Sweet Homemade Strawberry Jam

Homemade Strawberry Jam
Homemade Strawberry Jam

My first attempt to make strawberry jam was simultaneously a huge success and a colossal failure. Success because the “jam” I made is delicious. Failure because it didn’t “set”.

But really, who doesn’t love runny strawberry jam? You can still spread it on toast. You just keep that bread nice and level so that smooth berry stream doesn’t run all the way down your sleeve. It would also be great on ice cream, to flavour yogurt, on oatmeal and to make a slippery pb & j sandwich. I have taken to eating it in spoonfuls right from the jar. Don’t judge. When I was a kid, I would love it when my Ma would buy Kraft Strawberry Jam. I wanted to dig out the chunky strawberry pieces hiding in the jar. And I did. THAT, you can judge. No one wants jam with all the strawberries sucked out.

The most beautiful thing about this runny jam I made? It’s made with three ingredients. Fresh strawberries I picked myself at Whittamore’s Farm, lemon juice and sugar. That’s it. And see all those people behind me in the strawberry field?  Go early. When it’s quiet.  Then it’s just you and the berries.

Picking fresh strawberries at Whittamore's Farm
Picking fresh strawberries at Whittamore’s Farm
A bucketful of berries
A bucketful of berries

I’m not going to lie. The process is a long one. But once you do it a few times (and if you recruit some kind and gullible recruits), the seemingly long and arduous canning process won’t seem so tedious. Wine helps.

So let’s make some jam, shall we? And any extras you have left over? Just line up those little strawberry soldiers on a cookie sheet. Pop the cookie sheet in the freezer. Once the berries are frozen, pluck them off and put them in a freezer bag. You’ll have “ready to smoothie” individual strawberries whenever you want them.

Berries lined up on a cookie sheet ready for freezing
Berries lined up on a cookie sheet ready for freezing
Brrrr...
Brrrr…

Firstly, the credit for this recipe goes to my dear friend Pam, who took me under her “jamming” wing not too long ago, fed me lunch from the local farmer’s market and patiently explained how this can be a prickly process. Clearly, I forgot some of the details but why ruin a good story?

Here’s your RTI:

Remember:

Often when you’re baking, you can just grab things out of the cupboard when you need them. You can’t do that when you’re making jam. Lay out all of your supplies, utensils, pots, etc. ahead of time.

Canning supplies laid out
Canning supplies laid out

When you wash the strawberries, check how delicate they are. Some are too delicate to be sprayed with the tap. I washed mine in a water bath in my kitchen sink.

Strawberries in a water bath
Strawberries in a water bath

When you stem the strawberries, check to see if the inner core is hard. If it is, cut out the inner core. It’s less just cutting off the green part and more angling in the knife to get a bit of a pointy cone cut out.

Stemming strawberries
Stemming strawberries

When a jamming recipe calls for 8 cups crushed berries, crush the berries first, then measure out the cups.  Eight cups of crushed berries = 16 cups of whole berries or thereabouts.

Strawberries in the food processor
Strawberries in the food processor
Strawberry slurry
Strawberry slurry

You need to watch the stove when making jam. It’s tempting to walk away. Don’t.

There will be foamy stuff that comes up to the surface. I’ve wondered why go through the effort to skim it off.  And yes, I’ve tasted it.  It tasted like strawberries.  But I know why people skim it off.  It doesn’t look all that appetizing when you open up the jar later and see foamy bubbles on top.

Lesson learned.  Skim it off and do that at the end when the jam is off the stove and just before you start pouring the jam into the waiting warm jars. Less skimming means more of the jam ends up in your jars.

