I know, I know, strawberry season is over for most folks, but one of the big perks of living in Southern California is that we enjoy fresh fruit almost year round — even strawberries. The development of the newer day-neutral varieties means that strawberry season has been extended well into the fall in warmer climates such as ours. (Click here for more info on California strawberry varieties and seasons.)
I made a small batch of strawberry jam yesterday and though it sometimes seems like a lot of mess for so few jars — 4 full half pints + 1 almost-full jar, small batch preserving is a great way to do a little experimenting.
Also, keep in mind that just because the season is over that doesn’t mean you can’t whip up some jam if you have a craving. You can always pull some frozen fruit out of your freezer if you’ve stored some of your summer bounty there, or get yourself down to the frozen food section your local grocery and buy some unsweetened frozen berries.
I needed to find a recipe that didn’t use pectin, not because I have anything against it, but because I didn’t have any in the pantry and I was too lazy to go get some. I had strawberries, sugar and lemons. That was it and that was going to have to do. I also wanted to use less sugar than is normally called for.
Since strawberries are low in acid and in pectin you can’t just use the fruit and sugar and call it a day. This why many recipes tell you that you have to use pectin to get the mixture to jell. This is simply not true. So far this season I haven’t used any pectin, only lemon juice which contains a fair amount of pectin and I haven’t had any problems getting my preserves to set. (Another thing you should know is that your preserves will thicken up a bit in the jar.)
Not using pectin does mean that the mixture will need to cook for longer to set, which unfortunately results in cooking out some of the flavor. But I found a great blog post by Stephanie Rosenbaum of Bay Area Bites to help me solve that problem. She suggests cooking the fruit, sugar, lemon juice mixture for a bit then removing the fruit and cooking down only the liquid. It worked like a charm!
Even so, I didn’t follow her recipe exactly. Her’s calls for letting the fruit sit for long periods of time and I wanted to just get it over with. So I compressed some of the steps.
But I do have to add a caveat here. Because I used less sugar (a preservative), I can’t say that this strawberry jam will last as long on your shelf as traditional strawberry jam. As I said this is an experiment, but with the small batch method it doesn’t really matter — this jam will be gone in a flash.
Another important thing to note is that with less sugar in the recipe, I was extra careful to make sure that my jars were sterile, boiling them in water for 10 minutes and keeping them hot until I ladled the jam into them. I’ve used the dishwasher to “sterilize” my jars before, but I don’t think you can be sure that works. Better to be safe than sorry.
Next time I’m going try adding some vanilla bean and using honey as a sweetener. And don’t just use your jam as a spread; add it to yogurt, or use it as a filling in cakes, cookies, or bars. It’s part of the fun of preserving.
4 – 5 pint boxes of strawberries
3 cups of sugar
5 tbs of lemon juice
5 – 6 half-pint jars, lid, and rings – this recipe made a little more than 2 pints.
- Wash jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Rinse well. Place clean jars in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Keep them hot while you prepare the jam.
- Simmer the lids until ready to use (for Ball lids, otherwise follow package directions). Set clean rings aside.
- Put 3 small plates in the freezer. You’ll use these to help you determine if the jam is properly thickened.
- Rinse, drain and hull strawberries. Cut them in half.
- Place in a non-reactive bowl with 1 cup of the sugar. Mash them up a bit leaving about half of the pieces whole. Let sit for 15 minutes.
- Put the strawberries in a low, wide pan (this type of pan help cook off the liquid quicker) with the rest of the sugar and lemon juice.
- Boil over medium heat for about 10 – 15 minutes until the liquid is released, skimming off foam.
- Either scoop out the fruit pieces or put a colander in a bowl and drain the liquid — be careful, it’s hot! Put the liquid back into the pan.
Liquid looks like this at first.
- Cook at a boil over medium heat until it begins to get thick — about 10 – 15 minutes.
- When the jam has started to thicken, put the fruit back in the pan and cook a little while longer until it begins to get thick and glossy looking.
- From this point on you will need to PAY ATTENTION! Keep stirring to prevent it from seizing.
When it bubbles thick and glossy like this it's time to test it.
- As jam thickens, test by taking one of the plates out of the freezer and putting a teaspoon of the liquid on the plate. Take the jam off the heat to prevent it from overcooking and put the plate back in the freezer for 3 minutes.
- Take the plate out and draw your finger through the middle of the jam puddle. If the liquid runs together, cook for a few more minutes and test again. If the sides don’t flow back together, you’re almost done.
- Reheat to boiling and ladle into the hot jars. Draw a knife through the jar to release any big air bubbles. Wipe rims and threads to remove any traces of jam, place lids and rings on and tighten with fingertips. Don’t over tighten or any air trapped in the jars won’t be able to escape in the processing.
- Boil in a hot water bath for 10 minutes (more if you’re at a higher elevation — 5 minutes for every 1,000 ft above sea level).
- Remove from water, place on a towel or rack and leave undisturbed for 24 hours.
- Remove rings, check seal and store. If your seal didn’t take, you can store the jar in the fridge for 2 – 3 weeks.
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