Lately, the little one and I have been going through strawberries at a rate of about one pound per day.
This takes place mostly at breakfast when we eat them over yogurt (me) or speared on the end of a tiny fork and paired with a chaser of milk (him). And, in case you are wondering, at 22 months his appetite matches mine berry for berry.
A week ago we bought a big flat of strawberries at the farmers market and then, last weekend, we went to the fields and picked some ourselves.
Picking strawberries has always been a favorite springtime ritual and I was excited to share it with E., who wasted no time filling his bucket with ripe, red specimens.
I expected his haul to be full of either under or overripe fruit, but he took his job very seriously, carefully pushing aside leaves to seek out the best berries then calling out “nice one!” before freeing each new find from its stem.
In the end, we picked nearly 10 pounds of berries. Even our berry-laden breakfasts aren’t enough to make it through that much fruit before spoilage sets in, so I pulled out the jam pot and got to work.
I wanted to make a jam that tasted mostly of fruit, not sugar, and that wouldn’t require a trip to the store for powdered pectin, either. This can be tricky because sugar helps jam to set, so low-sugar recipes often call for extra pectin and those with no added pectin typically rely on equal weights of sugar and fruit. That’s especially true for fruits like strawberries, which are very low in natural pectin.
So I poked around on ye old internet looking for a workaround and, after a little experimentation, ended up with several claret-colored jars of lovely, softly-set strawberry jam. Now you too can have low-sugar, no-added-pectin strawberry jam without all the trial, error and Googling, because I’ve already done that for you. You’re welcome.
The solution is two-fold: small batches and lemon seeds.
When making jam, you generally want to cook it as fast as possible to preserve the fresh taste of the fruit. With a small batch of jam, you can reduce the liquid relatively quickly, which helps to firm up the finished jam without sacrificing flavor. Using the widest pot you can get your hands on helps too.
The second trick is as simple as adding lemon seeds to the pot. Unlike strawberries, citrus fruits have lots of pectin in their pith and seeds. Recipes for marmalade often call for tying up the seeds in a little bundle of cheesecloth and adding it to the pot, so I figured, if it works for marmalade it would probably work for strawberry jam too.
I would just caution you to use actual cheesecloth, instead of the paper coffee filter I resorted to upon noticing at the very last minute that I was out of cheesecloth. The filter burst, leaving me to fish lemon seeds out of my jam.
Jam making is a little time consuming, but small batches really don’t take all that long to make and the end result is so satisfying. It makes me feel all “Little House on the Prairie” minus the malaria, howling wolves and calico dresses. Plus, it means I get to enjoy strawberries at breakfast all year round.
You don't need much in the way of special equipment to make jam, just a really large pot, some jars (reusing old ones is fine) and lids (these cannot be reused). See this post on marmalade for tips about how to hack canning tongs and funnels from stuff you probably already own.
A lot of experts say sterilizing the jars ahead of time is not strictly necessary, but if you don't sterilize the jars first you will need to process the filled jars for a full 10 minutes instead of the five minutes in the recipe below.
- 3 pounds strawberries, stemmed, hulled and cut into large pieces (weighed after trimming)
- 1 pound granulated sugar
- juice of one lemon (seeds, pith and rind set aside)
Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours or up to one day, until the berries have released a lot of their liquid.
Place a couple of small plates in the freezer.
Fill the canning pot with enough water to cover the jars by at least one inch. Submerge the jars in the pot and set it to boil over high heat. Boil the jars for 10 minutes then carefully remove them from the pot and set on a dishtowel to dry. Keep the pot of water on the stove, you will need it to be boiling when your jars are filled.
Wash the rings and lids with warm, soapy water and set them aside to dry as well.
Set a colander inside a wide, heavy bottomed pot and drain the macerated berries in the colander so that all the juices collect in the pot. Pour the berries back into the bowl and set aside.
Add the lemon juice to the pot. Then use a piece of cheesecloth to make a little bundle of the lemon seeds, pith and rind. Toss that into the pot as well.
Boil the liquid over high heat. When it reaches a rolling boil, add the berries and boil, stirring frequently. The mixture will foam up as it boils and you might need to reduce the heat to keep it from boiling over.
After about 30 to 45 minutes (it could take a little more or less time depending on the size of your pot, heat of your stove, etc.), the liquid will have reduced considerably and thickened slightly, to a more syrupy consistency. At this point, you can drop a small spoonful onto one of the frozen plates and stick it back in the freezer for a minute or two. Then push the blob of jam with your fingertip. If it wrinkles up on the plate, the jam is set.
This jam does not set up quite as firm as recipes with more sugar or powdered pectin, so your jam may not ever really wrinkle on the plate. But after a minute or to in the freezer it should at least no longer be really runny. If the liquid is reduced, the consistency of the jam in the pot is syrupy and you see a track when you push your finger through the jam on the plate, you are probably good to go.
When the jam is finished, carefully ladle/pour it into the sterilized jars leaving about 1/4 - 1/2" headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars, place the lids on top and then screw on the rings just until you feel resistance. Carefully transfer the filled jars to the rack of your boiling water canner and lower the rack into the pot. Boil for five minutes, then transfer the jars to a dishtowel to cool before storing.
You can check that your jars have a tight seal by listening for a pinging noise. The lids should also appear slightly concave. If the lids give when you press down on their centers, the seal isn't good. In this case, just stick the jam in the refrigerator and use it within a couple of weeks.
Sealed jars should keep in the pantry for at least one year.