I’ve been canning and preserving for a few years now. I was fortunate to acquire my DSH’s Grandma’s canning supplies. I’ve been very cautious about the canning process and faithfully use my Ball Blue Books as guides to proper technique and for the recipes.
As I’ve become more proficient, I’ve started to explore other resources. I ran across a book, The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard, in an antique store. It was published in 2007 so I’m not sure how it ended up in an antique store booth, but since it was only $1.00 I bought it. I also follow a few sites devoted to canning and preserving including one, Punk Domestics, which I find very interesting and informative.
Out of everything that I preserve, I love making jams and jellies the most of all. And I love sharing my jams and jellies with others.
I love finding fresh fruit in season, in bulk, and on sale. I used to obsess about getting the stuff “put up” in the moment, but have learned that you can start the process and use the freezer if you don’t have the time (or are out of jars or lids) to “put up” your stuff later or when more convenient.
The one thing about making jams and jellies is that they take an enormous amount of sugar. I’ve resorted to buying the really large bags of sugar from our local super store. I often wondered how women during the Depression or in the pioneering days managed to get so much sugar. Well, the answer is that they didn’t use as much sugar as we do today.
The trick in canning and preserving jams and jellies is to provide enough of a balance of sugar and acid so that the product will gel. I have been almost maniacally cautious about not deviating from those old Ball Blue Book recipes. My jams and jellies have been good, but also very sweet.
Two recipes, one in the Small-Batch Preserving book and the other on Punk Domestics, gave me the idea to try making a batch of jam without using so much sugar and using no added pectin. Less sugar. No pectin. And one other piece, recommended by both of these sources, was to prepare the fruit and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. One source recommended a two-part cooking process which I decided to avoid. Five small batches cooked twice! No thanks!
The Ball Blue Book recipes almost always have you using about the same amount of sugar as you do fruit. I ended up combining the suggestions from both of these sources and using about half the “normal” amount of sugar in my strawberry jam made with freshly picked berries.
The result was a strawberry jam that my daughter described as tasting “just like a fresh strawberry.” I have to agree. I have NEVER liked strawberry jam until now. Most of the time it’s too cloyingly sweet with a gritty texture. This jam is fresh tasting and velvety smooth, too. I can’t wait to try this technique on other berries – raspberries will be ready in a few weeks!
Because I wanted to preserve my version of the two recipes I used as inspiration to make a lower sugar, no pectin Strawberry Jam, I decided write about the process.
First you will need some fresh strawberries and what better than freshly picked berries from a local farm? This is Thies Farm near where we live. The berries, fresh from the field and locally grown, are so much better tasting than the ones you can buy at the grocery store.
Don’t these look delicious?
It only took my daughter and me about an hour to pick what we needed. We arrived shortly after the farm opened early in the morning so it was still cool outside. And by cool, I mean not oppressively hot and humid as it got later in the morning. The early bird pickers are all older people. My baby was younger than everyone else in the field by several decades.
She was amenable to doing this since strawberries are her absolute most favorite fruit in the whole wide world! When she was a young child, she would eat entire containers of strawberries and always begged me to buy them. Strawberries are like candy to her.
Last year, I went strawberry picking in Minnesota with one of my sister’s neighbors.
We made chocolate covered strawberries.
And homemade strawberry ice cream.
But no jam.
I had other plans this year. We picked 2 large boxes of strawberries, and I ended up with nearly 20 pounds of fruit after cleaning and trimming.
To clean fruit, I fill my impeccably clean sink with cold water and add 1 cup of vinegar. Allow the fruit to soak for a few minutes and remove carefully to sheet pans lined with clean towels (or paper towels) to dry.
I made 5 small batches of strawberry jam which resulted in 4 pints, 15 half pints and one partial jar that went right into the refrigerator to be eaten immediately.
I made a non-pectin, lower sugar old-fashioned jam that my kid described as tasting just like a fresh strawberry. I have never been a strawberry jam fan, but I LOVE this stuff! It is so good and so fresh tasting!
The beauty of making small batches is that you can skip the processing step if you don’t have the supplies and simply store the finished product in the freezer or refrigerator. The incredible taste of this jam is totally worth the hour in the field picking and hour (per batch) making it at home.
Oh. If you don’t want to pick your own fruit, most of these farms will sell the fruit already picked and ready to go.
Old-Fashioned Strawberry Jam
Adapted from Sweet Domesticity and The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving
Makes 5 half pint jars of jam
4 pounds fresh strawberries, cleaned and trimmed
1-½ to 3 cups sugar
2 TB lemon juice (reconstituted lemon juice works fine)
Take the strawberries and one layer at a time mash them with a potato masher. Add 1-½ cups of sugar and stir to dissolve as much as possible (it won’t all dissolve at this step). Taste. Add more sugar to desired level of sweetness.
Place strawberry mixture in the refrigerator overnight. Do not skip this step.
Add the mixture and the lemon juice to a very large pot and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium. Bring to a simmer. Cook and stir until all sugar is completely dissolved about 5 to 10 minutes. Taste again to ensure that the mixture is the desired level of sweetness. Add more sugar, if necessary, and continue to cook until all sugar is completely dissolved. (I ended up using 2 cups of sugar in my freshly picked berries which were a little tart right off the vine.)
Increase heat to medium high or high. Bring mixture to a rolling boil adjusting heat to prevent boil overs and sticking on the bottom of the pot. You want the mixture to cook quickly at this step to preserve as much of the flavor as possible. In the beginning you will only need to stir occasionally, but keep an eye on the pot to prevent boil overs and scorching or burning. Once the fruit mixture thickens, you will need to stir more continuously. Cook until the fruit gels which will take from 15 to 30 minutes. The fruit will be greatly reduced and a dark, rich burgundy color. Use the spoon and plate gelling tests to confirm the mixture is ready.
Remove from heat and put into jars. Jam may be placed directly into the refrigerator to be consumed immediately or may be processed using proper processing methods. I used a boiling water canner and processed the half pint jars for 10 minutes.