"Reclaiming Homemade in a Small Space"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Strawberry Jam!

It's June in the south hills of Pittsburgh and that means strawberry season!  It is one of my favorite times of the year, when I can take some time by myself and spend it in the strawberry patch.  I really enjoy picking the first of the summer fruits.  I missed last year's strawberries in Arkansas because we were moving and I didn't have time to make it to the patch. 
That meant no strawberry jam for the fam for a year.  And believe me, we have felt like we were missing something from our lives!  It felt very strange to me to purchase some strawberry jam a few months ago.  It was so disappointing too....it tasted more like strawberry candy than jam.  So, when I called and found out the local farm was having a strawberry festival, complete with u-pick strawberries, I was going to be a part of it.  Then it clashed with a vacation I had scheduled.  Matt was determined NOT to go without strawberries this year.  He loaded up the kids and went to the festival without me.  Guess how many pounds he bought????  31 POUNDS!  I lol'd when he called me on the phone and told me.  Yeah, I would have my hands and my fridge full when I got home.  I think he bought twice as much as I would buy in one season.  What can I say?  He wants his jam!!!!!!  Who can blame him....remember that jar of strawberry jam that I bought?  No one asks to have THAT jam on their toast.  They want the "real" stuff.
My yummy homemade stuff is on the left.  On the right, with less color (and flavor!) is Smuckers.

Notice I keep saying jam, not jelly and not preserves.  Jelly is made from just the juice of fruit and preserves are made from whole fruits.  When I make jam, I use the traditional canning method.  I like it over freezer jams simply so I have more space in my freezer for meat.  I'll take you through what you need.

*water bath canner w/basket  *jar gripper  *mason jars  *lids   *jar bands  *wide mouth funnel  *5 c. crushed strawberries  * 1 box pectin  * 7 c. sugar (exactly measured)

The first step in canning is getting your canner boiling.  You're going to be bringing several gallons of water to boil.  This takes a long time, so get the heat going as soon as you can.  I'm not quite sure how much water I used.  I filled it up to a line around 2/3 of the way up.  Put the lid on and crank up the heat!

Prep is SO important when canning.  You need a clean kitchen, equipment and jars.  Now, I don't mean that your jars have to be sterile.  The water bath in the canner is going to kill all the germs. Wash all your jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well and set aside to dry.

 After you wash all your jars, place the lids in a hot, but NOT boiling, pan of water.  If you boil the lids, you will damage the sealant.

After you've prepped all your jars, turn to prepping the fruit.  Make sure your fruit is ripe and fresh.  The quality of your berries determines the quality of your jam.  Wash about 8 cups worth.

I like to set up a little station of fruit prep.  A bowl for hulls and any bad berries and a bowl for the capped ones.  

I cut each berry in half.
It is time now to crush the fruit.  You can either use a potato masher and crush one layer of fruit at a time. OR you can use a food processor!  Place about a fourth of the berries in the bowl of your processor and pulse four or five times.  If you liquify your berries, your jam won't set....same with under processing them.

 I ended up with 5 c. of crushed berries.

Measure out 7 cups of sugar exactly!  You can't use sugar substitutes in jam...it won't set.

Make sure you have good pectin too.  I have found Sure-Jell is the best.

Here's where we get cooking!  Pour your crushed berries into a large pot.  Bring to a full, rolling boil...one that doesn't stop when stirred.  Add the pectin at that point.  I also like to add a 1/2 t. of butter.  That itty bitty amount of fat keeps the jam from making too much foam as it cooks.

Bring to another roiling boil and add the 7 c. of sugar. It will seem like the sugar clumps up, but the cooking will dissolve all of it.
Full rolling boil

Adding the sugar...keep stirring!

All the sugar has dissolved and it's coming to a boil.  Keep on stirring!
 When you reach the second full rolling boil, set a timer for one minute and continue to stir. While it rolls at that full boil, it is likely going to pop some big bubbles and splatter you with hot jam.  I like to use a really long wooden spoon and stand as far away as I can as I stir.  But don't stop stirring....sugar burns fast and burnt sugar does not taste good.  When the timer goes off, keep stirring, count to 10 and then take off the heat.  The 10 count is just a little extra insurance of time that will make sure the jam will set. 

Next, fill your jars.  Place the wide mouth funnel in one jar.

Then fill the jar with the hot jam.  I like to use a soup ladle to fill the jars.  Don't go all the way to the top of the jar, leave about a 1/4" of space.  This is called head room and it is there so that when the jars are processed, the air is sucked out in the water bath leaving a vacuum in the space at the top of the jar.  That way no wee beasties grow in your jam and make you sick later! Place the lid on the top of the jar and then screw the jar bands on.
An example of head room with just the lid. This is probably a little more head room than is needed.
After you screw the bands on, wipe down the outside of the jar.
Repeat with all the jars.  I typically get four pint jars from one batch with a little left over that I put in a small 1/2 pint jar.  (I don't process that one.) Place the jars in the basket of the canner.  Make sure the water is boiling. Carefully lower them into the water bath.  They should be covered by 1 to 2 inches of water.  If you need to, add boiling water to reach 1 to 2 inches of coverage.

Boil (or process) them for 20 minutes.  As mentioned above, this will pull out the air in the jars and seal the lids to the jars.  It kills any germs in the jam or jars and makes the jam shelf stable.  After 20 minutes of processing, pull out the jars with the jar gripper.
 Let them sit on the counter until they are cooled.  The fruit bits tend to rise to the top.  You can see that in the picture above.  To combat this, I like to turn the jars upside down and shake them occasionally while they are cooling.  This distributes the fruit through the entire jar.  While the jars cool, the the lids will make a "pop" sound.  When that happens, you know your jars are sealed.  Check each jar by pushing on the top of the lid to see if it is sealed.  If the lid has any give after it has completely cooled, either reprocess it or refrigerate it.  It has not sealed and is therefore not shelf stable.  The jam will take from 2 to 24 hours to set.  If for some reason you jam doesn't set, open the jars, empty the jam into a large pot and bring to a boil for one minute.  You will need to reprocess them though.  I've been making jam for years and that has only happened to me once.
Look at these beauties!  They are now in our basement waiting for some time later in the year when they will get opened, months from strawberry season, and it will taste like early summer again!  Homemade jam makes GREAT gifts!  I hope you get inspired to try your own canning!  Look on Craigslist or at garage sales for canning equipment.  I found 4 huge containers of mason jars at a garage sale recently for only $3! Happy Canning!


  1. That looks beautiful. Nothing taste better than homemade strawberry jam. Can't wait to taste it.

  2. What is your elevation? I am over 6000 :). It is good to know for processing time. Thank you.

  3. What is your elevation? I am over 6000 :). It is good to know for processing time. Thank you.