So, I got all my canning supplies, finally found the time and bought myself a big load of strawberries. Bright red, juicy ones, too. And very sweet!
I have a great canning book that my mom gave to me at some point and she had it for as long as I can remember. It's called "In a Pickle or a Jam" and it has 157 pages of recipes for making jams, pickles, dressings, chutneys and anything else you can think of to can. So I looked there for my first strawberry jam recipe.
But first, I had to get my supplies ready. I bought half pint jars for making jam. So I needed to sterilize the jars and the lids. I also bought some quart size jars because I want to make some pickles. My husband LOVES pickles, especially the homemade variety, so I think he'll appreciate it. He is out of town at the moment, so I'd like to get some started so they are ready by the time he gets home, or at least shortly thereafter.
I boiled the jars in my hot water bath pan that I bought and boiled the lids separately, and then got the jam started.
Simple Strawberry Jam
(From "In a Pickle or a Jam," without added pectin)
8 cups (2 quarts) firm and ripe strawberries (the sweeter, the better!)
3 1/2 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
Wash, hull and pat dry strawberries. Combine strawberries and sugar and heat very slowly until sugar dissolves (this could take a while, for this batch it took about 10 minutes.) Once the sugar has all dissolved, add lemon juice. Since strawberries are low in pectin, the lemon juice in this recipe adds the pectin that is needed in order for the jam to thicken and set.
After adding the lemon juice, increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Then, use a masher to, well, mash the strawberries. The more you mash, the less chunky the jam will be. So, if you like chunky strawberry jam, mash a little. If you like it more even and spreadable, mash a lot.
Now, the recipe I have said it would take about 12 minutes to boil the strawberries until the jam was set. In actuality, it took more like 30 minutes. This book is from 1971. Maybe 1970's strawberries had more natural pectin? I guess we'll never know. So, continue boiling until the jam is set. How do you test? Like this:
To start with, use a candy thermometer. The jam should be about 220F degrees when it is ready. Once it reaches that point, you can take a small amount and put it on a small plate or in a small bowl and put it in the fridge for a minute. It should get right up when it's ready.
One thing to watch for during the boiling process: the foam that forms on the top. Just skim it off and toss it out. It's got so much air in it that if it goes in the jar, when it deflates, it will affect the headroom that is left.
Once your jam has been boiling for a while and has reached the right temperature and is ready to set, it's time to put it in the jars that are prepared and waiting.
I got a great, inexpensive set of beginner canning supplies on Amazon and it included the wide mouth funnel, a jar lifter, a lid lifter and a few other essential tools.
You'll want to get your jars out of the hot water, where they have been sitting and keeping warm and lay them out to fill. using the wide mouth funnel and a ladle (best if that is sterilized as well,) fill the jars one by one. Leave about 1/4 inch of head space on each jar. That is 1/4 inch measured from the very top of the jar. This recipe said that it would make 6 8-ounce jars. In actuality, it made 5 full half pint (8 oz) jars. So maybe my 8 cups weren't packed full enough. Who knows?
Then, wipe down the outside of the jars, add the lids and then the rims. Then in they go to the hot water bath. The water should cover the jars by about an inch and should be boiling. The jars should boil for about 15 minutes to seal them. Once you remove them from the water, as they start to cool, the lids will start to "pop" down. You should hear a fairly audible pop. If it's been a while and the lids don't pop, it's a good idea to place your jam in the refrigerator.
A little bit of canning trivia that I did not know. The flat lids on the top that seal the jars? Those are NOT reusable. Once they have sealed once, they will not seal again. So, reuse the jars and the rims, but make sure to buy new lids!
Another funny little thing. My canning book is so old, apparently, that there are no directions for canning with a water bath or a pressure cooker. The only method discussed is using paraffin wax to seal the jars. I distinctly remember my grandmother making jams and sealing them with paraffin. I'm not sure anyone still does that?
So that's it. A simple strawberry jam. So easy, someone who has never canned (um, me) was able to do it and get great results. It came out great, thickened up well and tastes WONDERFUL! My 4 year old helper agreed. And we decided to give a jar to his preschool teacher as an end of the year thank you gift. We hope she will enjoy it, too!