Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Homemade strawberry jam

The women in my husband's family are consummate homemakers, every last one of them. They grow their own fruits and vegetables and can or preserve everything. My mother-in-law tells of canning the sour-cherry harvest days before she was due to give birth to my husband, nine months pregnant in the heat of mid-August in Colorado, working so hard she sent herself into labor. She started working again as soon as she got home from the hospital. Country people!

These days, she lives in a climate where she can grow citrus fruit, as well as berries and stone fruit, and she makes curds and marmalades and jams and jellies galore. I've long admired these skills and wanted to try it myself, but I lacked confidence. In my family, the women buy a jar of Welch's grape jelly and call it done. This is fine, but I wanted to expand my horizons, so last week I made a batch of strawberry jam all by myself. I would mostly call it a success, but I still have plenty to learn.

I do not own a canner. I really can't justify yet another piece of cooking equipment in a kitchen already bursting with too many, so I set out to find a method that does not require a canner. I have numerous old cookbooks which belonged to my mother-in-law and others in that part of the family, but they may be too old; they want you to "paraffin" the jars and such. I turned to the internet, of course, and there was a lot of information there (I mean, look at this). I read a lot about strawberries themselves, my favorite fruit, which it turns out I knew very little about.

In my research, I came across an interesting blog called Three Hobbits and a Giant, which contains a post all about making strawberry jam without a canner. In this detailed, photo-heavy post, the author and her sister make a batch of strawberry jam without using a canner and they swear it works. They use the dishwasher to heat the jars and they boil the jar lids, then they work very fast to spoon the hot jam into the hot jars and clamp on the hot lids with jar rings. Hmm...it sounded a little weird, but I was willing to try it.

I put eight half-pint jars in the dishwasher on the "sterilize" cycle and placed an equal number of lids in a shallow skillet of water and set it to boil on the stove. I started working on four pounds of berries, which I washed, hulled and sliced into quarters (or halves, or eighths, depending on the size of the berry). Then I mashed them by hand, sometimes with a stainless steel potato masher, sometimes with a wire pastry blender from the 1940's, an artifact passed down to me by my husband's family (I love this thing). I mashed them until they were mostly liquified, but still had a lot of good-sized chunks. For pectin, I chose Certo liquid; it was a better deal at Walmart than the powdered type.

Once the berries were prepared, I transferred them to a big stockpot and let them come to a boil on the stove, stirring often. Then I measured the sugar using the ratios specified in the Certo box insert (which is actually a beautiful, full-color guide with tons of information; I'll be saving it). I stirred the sugar in, let it boil again and then added the pectin (which I had left standing up inside a cup, to make sure it had settled into the pouch completely before cutting off the top to pour it out). I cooked it for precisely one minute after adding the pectin, as per the Certo guide, then took the pot off the heat.

You can see that the mixture became very foamy after I cooked it with the pectin. I realized later that I had forgotten to skim the foam; apparently, you can also add a small amount of butter during the cooking process to reduce the foaming. Next time, I will do something to cut down on the foam. It's not a problem, but it doesn't look as nice as non-foamy jam does.

Next, I started filling my jars. I took them out of the dishwasher (using a pot-holder because they were HOT), and filled them one by one, very quickly, and put the hot, boiled lids on with their rings. When they were screwed on tightly, I turned all the jars upside down on the counter, which is what the blogger said to do. My husband, accustomed to women who make jam in more orthodox ways, looked at me like I was crazy. "But a blogger said to do it like this! And you know how I feel about bloggers!" I said. "Okey-dokey," he said.

I left them there until they were completely cooled, then I tentatively turned them over and inspected their lids. Every last one of them had sealed. Be still my heart! That was literally the last thing I expected them to do. Explode, leak all over the counter, turn moldy in a couple of hours - all of these seemed far more likely than sealing properly did. Holy cow. I transferred them to the buffet in the dining room to give them a peaceful, out-of-the-way place to set. By the next morning, all had thickened rather nicely.

I sterilized too few jars and ended up with about 2-3 jars' worth left over after portioning out the strawberry mixture, so I placed the leftovers in a plastic container and refrigerated it, planning to eat it all over the next couple of weeks so it wouldn't go to waste. This is the only part of my jam that I've actually tasted so far, but it's delicious. We've been eating it almost every day, for breakfast or lunch. It makes an especially good PB&J sandwich. It's a little runny, but not terribly so.

When I saw my mother-in-law over the weekend, I told her all about my jam-making experiment and she was impressed with the way I did it. She was probably also a little surprised that they had sealed but she didn't really show it. She graciously accepted a jar of my jam to take home with them. With any luck, they will survive. Ha...I'm just kidding (mostly). I really enjoyed my first attempt at jam-making and I'm going to do it again. I want to get good at this. It seems like a very good skill to have and I actually found it to be really fun. I'm getting more domestic all the time.


