I can say with some certainty that every book that I have read that is primarily about canning starts with the story of the author’s first strawberry jam. My canning story is much the same: take a slightly ambitious impulse purchase at the farmer’s market, add a few free hours on a weekend day and next thing you know, I’m trying to lift hot jars out of boiling water with tongs (and scalding myself.)
There’s some quality particular to the strawberry that seems to create a straight line from gallon bucket to sealed jar. For me, it’s all about not letting go–wanting to hold on to the flavor, the smell, the season. Fresh, ripe strawberries from the farm stand or the pick-your-own field are so supremely superior to the chilly, gigantic supermarket strawberry that I find myself, year after year, compelled to preserve a few jars and eat my fill along the way. When contemplating that gallon bucket, I face the possibility that I will have wasted my last opportunity to taste that ephemeral joy until next spring.
I may be a bit dramatic when it comes to food.
A few notes on strawberry jam:
- Strawberries have enough pectin in them to not require adding any and adding more sugar only changes the flavor, not its preserved-ness. Keep in mind that I don’t have a problem with cooking my jams a little longer to achieve a sturdy gel, so if you’re looking for a barely cooked fruit jam, pectin will be the way for you to go.
- Heed my advice: do not cook strawberry jam in a tall pot, it will overflow! Using a saute or preserving pan helps with jam making in a lot of different ways and with strawberry jam, it allows the foam room to spread out instead of up!
- There are loads of different spins you can put on the recipe. I made one version from Saving the Season where you cook the whole thing in the oven and add some rosé at the very end.
Ingredients and materials needed
- 1 gallon of strawberries
- 1 to 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 to 2 cups sugar
- Saute or preserving pan
- Jars, new lids, rings, a large pot for a water bath, any other canning tools you might prefer (jar lifter, funnel, etc.)
To begin, find yourself about a gallon of the best strawberries available. Like, able to smell them across the room best strawberries. Next, remove the leafy tops and slice them to a reasonable size for canning. I tend to err on the side of smaller for my slices because it makes the cooking process go a little quicker.
You can immediately proceed from cut strawberries to cooking on the stove, but I like to take a few hours to allow the strawberries to macerate with some sugar in the refrigerator. So, mix the sliced strawberries (which should be about six to eight cups’ worth if you start with a gallon) with between one and two cups of sugar. As I said earlier, this is just the amount that I prefer–not what is necessary for preservation purposes. Not too sweet, still very much a jam. Either allow this mixture to sit in the refrigerator for several hours or proceed directly to the cooking stage.
Just before you are ready to begin cooking the jam, prepare your jars, lids, and rings for canning. Lots of information about sterilization and proper precautions can be found on the Ball website and elsewhere on the internet, even this very website! Once you are ready to begin cooking, add the strawberry-sugar mixture to a pan over medium to medium-high heat. Also add a tablespoon of lemon juice to help the flavors pop a bit.
I have also tried a recipe in which the strawberries are cooked over high heat in an effort to get all the water out of the berries ASAP and decrease cooking time. It was a stressful mess, so I tend to stick with the slow-and-steady mindset. Another option is to strain the juice off the macerated strawberries and begin cooking that down without the fruit added in, to decrease the amount of time the berries spend cooking. I believe I saw that approach in the book Canning for a New Generation, which I highly recommend for all kinds of canning purposes.
Cooking the jam:
Step One: Warming the berries and juice.
Step Two: Foam begins to form.
Step Three: Berries begin to break down and foam continues.
Step Four: Foam subsides and gel begins to form.
Step Five: Get a plate in the freezer to start testing your gel!
Throughout this process, you will need to stir quite frequently, especially as you get close to the end. I like to have my jars hanging out in some very warm water (after sterilizing them) so they’re all set for filling once the time comes.
Once you’ve made jam a few times, you’ll get to know when your gel turns the corner from sauce to jam just by sight and feel. Until you get to that point and even after you do, you will probably want to test your jam with the cold plate test: place a small plate in the freezer about ten minutes before you want to test, place a small amount of jam on the plate, put the plate back in the freezer for one minute, and then remove the plate and invert it to test how quickly the jam runs. Definitely give it a taste at this point as well! I have only ever undercooked a jam, so don’t worry about missing a magic window of time or anything like that. Thicker will almost always be better.
Fill your jars, leaving 1/4″ to 1/2″ of headspace. Process the jars for five minutes in boiling water and remove to rest and cool on a kitchen towel. Any jars that haven’t sealed after cooling completely should be refrigerated immediately and consumed within about a month.
I have found that about a gallon of strawberries yields about four half-pints or two pints of jam. Half-pints make good gifts, but I prefer full pints in my refrigerator!
Making jam is long, hot work and this is the perfect beverage to cool you off after you put up a batch or two. I made it with jam, but fresh strawberries would work equally well–if not better!
- 2 oz white rum (I use Bacardi)
- 1 tbsp strawberry jam or several slices of fresh strawberry
- 4 mint leaves, extra for garnish
- 1 tsp simple syrup
- 1 oz lime juice
- 5 oz club soda or seltzer
Muddle the mint leaves with the simple syrup, adding the strawberries once the mint has broken down a bit. Add the rum and lime juice and shake over ice. Pour the mixture into a glass and add the soda and a fresh ice cube or two. Garnish with a sprig of mint.