Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Strawberry Jams - The Best I've Ever Had

This late night experiment in Strawberry Jam making was thrilling, exhausting, and luckily successful! Thank god, because if I had wasted 6 pounds of gorgeous fresh picked berries, on some gloppy mess of jam, I don't think I would have gotten over it so easily. 
As soon as Strawberry season hit I found the first available moment to grab my 3 year old daughter and head to the fields. In what must have been the hottest hour of the summer yet, we picked 15 pounds of gorgeous strawberries. Heading home with stained fingers and full bellies I placed the huge mound of berries on the counter where they sat, waiting to be cleaned. It wasn't until late that night that I managed to make space for some of the strawberries in the fridge, and two days later that I found time to trim them and start making some jam.

Usually making jam, (which I have done only a few times, and never with strawberries) would be a well thought out process with plenty of time and preparation. In my busy life, this was far from the case. I was making dinner for my family after a busy work day and noticed a few of my precious berries starting to rot. I dropped my parental responsibilities and started slicing berries into a pot, the pile of red juice stained strawberry leaves growing next to my forgotten plans for dinner. Needless to say my kids were hungry and fussy, and it was a long long night, but in the end, worth the effort! Thank goodness I had done some preparation; finding a no pectin strawberry jam recipe on line the night before, and purchasing some jam jars for canning from the grocery store.
The thing that makes jam or preserves thick is pectin. Some fruits like apples, lemons or raspberries contain it naturally, some fruits you need to add pectin either by mixing them with a pectin rich fruit or by purchasing pectin, (some is natural, some is manufactured and has preservatives, so read the labels). Some pectin can make jams cloudy, and if you use too much it can make your jam turn to jello. I didn't have any pectin, and I liked the idea of trying to make the jam without adding something out of a box. A google search resulted in a great recipe that used green strawberries as source of pectin, YES! The recipe also utilized a technique that I had developed for making strawberry ripple ice cream. To keep the fresh taste of the fruit, and not turn the gorgeous red berries into a light pink murky mush, you macerate the strawberries by tossing with sugar and mashing them, releasing their juices, then strain the juice from the pulp. 
The strawberry juice is boiled with sugar (I cut the amount by more than half and it still worked!) until it reduces down and the sugar reaches a high temperature and thickens. 
The fruit pulp is added in at the last minute and brought to a boil and then turned off, so it tastes fresh and maintains a deep red color, more reminiscent of raspberries than strawberries. A handful of green strawberries worked as the pectin, and since I wasn't certain of their thickening power, I added the pectin rich white pith and seeds cut from a lemon, wrapped in cheese cloth (a trick I learned from making meyer lemon jam in the winter). As the finishing touch I added fresh herbs: lemon verbena to two jars and thyme to one. Both herbs proved to be exceptionally delicious, and a spoonful of this jam on my morning slice of toast or on top of a bowl of yogurt is an incredibly wonderful tiny gift, and worth all of the effort and late night mess the project demanded!

The Best Strawberry Jam - No Pectin 
Adapted from Cincinnati Locavore Yield: approximately 1 quart or 4- 8oz jars of preserves

2 quarts strawberries, a few slightly unripe and green ones, slightly mashed
2 to 2 1/2 cups Sugar (about 
1/2cup to 2/3cup per cup of mashed berries)*
Seeds and white pith from 1 large lemon or 2 small lemons (you can add some lemon juice too if you like the flavor)
Thyme or Lemon Verbena - 4 sprigs (optional)

  1. Fill canning kettle with water to cover 1/2-pint jars by 2 inches, cover, bring to a boil, and keep it there.  Set 1/2 pint (8-oz) jars and lids into a pan of hot water over lowest heat. Alternately you can wash, dry and bake the jars at 225 degrees fahrenheit for 20 minutes. 
  2. Wash and hull strawberries. Mash berries by hand or with a stick blender. Strain  juice into a big heavy bottomed pot, reserve pulp. Add sugar to juice in the pot.
  3. Wrap lemon seeds and pitch in a piece of cheese cloth or a thin piece of un-dyed  fabric, tie with a string and add to the pot. 
  4. Bring juice, sugar and cloth bundle to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook juice at a low boil until it reaches 220 on a thermometer or when a drop put on a cold plate (put one in the freezer) has a bit of a jelly texture, so you know it has thickened.  
  5. Add reserved pulp and herbs if you are using them. bring to a low boil for 2 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars if you are canning them for storage, or into clean jars if you are just putting it in your fridge to consume in the near future!
If you are canning the jam:
Fill jars leaving 1/2" headroom. Wipe jar rims with damp cloth, cover with hot lids and screw on lid rims without tightening. (The lid rims are only there to hold the lids in place during processing; tightening them can both interfere with processing and cause you to dislodge the lids when removing the lid rims before storing your preserves.) Set jars into canning rack and drop into boiling water in kettle. Cover kettle and process 10 minutes, remove from water, and set on rack to cool. Once cool, check seals (press gently in the center of the lid -- if you feel a slight pop and the center flexes down and then back up again, the lid didn't form a seal and that jar should be refrigerated and used within three months).

*Most jam recipes suggest using 1 cup sugar per cup of mashed berries. The sugar helps to thicken the jam, but to me, it's way too much sugar, so I cut it in half, and it still worked and was delicious!

I picked my berries at Jones Family Farm (the green ones were from my tiny patch in the backyard)  To find a pick-your-own spot near you check out: pickyourown.org or in CT search Buy CT Grown. 

What do you do with your Strawberries? 


  1. Tagen, this is exactly the kind of thing I imagine doing with my almost-three-year-old in the Connecticut summer (down here in Fl the strawberries come in around February). Berry-picking of any kind is high on our list when we get there. Now I have a good jam recipe to try as well! (I love the idea of using lemon pith instead of pectin--I'm thinking this makes it more natural and also kosher?) We'll come say hi when we get to the neighborhood.

  2. Thanks Julie!
    there's lots of good berry picking here, so get ready! Looking forward to seeing you in person soon.

  3. I'm a total newbie to canning and am trolling nearly every canning blog I can find to have people answer my questions. Can you help? If I'm using pectin and I don't *have* to add acid to my strawberry jam, can I still? I'd love to make your berry/thyme jam, but I'd also like to add some balsamic. Do I need a real recipe like baking or can I wing it a bit like cooking? Thanks!

  4. HI Julie,
    I am somewhat new to canning myself, but after a few experiments and reading lots of recipes I do believe that you can wing it a bit. The important thing is that you figure out the correct processing time if you want your product to be shelf-stable. That you could find by looking at sites like Ball Jar or other comprehensive canning sites. For my jam, I totally winged it. I looked at another recipe for ideas and then did it my own way. If you want to add balsamic, add it to the juice as it is reducing, so that the vinegar also reduces to a syrup. It will intensify as it cooks down, so I would start with a less strong flavor than you want in your final jam. I think that the vinegar would only help the quality of your jam as it reduces bacteria growth, but you still need to boil your jam and then boil your jars once they are filled. Good luck, and let me know how it turns out! also as a side note, I used to make this great balsamic jam with onions or shallots: slice and caramelize or cook the onions in olive oil for a long time till they are very soft and browned, add a bottle of balsamic and a little salt. cook uncovered until the balsamic reduces by 75% (if you start with 4 cups you reduce it to 1 cup) or until it is a syrup (it will thicken more as it cools), this is delicious on bread, on a roasted portobello mushroom, on fish or anything else. It takes well to herbs and spices too. enjoy!