We live very close to a popular u-pick strawberry farm that has a rather good bakery attached to it. The bakery sells the most sought-after sticky buns in South Florida, and people come from far away to stand in LONG lines during the weekends to buy them. It is a seasonal farm; the family lives somewhere in the North during the summer and come down here for the winter, so you can only get these buns for a few months of the year. Sometimes we go for the buns, bust mostly we go for the strawberries. For the last few years, we’ve picked the strawberries to make jam because my son goes through jam very quickly. He loves peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches, and eats at least one a day, sometimes more. I usually make only one batch of jam, which lasts anywhere from 3 to 5 months, but this year, my 4th season making this jam, we decided that perhaps multiple batches were in order. So we picked a total of 12 pounds of strawberries and I made two batches of jam; one is plain strawberry jam, and the other is strawberry vanilla.
Now, if you’ve never tried homemade jam you’re probably wondering why anyone would go through all the trouble of making it when there are perfectly good jams at the supermarket. Well, let me tell you why. While it is true that many brands of jam are delicious, not a single one comes close to the taste of any of the jams I have ever made. It is difficult to describe but the taste of this strawberry jam, made with FRESH, ripe berries is just so….bright…for lack of a better term. So yes, I do prefer this jam to store bought ones, even the better brands. Also, good, store bought jam is expensive, and we go through a lot of jam in the year, which makes homemade jam a better deal. For example, a 13-ounce jar of Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves, which is the only brand we buy, is about $5.40. The local farm from where I get my strawberries charges $3 a pound, and I need roughly 2 pounds 10 oz to make nine 8-oz jars; that’s about $7.88 for the strawberries. The sugar costs very little, about $0.50 a pound; this recipe uses 7 cups of sugar, which comes to about 3.1 pounds and thus about $1.55. The jars are reusable so I won’t count those. The lids are one-time use,and they come up to about $1.31 for 9. The pectin costs $2.82. So, without counting electricity and water, which is pennies, and bit more for gasoline, a batch of nine 8-oz jars of strawberry jam costs roughly $13.56. It’s a couple of dollars more if you use a vanilla bean. That is for 72 ounces of jam! The equivalent Bonne Maman could come up to about $30. But remember, homemade is not always cheaper, after all, there is the economy of scale (see my rotisserie chicken stock post). There’s also the fact that sometimes things are cheaper when bought because the quality is questionable, at least when compared to the homemade equivalent. People have different reasons for preferring homemade over store-bought products, but it doesn’t always have to do with cost, although in the case of canning, homemade is usually cheaper AND better.
Except for the yield, which the original recipe underestimates, and some minor procedural changes, this recipe is pretty much straight from the Ball Complete book of Home Preserving, which I highly recommend. The recipes in the book are not groundbreaking, but they are consistently good. But most of all, this book has everything you need to know about canning safely.
makes about 9 8-oz jars
7 cups granulated sugar
8 cups (about 2lbs 10oz) whole strawberries
4 tbsp lemon juice (I use bottled for consistency in acidity)
1 package (1.75 oz/49 to 57 g) regular powdered fruit pectin (I use Sure-Jell)
1. Place 9 clean 8-ounce mason jars on rack in a boiling-water canner. (You can also use a large, deep, saucepan or stockpot that is at least 3 inches deeper than the height of the jars). Fill the jars and canner with cool water that reaches the top of the jars. Cover and bring water to a simmer over medium heat. Do no boil.
2. Prepare 9 two-piece closures [these come with the jars when you first buy them]. Set screw bands aside. Place lids in a small saucepan and cover with water. Heat just to a simmer over medium heat, but do not boil. Keep lids warm until ready to use. Do not heat screw bands.
3. Measure sugar into a bowl and set aside. (Sugar is to be added to the boiling jam all at once, so measuring it ahead of time prevents errors in quantities and eliminates delays).
4. In a colander placed over a sink, wash strawberries in cool running water. Drain thoroughly.
5. In a glass pie plate or flat-bottomed bowl, place a single layer of strawberries. Using a potato masher, crush berries and transfer to a liquid measuring cup. Repeat until you have 5 cups of crushed strawberries.
6. Transfer the crushed strawberries to a saucepan, and add the lemon juice. Whisk in the pectin until dissolved. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add sugar all at once and, stirring constantly, return to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and, using a large slotted metal spoon, skim off foam. Let the jam rest for five minutes before filling the jars to help fruit be evenly distributed in the jar; stir.
7. Remove jars from the canner and empty hot water back into the canner. Place jars on a tray or towel-covered counter and place a canning funnel in it. Ladle hot jam into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Slide a nonmetallic utensil, such as a rubber spatula, down between the jam and the inside of the jar two or three times to release air bubbles. Adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot jam. With a clean damp cloth or paper towel, wipe jar rim and threads to remove any food residue. Using a magnetic or nonmetallic utensil, lift a hot lid from water and center it on a jar. Place screw band on jar and, with your fingers, screw band down evenly and firmly, just until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight. Repeat with the remaining jars.
8. When all the jars are filled, return them to the canner and ensure jars are completely covered by at least 1 inch of hot water. Cover canner and bring water to a full rolling boil over high heat. Process (continue boiling rapidly) for 10 minutes, starting timer only when water reaches a full rolling boil. At the end of the processing time, turn the heat off and remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove the jars, without tilting. Place jars upright on a towel in a draft-free place and let cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours. [You may hear pops as the seals are formed].
9. After 24 hours, check for seal. Remove screw bands and press down on the center of each lid with your finger. Sealed lids will be concave (they’ll curve downward) and will show no movement when pressed. Jars that haven’t sealed properly must be refrigerated immediately or reprocessed [with new lids]. Rinse and dry screw bands. Wipe jars and, if desired, loosely reapply screw bands. Label jars and store in a cool, dry, dark place.
For Strawberry Vanilla Jam, split a vanilla bean down the center and scrape both sides to gather the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to the crushed strawberries. Cook as directed, then remove the pod before ladling jam into jars.
That was a long one!
For canning, some tools are not strictly necessary (like a specialized tool to remove bubbles and measure headspace), but others are a must-have (like jar lifters). You can buy all these tools individually, but Ball makes a great little utensil set with everything you need to can: jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, funnel, and bubble remover. This bundle will make your canning life easier. I have this Granite Ware water-bath canner, and like it, but before I bought it I just used to large stockpots for my canning. I can using mostly half-pint jars so the stockpots worked well. One thing the recipe doesn’t call for, and I can’t remember if the book mentions it anywhere, is how to sanitize the ladle, funnel, and bubble remover. Basically, what I do is put them in the canner along with the empty jars, when the water is simmering, for a few minutes, then I transfer them to a paper towel set on the counter. This ensure me that they are clean, if not sterile, and it makes me feel better.
So, when strawberry season comes to your area, buy a few pounds and try making some jam, but be careful, canning is addictive, and good jam even more so!