Strawberry Season: Jam Making

It's that time of year the sun is shining and the fields are overflowing with Strawberries.  Perhaps you managed to grab some at the farmer's market this weekend (man those babies go fast!) or maybe you've decided to make a trip to a local U-pick farm, either way, what do you do with all of those berries once you've gotten them home? That is if you haven't eaten them all during the car ride. The answer? Make jam of course! 

This will be a basic overview of how water bath canning works and how we make our stash of delicious jam for the winter. Please visit The National Center for Home Food Preservation and The Ball/Kerr Website to get acquainted with canning from a more scientific standpoint. There are also many others out there who teach about food preservation. Locally classes are often held at the Ithaca Cornell Cooperative Extension and Marisa at the blog Food In Jars is seriously and expert canner (Check out her books on the subject as well. They are great). Be safe and as always do you own research.

We will be using Marisa's recipe for strawberry jam as a guide for our jam making but I have made some changes along the way.

So let's get started...

I learned how to preserve food via water bath canning from my mother who I'm sure learned it from her mother. Through years of my own research and trial and error I've improved on her methods.

First get all of your equipment together. Including a canning pot or other large pot with a jar rack, a jam making pot, best to use a heavy pot or copper pot to help distribute heat evenly, a measuring cup, a funnel (not required but very helpful), jar lifter, bowls, stirring spoons, and jars etc.

Then get your ingredients:
10 cups strawberries (before cutting up)
7 cups sugar
1 box/ 2 packets liquid pectin (ie. Certo)
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice or the juice of 1-2 fresh lemons

Next collect the jars you will be using, I always get one or two extra from the cupboard to be sure that I have enough. Examine the jars for cracks or chips and don't use those. Then wash them carefully in warm soapy water. At this point make sure you have enough bands and unused lids to go with your jars. 

Place your jars in your canning pot and cover with at least an inch of water.  Put this on the stove to boil with a lid on it before you start anything else. It takes a really long time to boil. Once it is boiling make sure that the jars boil for at least 10 minutes. That is how long it takes to sterilize them. Then you can just leave them in the pot simmering until you are ready to fill them with jam.

Next get your berries out of the fridge and put them in a bowl and cover with water to wash swish them around as you go to remove and bugs or debris. This will probably have to be done in batches since 10 cups is a lot of berries.

Cut off the berry tops and any bad spots. Then cut them into quarters and put in your jam pot. For canning you should only use healthy firm fruit.

Once you're done processing your berries. Cover them with 2 cups of sugar, stir it in and let them sit for a while. This is called maceration. You can do this the day before and leave them over night but it is not necessary. I find that 15 minutes is enough time to get the juice to start coming from the berries.

Put your pot on the stove and add the remaining 5 cups of sugar. (You can see here that I ran out of regular sugar so I supplemented it with coconut sugar. It ended up making the jam have a delicious almost smoky flavor. Normally I would just use white cane sugar) I also add my 1/4 cup of lemon juice at this point. I use bottled lemon juice because the acidity of it is consistent. But since the berries are high acid/high sugar to start with it would probably be ok to use a fresh lemon. Stir this all together and get cookin!

Cook this mixture on medium-high heat until it boils and then cook for 15- 20 minutes. At this point the berries should be soft and the jam should be making a "snapping sound" as it boils. Now you want to mush up your berries. I used to just smush them against the pot with my wooden spoon, but then I discovered the immersion blender. Trust me it really is so much easier. You can blend the jam as much or as little as you would like.

Remove the jam from the stove and stir in your liquid pectin packets. Then put the jam back on the stove, return to a boil and cook for an additional 10 minutes. If you want, you can put some jam on a metal spoon and put it in the freezer for 5 mins to make sure it has set up. You don't have to do this, but if your worried your jam will be runny its not a bad idea.

Now take your jars out of your canner, drain them but do not wipe or dry them, and place them on kitchen towel on your counter. It's good to have the towel in case a jar breaks or if you're messy like me and spill jam everywhere  Get a ladle and funnel and start filling your jars. You want to leave about 1/8 - 1/4 inch of headspace so the jam doesn't boil out during processing. Once you have filled the jars take a damp towel and wipe the rims of the jars so that they will seal properly. Place the lids on top and twist on the bands. Do not over tighten the bands, only hand tight.

You can see I had some extra jars and a "fridge jar" that I won't process but will put in the fridge to use during the week. (or the next 5 minutes, warm jam is so delicious)

Place your filled jars in your canner and make sure there is an inch water over their tops. Put the lid on and bring back to a boil. Once the pot boils, time 10 minutes for processing. Once the time has passed you can pull them out with your jar lifter and set them on the counter. Listen for the lids to "pop" which means they have sealed (if any jars do not seal place them in the fridge and use immediately). Leave the jars undisturbed, on the counter for around 24 hours to cool. Then you can wash and label them and put them in your cupboard until you are ready to use them.

Now go wash all of those sticky utensils! Trust me its not something that should wait. 


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