Foam coming up
Foam coming up
Scooping foam up
Scooping foam up

Tools:

  • Canning jars, previously washed and kept very warm. Either in the dishwasher or in a sink full of hot water.  I don’t have a dishwasher anymore.  I miss it.  Should a dishwasher appear on my doorstep mysteriously, I will accept it with great gratitude.
  • Canning jars keeping warm in sink of hot water
    Canning jars keeping warm in sink of hot water

    Clean lids, kept in a pot of hot water (the circular flat lids can only be used once)

  • A bunch of hot lids
    A bunch of hot lids

    Canning rings (which can be used multiple times)

  • A canning jar lifter – which has rubber ends to pick up piping hot jars
  • Strong kitchen tongs – to pick up hot glass jars
  • A plastic or stainless steel funnel
  • A stainless steel ladle
  • Magnetic lid lifter
  • Bubble remover
  • Heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven to make the jam
  • Large pot or Canner to boil the jars
  • Canning rack that you place put in the pot during the last step of boiling the filled jars
  • A cloth to make sure the rims of the jars are clean before you lay the lids on
  • Oven gloves – those jars and everything about them are HOT
  • Cooling racks to place the jars on once they’re filled
  • Canning labels – so you remember what’s in the jars and when you put it there
  • Sharp knife (to slice through the vanilla pods if you’re using them)

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups crushed berries
  • 2.5 cups of sugar (you can use 2 cups if you’d like to use less, just taste it to be sure)
  • 1.4 cup lemon juice (can be fresh or bottled)
  • 2 vanilla pods (if using, with a sharp knife, cut them length-wise until you can open them flat, then use the side of the knife to scrap the vanilla seeds out)
Scraping the vanilla out
Scraping the vanilla out

Yield:  About eight 1-cup jars of jam.  Maybe 10.  Always have a few extra jars around in case of a higher yield.

The How:

  • Sterilize the jars in the dishwasher and leave them there until they are ready to fill. If you don’t have a dishwasher, wash the jars by hand and then place clean jars in the kitchen sink and gradually add hot tap water and top that up with water boiled in the kettle
  • Keep the lids in a pot of hot water as well.  You can keep those on the counter.  Just keep the water hot.
  • Wash and stem the berries.
  • Crush the berries by hand or in the food processor until chunky. Place in heavy-bottomed pot. Add the sugar and lemon juice and put them on low heat until sugar is dissolved.
  • Then bring the pot to a boil and allow to simmer until the mixture thickens. **Mine did not thicken as I don’t think I left it long enough. Again, no matter, it tastes great** I will solve this problem on my next try!!!
  • Begin to heat the canning pot where you will boil the filled jars. You want the pot to be hot, but not quite boiling when you put the jars in. The idea is to put hot jam into already hot jars which then go into hot water.
  • You will know the jam is thick enough when it “sheets” down the side of a spoon or spatula, meaning it holds together and doesn’t fall in dribs and drabs. Another test is to place small plates in the freezer, drop a spoonful of jam on the frozen plate, leave it to cool for about a minute and then run your finger through it. If you’ve parted the Red Sea of Strawberry jam, and it stays apart, then your jam is thick enough. It may also “wrinkle” as you put your finger through it, which means you are a jam prodigy.
  • Then skim the foam off
  • Use the kitchen tongs to pull the hot jars out of the dishwasher or the sink. Use the funnel and fill the jars by the ladle-full until there’s 1/4 of an inch of room to the top of the jar.
  • Wipe the top rim to make sure there is no jam there. This will help create a good seal and reduce spoilage.
Wiping top of jars clean
Wiping top of jars clean
  • Use the magnetic lid lifter to grab a lid from the hot water and use your finger to gently release the magnet. Centre the lid. Then take a canning ring and twist it around until it’s “finger tight”.  No need to “Hulk” it out.  Extra points to anyone who remembers this reference to my long ago childhood.
  • Grabbing a jar lid
    Grabbing a jar lid
    Jar lid lands
    Jar lid lands

    Then using the canning jar lifter to place the jars in the canning pot. Try to leave room between the jars. Ideally, they are not touching each other. Then bring that canning pot to a boil. Let it boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes.

  • Carefully lift them out and place them on a cooling rack. Don’t move them. For 24 hours.

It’s a long time to wait. But worth it. Besides, it might take you 24 hours to clean up the mess you just made. 🙂

Reaching its "set" point
Reaching its “set” point

So in the end, why did the jam not “set”.  Not sure.  I might not have cooked it on the stove long enough.  But in my kitchen, as long as it tastes good, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

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