  1. I adore strawberry jam and your looks really really lovely.
    M x

  2. That is awesome. I am so proud of you. I try to be domestic but i have never thought to make my own jam. My girls are not jam eaters but hubby and I are. Also we don't' own our own home yet. Once we do I will be sure to grow every darn vegetable out there. I plan to eat all my herbs and vegetables out of my garden. I just met a friend in my swim class and she is a awesome gardener. She offered to teach me the ropes. She even said she will load me up with veggies this summer. I am super excited. I love garden fresh vegetables. YUM! Your sandwich looks so good I want to eat my screen lol

  3. You know, I have always wanted to make jam! There is something very domesticated about it, just like making your own bread. Well done, it looks delicious! I hope mine is successful when I eventually get around to trying it! :)

  4. WOW that strawberry jam looks absolutely yummy. Great work. Hugs Judy

  5. Well done you! I've never used a canner but tend to sterilise my jars in the oven and boil the lids just as you have. I must admit I've steered away from strawberry jam so far because of the pectin palava but you've tempted me to give it a go (if we ever get any decent weather for strawberries over here in the UK!) I love the stories from older members of the family - now you can pass your experience on too! Jane x

  6. Your jam looks wonderful. I bet you are chuffed with yourself. Please try loads more. You will become just as domesticated as your mother in law at this rate

  7. The taste of strawberry's jam is one of the best,not so sweet, not so sour.It's well balanced and yes,perhaps I have to follow your recipe and knowledge now... there are plenty of them in the markets.Thank you Jennifer!

  8. First off...my maiden name was Kerr...like on your jars!!
    I always make freezer jam...no cooking...just prepare,fill,and freeze!
    I also use CERTO...but specifically for freezer jam...
    I made peach jam and strawberry jam last summer...still have a couple of jars in the freezer...just took one to the lake!!
    I use my old fashioned egg chopper to chop the fruit...very easy!!
    Yours does look delicious Jennifer...perhaps check out my post, and see if it looks easier than all the "hot" jars etc...
    You are truly becoming a domestic goddess....for sure!!!
    Try the orange slices, and see if you can attract any Orioles!!!

    Linda :o)

  9. Heavenly!!!

    Have you seen this blog: http://www.foodinjars.com/ Nothing but canning. You might find it interesting.


  10. This looks delicious! I just recently bought a book on different homemade jams, and ice creams, I bet your little ones loved it! :)

  11. Congrats on your jam making! I also make freezer jam, raspberry is our all-time favorite. I much prefer freezer jam to cooked jam as it tastes more like fresh fruit. It's easier too - you use plastic freezer containers and you whirl your fresh fruit in your food processor, pour it over the sugar, stir till the sugar is dissolved and add the pectin, stir it again for a few minutes, pour in containers and freeze. You should try it! OH.. and I put my locket on my blog for you to see and linked to your blog. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  12. Looks great! I love handmade jam.

  13. Oh I am sooo impressed with you! The strawberry jam looks delicious but to say that you made it yourself is something to be quite proud of. It seems like such a complicated process but it must taste very yummy. Hooray for you!
    Handmade Cuties

  14. A canner isn't a piece of kitchen equipment often found in UK kitchens. My mother used to make jam in a similar way to the way you've made yours. Mum used to sterilise her jars in the oven. Delia Smith often has easy to follow recipes; here's link to the pages on her website related to preserves: http://www.deliaonline.com/how-to-cook/preserves

  15. Congrats on your first batch of jam being a success! I have never heard of getting the jars to seal this way, and am intrigued. I'm off to do some Googling!

  16. Well done! Your jars look so tempting all lined up in those nice mason jars.

    I have to say I have never heard of a canner. I don't think we use them here. I sterilise my jars by either putting them in a hot dishwasher cycle or washing them with hot soapy water then putting them in a warm oven to dry. Works for me. Everyone has their own way - I love that you are finding yours. x

  17. Hi There, It looks perfectly yummy!!!Well done!!!
    Have a great week!!!

  18. Jennifer,

    I made marmalade for the first time late last year,after buying Seville oranges by mistake. I really enjoyed the whole process, even though it was a little runny. That's the joy of it, I guess. You can only get better with practice and your own experience. And you seem a consummate homemaker yourself - all of those wonderful craft projects of yours.

    Leanne xx

    Your jam looks divine.

  19. That looks so good! My Mum and my Nan both make jam and say 'it's easy' but it always seemed too complicated to my mind. I may have to try one day though, home made jam is awesome!

    S x

  20. YUM! I've always wanted to make jam. Your jam looks perfect, even better than store bought! Thank you soooo much for sharing! If I try it out, I will let you know for sure.

  21. Nice! I plan on making some jam this summer as well. Good tip on turning the jar upside down. Some of my chutneys that I canned last year didn't pop. Hopefully with this tip they will.

  22. I told you I would be popping over, and here I am -- also following! I think you did a great job on the strawberry jam. We lived for many years in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, which I lovingly refer to as " the land of hunters and gatherers!" I used to pick and can everything I could get my hands on in the summertime, and there was a lot. I've made strawberry and other jams the way you did and also with the parafin (and also freezer jam). I used parafin before I had a dishwasher and it really wasn't very difficult. I much preferred doing it the way you did. Whether I was making jams or canning fruits, I always turned the jars upside down until they cooled and sealed. My worst experience was with blueberries. We took the family out to pick blueberries (and currants which are tedious), & I proceeded to can blueberries for the many pies, muffins and coffee cakes that we so dearly enjoyed. Every single thing (including me) in my kitchen was a purple-blue by the time I finished. Kind of funny to think back about it, but not so much at the time!

    Great meeting you, and I look forward to more visits!

  23. I have two canners, a waterbath and a pressure canner. I love them and use them all summer! Your jam looks yummy :)

  24. Yum! Homemade strawberry jam is so lush. We bought it here from a friend a few times. Well done!


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