May 16, 2012

Jam Sessions: A Beginner's Strawberry Jam


This last Saturday, I taught a group of 10 lovely ladies how to make strawberry jam. They have started an informal club, learning some of the tricks of homemaking, and are especially interested in home canning. It was a little crazy--no matter how large your kitchen, 10 people is a lot to fit in. But we had a lot of fun, and it was a great experience for me, too.

If you are interested in learning how to make jam, now is the time to start. Berries are among the easiest fruits to can and preserve, require little prep work, and they are best when they are at the peak of their season. But to make jam properly, you do need to become familiar with some of the basics of canning at home. For that, I recommend the following sources:
1) Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is a great place to start.  Ball makes the jars you use for canning, and they've been doing this for a long long long time.
2) The blog Food in Jars has an extensive resource list. Also, if you look through her archives you'll find columns on some basic questions and techniques in canning (unfortunately, she doesn't have all those rounded up under one label!). She also just released a cookbook. And her blog has excellent recipes.
3) I have found most helpful the book River Cottage Preserves.  Pam Corbin is a master, and explains, in detail but without weighing it down, the chemistry of jams, and the basic techniques. And her chutney recipes are unmatched, in my experience. I read this book for fun!
But mostly, I recommend having someone show you. (If you're in the DC area and are interested in learning, drop me a line!)

If you're in DC, you can check out Metrocurean's list of VA and MD farms where you can pick your own berries.  (I always go to Homestead Farm, because they have been farmed by the same family since the 1670s, which is just too cool!) Otherwise, visit Pick Your Own for your local farms.  (By the way picking strawberries is a pill. Have kids join you. They are much closer to the ground, and there is less strain on their backs to pick the berries! Plus, they look adorable all stained with juice and happy because of the mud and the sunshine and the sugar!)

A BASIC STRAWBERRY JAM
Download the PDF!

6 cups strawberries (approx. 6 lbs)
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch of liquid pectin
Any additional flavorings
Clean glass jars and new lids

After washing and coring your strawberries: lightly crush them with a potato masher. Combine in a large glass or ceramic bowl with lemon juice and one and a half cups sugar. Allow to sit for at least one hour, but overnight is best!

Wash all your jars, lids, and rings with hot soapy water. Sterilize the jars by either putting on a cookie sheet and putting them in a 220˚ oven for 10-20 minutes, or bring them to boil in a large stockpot filled with filtered water.

Meanwhile, sterilize the lids: Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil, place your lids in the pan and boil for 10 minutes. Add your ladle and tongs to the water to sterilize as well.

Pour the strawberry mixture into a large stockpot (not non-stick or non-enamel cast-iron). Gradually stir in the remaining sugar. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that can not be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

Add the pectin, stirring to dissolve. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head-space. Wipe rim with a clean cloth dipped in the boiling water. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight. Flip the jar over, and place on a dry cloth on your table, or a wire rack. Keep upside down until the lid has popped—this shows a seal has been formed. (If no seal forms, you can keep in the fridge for a month.) Store in a cool dry place for up to one year.

VARIATIONS: Vanilla Strawberry Jam: Scrape half a vanilla bean into the strawberries. Add the bean to the pot but remove before canning. Strawberry with Herbs: Roughly chop a handful of fresh tarragon, mint, or  basil. Wrap loosely in cheesecloth, tying with twine. Submerge in the pot, and remove when you can taste the herbs in the jam. Julienne another 2 tbls of herbs, mixing towards the end of the cooking process. Strawberry Balsamic Jam: Substitute 3 tbls good-quality balsamic vinegar for 3 tbls lemon juice. Orange + Strawberry: Add zest of one orange. Juice the orange, and measure. Add that juice and 1/2 that amount extra sugar (eg: 1 cup juice and 1/2 cup sugar). Cook as directed. Peppered Strawberry Jam: Stir 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper into the cooked jam just before canning. Red Wine + Strawberry: Add 1 cup red wine, 2 tbls lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Cook as directed.

NOTE: The USDA recommends processing the filled jars in boiling water for 10 minutes to ensure safety. For jams and jellies made for home use, I usually skip this step. But to be safe, and for the novice chef, I definitely recommend processing them in a hot water bath.  (Or use the oven technique of our friends at Blue Chair Fruits.)

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