Everyone has heard it: once you make something homemade you'll never go back. Well, this is most definitely the case with strawberry jam. Last year my sister picked seven pounds of strawberries and made jam. Then she made blueberry jam (which I was supposed to participate in, but the stupid bushes weren't ready yet), and then she made apple butter. So all of late last summer and fall I envied her stock of homemade jams and swore that next year would be different. You all saw the amount of strawberries I picked... so I am sure you are aware that it was indeed different. Kristen is at the point where making jam is no big deal. She can just talk on the phone when she's doing it! I am certainly not at this point, but I intend to be by the end of the summer.
Jam isn't really a very difficult process. But it is somewhat time consuming and there are a lot of steps involved. You either need to plan ahead so that you can prepare the jars while doing something else, or grab a bottle of wine and some friends and sit around enjoying yourselves while you wait. Don't be overwhelmed by amount of steps! Just try it once because once you do, you'll never go back! This recipe is courtesy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. This book is fantastic for beginner "canners."
You will need 8 8-ounce jars and either a canning rack that will fit in a stock pot or a canning pot (the pot that I bought cost $25 and I found both of these items at a hardware store) for this recipe. You will also need 8 cups of whole strawberries, a potato masher, and some tongs. I would start by sterilizing the jars since it takes awhile for the water to heat. Place the jars into the canner without the lids. Fill the pot and the jars with cool water and make sure that the water covers the jars by about three inches. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat, but make sure not to boil them. Leave the jars in the canner with the heat off once it simmers. Wash the screw-top part of the two piece lid and bring a smaller pot of water to a simmer with the round, flat top pieces. Be absolutely sure it doesn't boil because the seal could potentially melt.
Wash very well (with organic cleaner if necessary), hull, and slice the strawberries. You will also need 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 package of fruit pectin (SureJell uses only fruit products), and 4 cups of sugar. I prepared the jam in two batches because it was easier to manage and it didn't take too much extra time so I measured these out before I started in half.
Put a layer of strawberries into a large bowl and smush them with a potato masher. This is your opportunity to get them to the consistency that you like so make sure they are really smushy and crushed. Pour them into a measuring cup and do this until you have five cups crushed strawberries and their juice (or 2.5 if you are doing this in two batches).
If only you could smell this, you may not judge how gross it looks. There is nothing like the smell of fresh strawberries on a gorgeous summer day!
Put the berries and the lemon juice in a sturdy-bottomed pan that isn't non-stick (I did 2.5 cups of strawberries and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice). Use a whisk to add in half the package of pectin and then bring it to a full, scary, rolling boil... the kind that won't go away no matter how much you stir! Stir this frequently and use a wooden spoon to do it. Add 2 cups of sugar, stir, and return to the scary boil. Keep it boiling like this for one minute and make sure to stir the entire time.
Take off the heat and skim the foam off with a slotted spoon.
If it looks like homemade tomato sauce, you're on the right track.
Set a towel down on the counter where you will be filling the jars. Remove one jar at a time with tongs and empty the water out. Try not to touch the inside of the jar or the rim and don't dry it once you've taken it out. I filled the jars with a small ladle but they make funnels which are fairly cheap if you want to go that route.
Leave 1/4 inch at the top of the jar and slide a nonmetallic kitchen utensil around the edge of the jar to get the air bubbles out.
If there is any jam on the rim or sides of the jar use a paper towel (NOT your hands) to clean it. Using tongs, lift one of the lids and place it on the top of the jar. Then, using your hands, place a screw top onto the jar and screw shut, but not super tight.
Repeat this until you have filled all of your jars. If you do not fill a jar entirely, put it in the fridge. It is still good to use, but probably shouldn't be boiled. Put all of the jars carefully back into the canning pot. They should be covered by at least one inch of hot water. Cover and bring to a full boil over high heat. Allow it to boil for ten minutes. Then turn off the heat and remove the lid of the pot. Allow to sit for five minutes. Remove the jars and let sit on a towel to cool for 24 hours. Try not to tilt the jars when you remove them from the pot. You should hear the jars make a "pop" sound that seals them shut. If they aren't sealed (push down on the lid if it doesn't give, it's sealed), store them in the fridge.
There you have it! Jam at its finest. It is a little complicated the first time, but honestly it's not that hard. I have to thank my sister for trying recipes out and sending this one to me. She did the dirty work of finding one that is easy to understand. I have made several batches of jam and strawberry wine jelly and now I think I have the hang of it. Try it out! Has anyone made jam before? What is your favorite kind?