The rain has been such an emotional drain lately. Gray, dreary days spent locked up inside avoiding torrential downpours. I hope this will not be our new normal.
Not only do I have cranky, crabby kids who need to get outside–whether they like it or not!!–but it’s also delayed a lot of the things I would like to do that have a short window of opportunity before they’re gone. Planting season was put off a couple weeks and strawberry season nearly passed us without a trip to the farm to pick our own. Luckily, a cool spring also delayed ripening crops so we didn’t miss out entirely!
I did not grow up picking our own strawberries. The first time I ever tried it was only 2 years ago, shortly after my discectomy when I was going out of my mind and inventing projects for myself. My physical therapist wasn’t too thrilled I decided to take on jam-making that summer, but it kept me sane.
Last year, we missed strawberry season. We were in the midst of closing on our house and moving and there simply wasn’t any time for any endeavors like that. Once you pick them, you need to process them pretty quickly–strawberries are just so darn fragile and bruise easily. If you can’t put up some jam and make a few recipes, it’s not even worth the effort. I was sad we weren’t able to wallow in a strawberry bounty, but the timing just wasn’t right.
Luckily, we did find the time this year. The sky had cleared enough to give us a little sunshine, a bit of a reward for all those monochromatic days leading up to the occasion. The air was moist and warm and the fields smelled like strawberry shortcake–just like I remembered. Everywhere was green and red and the crop was plentiful.
We quickly filled our container with over 7.5 pounds of Jewel and Valley Sweet berries. It seemed a bit like insanity when it came time to pay for them. Still, the kids were overjoyed and it had been far too long since we had homemade strawberry jam. This would be quite lovely.
Already stained with the juices of our treasure, I got straight to work. I wanted to add a little twist to make the jam a bit unique. I already was reducing the sugar–if I hadn’t been canning the jam, I would have reduced it more, as the berries were already pretty sweet–but there needed to be something else. Something to grab your attention. Something balancing so as not to walk away from the experience in diabetic shock. Acid.
Strawberries and balsamic vinegar are well-matched, and you’ll find a lot of recipes pairing them. I liked the idea, but wanted to take it in a slightly different direction–with white wine vinegar. Still acidic, but not so demanding of your attention. It blends beautifully without overpowering the senses. Like champagne and strawberries…with a bit of a sour note. Only a bit.
Next time, I would cook the jam down longer to thicken it up a bit. But as is, it can easily be used as both a topping and a spread. Properly canned, it should last a year on the shelf. I know our jam never makes it that long, though…
- 6 cups hulled and halved strawberries
- ¼ cup Classic Pectin
- 4 cups organic sugar
- 3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
- Wash 7 half-pint jars, lids, and bands with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
- Place the jars in a water bath pot (basically a very large stock pot) on the rack, fill with water to 1 inch over the tops of the jars, and heat over high heat until it comes to a boil.
- Boil for 5 minutes, then add the lids. Boil for an additional 5 minutes, then turn off the heat, removing the jars and lids to a towel to dry.
- While you are sanitizing the jars and lids, prepare your strawberries. Place in the bottom of a large stockpot (you'll want something with high sides so you don't get splattered by hot fruit) and mash to the desired consistency. You can also use a stick blender (or regular blender) if you'd like a finer consistency.
- Stir in the pectin and heat over medium to medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
- Add the sugar all at once and stir until it is dissolved.
- Add the vinegar and keep heating until it reaches a boil again, then keep it on the burner for another couple of minutes, stirring the whole time.
- (You can test the consistency here by using a cold spoon and scooping out a little bit onto a cold plate to see how set the jam is; I prefer mine a little looser, but if it's not set enough, you can cook it longer until it is. Just retest periodically til you find it's set the way you'd like.)
- Remove from heat and scoop off the foam, discarding it (I ate it. I couldn't help it; I couldn't waste it!).
- (Turn the water bath pot back on high heat to be sure it's boiling when you need it.)
- Place the funnel into the neck of the first jar and start ladling the jam into it. Fill, leaving ½" head space. Knock the jar on the counter a few times to be sure the air bubbles are worked out. Wipe the rim with a clean, moistened cloth.
- Using a lid lifter, gently place a clean and sterilized lid on the top of the jar. Add the band and hand-tighten (you don't want to over-tighten).
- Repeat until all the jars are full and covered.
- Return the jars to the water bath pot and process as recommended for your altitude. 10 minutes is a safe bet, though technically at sea level you need to only do it for 5 minutes.
- Remove jars to a clean towel and leave undisturbed for 12-24 hours. You should hear the lids ping some time after this. If, after the 12-24 hours, any of the lids have any give when gently pushed on, place the jar in the fridge to be used within the next 2 weeks. Any properly sealed jars can be stored at room temperature up to one year.
Have you made jam before? What’s your favorite fruit to preserve?
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