As soon as I popped that first warm berry in my mouth in the field, I began dreaming about jam. I pictured little jam jars lined up in the kitchen, each filled with the sweet freshness that had just exploded into my mouth. I couldn’t wait to get started.
My mom made jam as long as I can remember, but I only started making preserves solo this fall, when I made apple jelly. My first batch of eight jars barely lasted two months. I gave a few to family members and friends, and Steve started putting it on everything, so I made two more batches, a mixture of apple, pear and pineapple jelly (too caramelly), and another plain batch of apple jelly (just perfect). The amber jelly filled jars lined the back of my counter, and topped my toast every morning, but I was just biding my time, counting the months til summer fruit arrived and I could really get canning.
Making jam out of the strawberries turned out to be much easier than I had imagined. I had eight jars filled with a beautiful deep red jam an hour and a half after I first started. I’m planning on heading out to the fields again before the strawberries are all gone, and then moving on to raspberries, perhaps peaches, and definitely cherries. I’m also thinking that savory jams like tomato jam might be fun to experiment with. There’s no doubt that I’m hooked on the deep satisfaction of lining up those cute little jars, but at some point, I may run out of room, and will need to either build a canning shed or start giving out jam jars to perfect strangers.
I concocted this strawberry jam recipe by consulting a few food blogs like pick your own, Cincinnati Locavore, Food in Jars, and Hounds in the Kitchen. I wanted to avoid using the packaged pectin because I wanted a looser, more natural jam and wanted to avoid adding extra chemicals. I had no trouble avoiding packaged pectin when I made apple jelly because the pits and skin of apples are full of pectin, however, strawberries are notorious for being variable in pectin content. Throwing in a few unripe strawberries should help the pectin level, but I didn’t know that when we headed out to pick. Instead, I used lemon zest and lemon juice to add naturally occuring pectin to my jam. I also found that the lemon added a freshness dimension to the final product.
I had the jam on toasted challah this morning. It had the perfect consistency, slightly looser than supermarket jam but not runny. And the taste? Fresh, sweet, like it just came from the fields.
Strawberry Jam without Added Pectin
As a sugar to fruit ratio, I added 1 cup of sugar to each cup of mashed strawberries, and then cut it a little bit. The quantities below are exactly what I made.
4 1/2 cups of sugar
5 cups of mashed strawberries (I hulled the strawberries, cutting out the leaves and the center whiteness)
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
- Rinse the strawberries and then hull them.Mash them up coarsely (or more finely depending on how chunky you like your jam.) I used a potato masher.
- Spoon mashed strawberries in measuring cup to see how much you have. Pour into large stockpot. The mixture will bubble up big time as it cooks so leave TONS of extra room.
- Pour in the sugar.
- Set a very large pot of water to boil, and place your jars and lids inside to sterilize them.
- Cook on medium heat, occasionally skimming any foam, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 220 degrees Fahrenheit. This could take from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on how wet the strawberries were. It can take a very long time to get from 215 to 220 degrees, but reaching 220 is key to having the right consistency. That is the magic temperature when the water has boiled away.
- When the jam mixture is at the right temperature, ladle it into the sterilized jars, leaving a quarter inch of space from the top of the jars. Be sure to wipe the tops of the lids to remove any spilled jam that could prevent a good seal. Put the lids on the jars, tighten the rings around the lids, and return to the water bath.
- Boil the jam jars for 5 minutes to seal and process. Remove with tongs or a silicone mit and place on the counter overnight upside down to set. Note that I do not have a rack. I just boiled my jars straight in a large lobster-type pot. A rack could prevent the jars from moving around and possibly cracking, but in this matter, I’ve chosen to follow my mother’s lead in this technique at least, and not acquire any extra kitchen equipment. Obviously, if one of your jars cracks, discard it.
- The jam will keep in the pantry, and once opened, in the fridge.