The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" – June: Jam Making

Hi everyone! The June version of the “Food in Jars Challenge” introduced jam to its participants.  I am no professional at jam making, considering to date I think I have made more batches of ‘syrup’ than ‘jam.’

My most recent ‘syrup’ experience happened last spring and it was cherry-rhubarb syrup. I purchased several pounds of beautiful sweet cherries from Washington State, brought to me for a fair price in Minnesota by The Fruit Club, and had rhubarb that we hand-picked from a friend’s yard on a hot day.  After all of the cherries were pitted and the rhubarb was cut, imagine my disappointment when after the water bath process I discovered 14 jars of syrup.  If I wanted cherry-rhubarb syrup, that is what I would have made!

Anyway – for a time after that, I had sworn off jam and jelly making and decided I would just buy it at a Farmer’s Market or something. My friend nearby at Gramma’s Kitchen makes delicious jams and jellies for sale (and sells produce including garlic and dried beans, and makes awesome homemade soap), so I had a source. But then, I also thought – if she can do it, why can’t I? I’m a capable person, why can’t I get this stupid fruit and sugar to turn into a gel form of jam?  I Googled it, and I asked fellow jam-makers (including my mother-in-law.) Her answer was simple:  “You need to bring it to a boil that you can’t stir out. If you don’t boil it enough, the pectin won’t work.”  In all of the recipes I had followed and read, it talked about a rolling boil – but it also talked about NOT boiling it for too long.  Both things are correct – but what I was doing was NOT letting it come to a strong enough boil, because I was afraid of boiling it too long.  That, and at that point in my life last year, I hadn’t yet discovered the awesomeness of Pomona’s Pectin. (I know some people use a thermometer for this science of ‘not long enough, not too long’ mess, in fact that’s probably recommended. I don’t have patience for that.)

I’m not sure if I can credit my recent successful jam and jelly batches to the “boil it long enough but not too long” advice, or the discovery of Pomona’s, but in the past few months I have successfully made orange marmalade, confetti pepper jelly, raspberry jam (made in March from frozen raspberries from our bushes last summer but not featured in the blog), and now for this month’s challenge – strawberry jam.

Earlier in June, I talked to my husband about what to make for the “Jam Challenge,” and knowing that we have several fruit jams and jellies (and sauces and syrups) in our pantry already, I was wanting to try something different while still participating in the challenge.  I suggested Marisa’s Tomato Jam recipe, because its ingredients reminded me of the homemade ketchup that we make, and I said, “Oh this will be just like chunky sweet ketchup, let’s try this.” His (ever so) realist and honest answer was, “Why don’t we just eat ketchup?”

About that time, I was notified on Facebook that it was the local berry farm’s opening week – a pick-your-own for $2 per pound deal at Schumacher’s Berry Farm about 40 miles from where we live (bonus that there is a dam that is home to some fish to catch in between here and there!)  Anyway – we grabbed two ice cream buckets and two bowls and went out there the Saturday after they opened, and proceeded to pick 15 pounds of strawberries to fill our containers before we even knew what happened.

As we came home with our 15 pounds of berries, it was kind of a no-brainer that we just make some strawberry jam (in addition to freezing some for smoothies, eating some with cake and ice cream, and having some margaritas of course.) I mentioned that we already had strawberry jam left from last year’s batch (which I am proud to admit was jam, not syrup) – but we decided we will just eat more jam. Problem solved!

There were some variations on strawberry jam I had been reading about (including Marisa’s Small Batch Strawberry Balsalmic recipe), but quite honestly my husband and I share the opinion that you just can’t beat plain old strawberry jam, so that’s what we made.

I try to cut sugar in everything we make, especially since I discovered Pomona’s Pectin which makes it so easy to do so, and we followed their recipe (2 1/4 pounds strawberries, 2 teaspoons calcium water, 1 cup sugar and 2 tsp. Pomona’s pectin powder.) I made a double batch, which basically ends up being a ratio of 8 cups strawberries to 2 cups sugar – where traditional jam is usually equal parts fruit and sugar (depending on recipe) – so this ratio of 4:1 makes me much happier!

A few notes about my photos:

  • My jam was foamy and I didn’t skim it off before I put it in jars. I could have, but I didn’t.
  • I didn’t put butter in it to help with the foam, because I didn’t.
  • My fruit set to the top a little and I think it’s probably because I didn’t skim the foam or put any butter in it.
  • Some people talk about letting the fruit sit in the fridge with sugar on it to macerate for a day or two first. I think this is probably a good idea, but I didn’t do that, either.
  • I either eat this myself or I give it to family members, and we don’t care about these imperfections. It doesn’t affect the safety of it and it’delicious anyway!

One additional note about this is that when you make low/lower-sugar recipes of jam and jelly, they DO NOT last as long in the fridge as traditional recipes.  Please don’t open a jar of this handmade goodness, put it in your fridge and forget about it. It WILL go bad and you will have to throw it away.  Trust me when I tell you that too much work and love goes into the making of this – please don’t let that happen.

One good tip is if you don’t eat a lot of jam, once the jar is open throw it in the freezer. It doesn’t normally freeze completely and is easy enough to pull out when you need it.  I had to throw away 1/4 of a jelly jar of orange marmalade last month and it HURT. It was seriously probably 3 tablespoons at the most, but it HURT!  Open it and eat it, or freeze it.

Oh, and did I mention peanut butter? Like, put some on bread with this jam? Like, now?


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