Monday, July 25, 2011

{ Homemade Strawberry Jam - Delish! }

Mmm, mmm, mmm. Is there anything better than homemade jam? Store bought jam, as with most things mass produced, has nothing on small batch homemade jam. And it's so easy to make. One evening or afternoon can easily get you a year's supply of homemade jam, if you don't give it all away.

This was my first time making jam as an adult and it really was super simple. I'll break it all down for you here so you can decide if you want to make your own jam too.

It was getting to the end of strawberry season about a week and a half ago, so I knew that if I wanted to make strawberry jam this year I had to get on it and make it quick. That meant that realistically, with our busy schedule, there was no way I was going to get out picking with a one and a three year old; so I went to Spooner's Westside berry stand and bought a half flat of local strawberries for $12.

Next, I hit Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick up jars, pectin, canning tools and a hot water canner. I spent about $50 on the tools from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Besides the pectin, the other expenditures will be reusable each time I can most things. (If you're planning ahead, you can check out garage sales and your local thrift stores for a hot water canner.) I spent $25 (plus another %20 off with one of B, B & B's mailer coupons) on my hot water canner, but on Saturday I picked up a second one for seven bucks at the Goodwill. Now I can can large quantities or can with a friend (want to can with me?).

If you've never seen a hot water canner, here's what they look like:

It's just a big pot

with a rack inside. The rack keeps the canning jars from touching the pan and the pan is big so that the jars can be covered by the boiling water.

If you don't want to invest in a hot water canner, just make freezer jam. I've heard that it's easier to make than regular jam since you don't have to can it. I don't have much freezer space though so I thought I'd go the traditional canning route. And if I need it to last more than a year it will; the freezer jam I saw had one year shelf lives. Plus, canning is quickly becoming a new hobby of mine.

Now back to the actual canning process.

Recipe from: Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications, New Cookbook: Canning 120 Ways to Savor the Season Year-Round, 2011; Strawberry Jam p.15.

5 c mashed strawberries (this was about a quarter flat of strawberries for me)
1 1.75 oz pakcage of regular powdered fruit pectin (3 1/2 tbsp)
1/2 tsp butter
7 c sugar

First you'll fill your hot water canner and start heating the water, it will take a while for it to get to a boil. Make sure that you have enough water in your pot to cover the lids of your jars; probably at least an inch over your lids. (When you start it this early, you may need to add more water to the canner when you start cooking your jam.)

Next, clean your strawberries; cut off all of the green. It probably took me about a half hour total to clean a half flat, which made two batches of jam - 10 pint jars or 20 half pint jars (the typical home canning jam jar). I read somewhere that when making jam you shouldn't double the recipe, but instead make two batches. I don't remember why (can I still blame this on mommy brain even though my kids are now 1 and 3?), but I didn't want to mess it up so I went with this advice and made two separate batches.

Once the berries are clean, using a potato masher, mash one cup of berries at a time in a stockpot until the mashed berries equal 5 cups (it will take more than 5 cups whole berries to equal 5 cups of mashed strawberries).

Once you have your five cups of mashed strawberries, stir in 3 1/2 tbsp or 1 packet of pectin  and 1 tsp of butter. Stir the mixture constantly as you bring it to a "full rolling boil" on the stove.

Now measure in 7 cups of sugar, yes that is a whopping 7 cups - next time I will be looking for a lower sugar recipe, and return the mixture to a hard boil.  Boil it hard for 1 minute, continuing to constantly stir.

When you're done boiling, remove your jam from the heat. The recipe says to skim any foam with a metal spoon at this point - I didn't really have any.

The next few steps are the same in every canning process so my bean canning experience helped out.

Now that the jam is ready to be canned, the next step is to fill the jars. Using a ladle and a funnel, this is a quick task.

Fill one clean jar, clean the rim of the filled jar (any jam on the rim will prevent the lid from sealing), take a lid from the boiling water using the magnetic wand thing (technical name I'm sure), place it on the jar and then screw on the ring that holds the lid in place.  Make sure to do one jar at a time so that the contents are hot.

Finally, put the 5 pint jars or 10 half pint jars in the hot water canner, which should be boiling at this point, and boil/process for 5 minutes.  Don't start timing until the water has returned to a boil.

When the jars have been processed for 5 minutes remove them to a rack where they can cool for 24 hours. If for some reason, after the 24 hours, any jars don't seal make sure that you put them in the fridge and use them as soon as possible.

Voila! Your jam is complete.

Homemade jam makes an excellent gift. Give it solo or pair it with some yummy bread, a fancy biscuit mix or even some citrus shortbread. I made ten pints and have already given half of it away! It's so delicious and so easy to make; I can't wait to pick some blackberries and blueberries later this summer and make more jam to give away and eat.

I hope that this post has demystified "jamming" for those of you who are new to the process and idea. I was surprised at how easy it was and I am excited to make more. The return on investment is well worth the effort.

Do you make your own jam? Why or why not?

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