place them on a wooden cutting board or dishtowel. Be sure to not place them directly onto the cold countertop, as the difference in temperature will cause the glass to shatter. Using the magnetic lid lifter and/or tongs, pull the rings out and put them in a bowl (so they don’t fall all over the place). Try not to touch the jars or rings: a) they are very hot and b) you’ll contaminate them with your grimy meathooks.
  3. At this point, put the lids in the canner to be sterilized. You don’t want them in there for more than 5 minutes, lest the rubber seal get compromised.
  4. Using the funnel and ladle, spoon hot jam into sterile jars, being careful to not get jam on the rims of the jars. It’ll happen anyway, but the less it does, the easier your life will be. In each jar, leave 1/4″ to 1/2″ headspace at the top. That is, fill it to 1/4″ to 1/2″ under the top of the rim. If you end up having a jar that isn’t completely full, don’t bother processing it. Just put a lid on it, put it in the fridge, and eat it within 2 weeks. I’m sure you’ll manage.
  5. When you’re done transferring jam into jars, dampen a paper towel and clean any errant jam off the rims and threads of the jars. Jam on the rims will cause a bad seal, and a bad seal will cause botulism. Nobody wants botulism.
  6. Use your magnetic lid lifter and/or tongs to get the lids out of the boiling water and put them in the bowl with the rings. Be especially careful not to touch the undersides of the lids with your hands.
  7. Carefully place a lid on top of each jar, making sure that the seal lines up with the rim of the jar. Screw the rings on to hold them in place. The rings don’t have to be particularly tight– finger-tight is fine.
  8. Using the jar lifter, transfer jars back into the boiling water. You should see air bubbles escaping from each jar. Make sure the water covers every jar. Boil jars for 15 minutes. Remove and let them cool on the cutting board for 12 hours. Within the first few minutes you should hear the lids “popping” — that means you processed the jars correctly and they’re properly sealed. You can also check to make sure they’re sealed by pressing the top with your finger. If it doesn’t move, it’s sealed; if it clicks in, it’s not sealed and you should refrigerate the jam and eat it within 2 weeks. Properly sealed jars can be stored unrefrigerated in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

I made a video to walk you through the process of making this jam and canning it:

Making Strawberry Jam from Heather Lynch on Vimeo.

This is my first time making a cooking video, so let me know what you think! I had fun making it, though there are definitely some things I’d do differently next time.

OKAY! Now that you know what you’re in for, here’s how to make the jam itself:

Strawberry Jam

Adapted from this recipe on allrecipes.com

Makes approximately 8 half-pint jars of jam.

INGREDIENTS

4 lbs. strawberries, cored and sliced
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Start heating the water in your water bath canner. Go ahead and put the jars and rings in now (but not the lids).
  2. Wash, core, and slice the strawberries. Squeeze lemon juice.

    Core the strawberries

    Sliced strawberries

    Lemon juice

  3. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, mix sliced strawberries with sugar, lemon juice, and water. Over medium heat, stir until sugar is dissolved.
  4. Place a plate in the freezer. Don’t ask questions, just do it.
  5. Turn heat up as high as it can go and bring mixture to a rapid boil, stirring often. Jam should continue bubbling even when you stir it — that’s how you know it’s boiling enough. Watch the video above to see how properly boiling jam looks. Keep an eye on it because when it first starts to boil, it’ll bubble up and threaten to overflow. You may need to temporarily turn down the heat to prevent this from happening.

    When it starts to boil
    Jam, almost overflowing.

  6. Stirring frequently and skimming off any foam that develops, boil for 20-30 minutes until the jam is thickened.

    Boiled down a bit
    Boiled down and thickened a bit.

    To test for doneness, pull that plate out of the freezer and drop a teaspoon of jam onto it. Return to it to the freezer for about 1 minute. After the minute is up, run your finger through the jam. If stays separate, it’s ready to go. You can also taste it at this point. I find that boiling it longer–30 minutes or so–gives the jam the best flavor because it caramelizes the sugars a bit. Just be careful not to boil it too long or it can burn.

  7. Can! Follow the procedure outlined above.

    More strawberry jam

Note: This recipe is a reduced-sugar version of one found on allrecipes.com. Most jam recipes call for an absurd amount of sugar. This one used a cup of sugar per half-pint jar! If you have a sweet tooth, though, feel free to use more sugar; just add it at the beginning. More sugar will also cause the jam to set better and be less runny. It still sets pretty well without it, though.


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