Strawberry Jam

Our designated rhymes-with-bumpster diver, N., brought home some strawberries the other night.  The guys were thinking about making alcohol or dessert with them, but I appropriated most of them for this year’s first batch of strawberry jam.

Ideally strawberry jam should be made with freshly picked berries on the verge of underripe.  These strawberries were on the verge of mushy which is why we got them the way we did.  But after the worst spots were trimmed off, they made a fine jam.

I consulted The River Cottage Preserves Handbook and followed the strawberry variation given for a raspberry fridge jam recipe.  Fridge jam is lower in sugar and is boiled for less time than usual, so it has a soft set and a fresher flavor.  It has to be kept in the fridge after opening, hence the name.  Strawberries are low in pectin naturally, and the riper they are the less pectin they have, so I knew I’d need a pectin-added recipe with this batch of fruit.  That ruled out a balsamic + black peppercorn strawberry jam from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook.  The guys are a little dubious of that particular flavor combo, but I can pretty much guarantee it’ll get made this summer.

This was also my first time using the copper jam pot I got for Christmas.  You don’t need one to make jam, since a heavy-bottomed stock pot will work just fine as long as it’s not aluminum.  Really, if your kitchen is functional you’ll have everything you need already: something to stir with that won’t scratch up your pan, a wet dishtowel to wipe the threads of the jar after you fill it, and a ladle.  The only canning-specific things you will need are sterilized canning jars (running them through the dishwasher works, if you have one).  A wide mouthed funnel is nice but not necessary, and unless you’re boiling the jelly jars to sterilize them you’ll be able to make do without a jar lifter.  Don’t get hung up on equipment!

You might also need an apron, or a dish towel slung over your shoulder at the very least.  There are a ton of juicy strawberries that need chopping.

At this point I put on Animal Collective’s 2007 album Strawberry Jam, for the obvious reasons.  Key inspirational lyric: “Only the taste of your cooking can make me bow on the ground.”  Key inspirational Wikipedia quote:

As he removed the cover of the packet, he was drawn to the look of the glistening jam, and he expressed his desire for the production of their new album to sound like the jam looked, “that is to say, something that’s really synthetic and sharp and futuristic looking,” but also “tangy and sweet, almost in a kind of aggressive way in terms of the way it tastes”.

By the third time through that or any album, your jam should be boiling.  If you want a slightly firmer jam, you should boil for two more minutes – next time, I definitely will.  And if you’re paranoid about hair in your jam but don’t own a hairnet, a bandanna can serve that purpose with a little extra touch of old school housewife style.

At this point your kitchen will smell magical and you will hopefully have set aside a clean spoon to taste with.  The foam can either be skimmed from the top or gently stirred in, or you could do like I do and add a little butter, stir most of it in, and don’t worry about the rest of it since it’s just air bubbles.  I also added half a cup of lemon juice to the recipe, based on the consensus of my strawberry jam related research.

As you can see, this method produces a really soft, runny jam.  It’s been great on toast or spooned right out of the jar (shhh), and I could see it in a starring role on top of cheesecake or waffles.  Best of all, it’s quick and easy to make and its simple flavor is a crowd pleaser.  If three is considered a crowd.

Strawberry Fridge Jam adapted from Hugh’s Prizewinning Raspberry Fridge Jam (strawberry variation) in The River Cottage Preserves Handbook

Makes seven 8-ounce jars, or 3 16-ounce jars with a little extra to be eaten right away

3 pounds, 6 ounces strawberries

3 3/4 cups granulated sugar blended with 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered pectin

1/2 cup lemon juice (two lemons’ worth)

Hull strawberries and halve or quarter them.  Put half of the fruit into a preserving pan and use a potato masher to coarsely crush it.  Add the remaining fruit, lemon juice and sugar.

Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to a rolling boil, then boil for exactly 5 minutes.  (If you prefer a firmer jam, continue boiling at this stage for a further 2 to 3 minutes.)  Remove from the heat, stirring to disperse any scum.

It is important to pour and cap this low-sugar jam quickly, but you must allow it to cool for 5-6 minutes first to prevent the fruit from rising to the top of the jar.  Fill jars with hot jam, cap and screw on lids, and turn upside down for 5 minutes.  Turn right side up and wait for seals to pop.  Use within 1 year.  (If seals do not pop, reheat jar in boiling water, invert for 5 minutes, and turn right side up – that should do it.  If seal still isn’t popping for some reason, keep in fridge and use soon.)

To make this jam with raspberries, omit lemon juice.

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