Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to Make Strawberry Jam

Last weekend I found a two-gallon-sized ceramic crock at a second-hand shop.  It will be the perfect receptacle for home-made sauerkraut sometime late summer.  Dayo is in complete agreement.

Summer is moving along nicely.  Peas are out and tomatoes and cucumbers are in.  Second plantings of green beans and heat-resistant lettuce are done.  Beets and carrots are sturdy little plants now.  The potato beds are lush with foliage.  The leeks in their nursery bed are ready for thinning so they can be eventually planted out in a month.  Unfortunately, only one red sweet bell pepper seedling--so stuffed peppers are still a possibility--and one cantaloupe seedling made it past their infancy this season.  I have just a few days to plant white and red beans along with the flageolets, or else that window of opportunity will slam shut.  All in all, the garden is doing well, and I am still in one piece!

Pulled-out pea plants destined for the compost pile

The roses' first blooming spurt is practically finished except for a couple of bushes.

A spectacular semi-double rose which starts out with red buds and ends up pink and yellow

However, Madame Ms beloved climbing Pierre De Ronsard is still revving along.  When entering my garden from the sous sol's back door, if I turn right, this is what I see now:

The June-bearing strawberries are past peak production, but still putting out a good quantity. Instead of eating fresh strawberries or freezing them, it is time for jam making!  Though I have made a great amount of jam in the past--yellow/purple plum, grape, fig, red/black currant--which all smelled wonderful, I was unprepared for the soft, steamy cloud of sweet fragrance as the strawberries vigorously bobbed in their syrupy juices.  If a house could smile, mine would have.

When making jam for the first time, I was intimidated by all the specific tools, techniques, and most of all, safety issues that I encountered in my web research.  However, it is confirmed that I have come up with a simple and safe method not requiring any special equipment as I ate my last jar of jam about a month ago from the previous season's processing and as you can read, I live still.  Note well that this method is safe for only fruit jam and not canning vegetables.

Strawberry jam is somewhat challenging because the fruit itself does not contain that much pectin which is needed to set the jam into a nice consistency.  Home-made strawberry jam will be not as thick as commercial, but it will have a lovely tendency to soak just the right amount into bread without running down your hand.  At the same time, the flavour will be fresh and bright and not dulled by tons of additional pectin.

Include about a quarter of slightly unripe berries as they contain more pectin than fully ripe ones.

Note the yellowish-red not totally ripe berries

Sugar in sufficient quantities will also encourage setting.   Though certainly high in sugar, a little flavour-rich jam does go a long way.  If you don't have access to your own or a neighbour's, it is worth going to a farmer's market to get the best available strawberries as there are so many tasteless ones sold at supermarkets.  I add lemon juice for additional pectin and for the sharp boost in flavour it gives the finished jam.  Finally, it needs to be boiled long enough for a good set.

Ingredients (filled up three 500 ml jars and one 200 ml jar, roughly 1 3/4 quarts)
  • Strawberries, washed and hulled, 1,000 grams (4 cups)
  • Sugar, 1,000 grams (4 cups)
  • Lemon juice, freshly squeezed, 125 ml (1/4 cup)
  • recycled jam jars and lids
  • gravy boat
  • pot holders
  • potato masher
  • several ice-cold spoons
  • ladle
  • heavy bottom pot (jam mixture should take up just 1/3 of the pot)

Put spoons in the freezer and jars/lids in a basin or clean sink, fill with boiling water and let soak till water has cooled off enough to wash the whole lot with a little soap or they can be cleaned in a dishwasher.  Rinse well and dry with a paper towel.  Place the jars and lids on a work surface layered with paper towels/newspapers.

Put strawberries in the pot and mash them up roughly.  Add the sugar and the lemon juice. 

Turn the heat on moderate setting and stir to dissolve the sugar while mashing a bit more and stirring.

Such a gorgeous colour and fabulous fragrance!

Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up high enough to bring the jam to a rolling boil.

Keep an careful eye on the pot and watch for any possible boiling over.  Lower heat if required.  Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.  An rough estimate--as it is based on the natural pectin content in the berries used--is that setting takes about 12 to 15 minutes of boiling.  I use the sheet test which is one of three ways to determine that the jam has set, because it works well for me.  After ten minutes, dip a ice-cold spoon in the hot jam and let the jam pour off a side, watching as it does for two drops to combine making a sheeting effect.  Being the geek that I am,  I enjoy pinpointing the exact sheeting moment!  If it does not sheet, repeat every minute with a fresh cold spoon until you get a positive reading.  If your jam does not set, it can't be reheated as it will get candy-like, but don't despair as the fluid jam can be used as a desert sauce on top of ice cream, parfaits, pancakes, waffles, and cakes. 

Remove from heat and skim off the pink foam containing air bubbles which make storage less safe.  The foam tastes delicious, and it can be spread on bread for breakfast the next day after making jam.

Ladle some jam into the gravy boat and pour into a jar, stopping about an quarter inch from the top, screw on lid, and then with pot holders, turn the jar upside down which will create a seal.  If you don't have enough to fill a jar, put that in a covered bowl in the fridge.  Let cool and then store in the fridge up to a year.  I find it unnecessary to label the jars as the contents are easily identifiable, and by next summer they will have to be eaten.  Madame M says that refrigeration is not required, but I prefer to play it safe.

Pretty French jars with self-sealing caps that Madame M graciously gave me.

Home-made French bread and strawberry jam, yum!

Stay tuned for other fruit jam, leather, and butter recipes as the summer fruit harvest comes in:  red currant--if I get lucky, as the harvest is looking a bit scarce at the moment--raspberry, purple and yellow plum, blackberry, grape, apple, pear, and fig!