It's Fancy Jam Time

We're in the nineties, Mother. It's fancy jam time.
~Albert Brooks, Mother

This week was all about the jam-making. In edition to our first shot at grape jelly, we also made our first strawberry jam. Back in the spring (when most strawberries are coming in), I ended up freezing all the strawberries that we didn't eat, and figured I would eventually get around to making them into jam. And since I was already elbow-deep in the grape jam process, I threw another pot on the stove and got started on the strawberries on the same day.

Once again, I was looking to make this jam with as little sugar as possible, so that all the great strawberry flavor could shine through. To do this, I simplified Melissa K. Norris' recipe which, like the adjustments I made to the grape jam, used more lemon (for acid and pectin) and less sugar to achieve the jelling the jam needs to set up. Here's how I made it:

1. Gather the ingredients: 3 lemons, 8 cups of whole strawberries (frozen work just fine, but they should be thawed), and 2 1/2 cups of sugar. You also need canning equipment and jars for 2 pints' worth of jam. (We ended up with 2 pints plus a tiny 4 ounce jar.)

2. Zest all the lemons:

There's a lot of natural pectin in citrus rinds, and this recipe uses quite a bit of it. Most of the pectin is in the pithy white part is the rind, so I grated it way down to make the most of it.

3. Put the zest into a pot:

It's a lot! Then cut the lemons in half and juice them into the pot. I used a sieve to keep the seeds and most of the pulp out. 

3. Add the sugar and strawberries into the pot, and stir over low heat. Allow to slowly warm for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the strawberries end up well-coated in lemon and sugar:

This is a good time to mash the strawberries (unless you like whole berries in your jam). I used a potato masher for this.

4. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often to keep it from sticking or burning. Allow it to bubble and sputter until it sets — about 20 minutes. This time will vary depending on how sweet, pectin-y, and/or acidic your berries are, so it's a good idea to do the spoon test as soon as you think it's starting to thicken. (To do this, dip a metal spoon in the jam and see if it sticks to the back instead of sliding right off. As soon as it sticks in a solid coating, it's ready to go.) The idea is to cook the berries for the shortest period possible, so it doesn't end up tasting caramelized or cooked.

5. Follow all of your basic canning rules to fill hot jars, screw on fresh lids, and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. 

Of course we tasted it the next day to see how it turned out. We opened the little extra one for a taste test:

It set well, and there are lots of nice chunks of berry in the jam. Perfect texture:

The flavor, like the lemony grape jam we made with it, is quite bright. I actually did not taste the lemon so much as a very strawberry-filled, but not too-sweet jam. I liked it a lot. Kirk, on the other hand, found it to be very lemony. He said we would have to label it as strawberry-lemon jam, since to him it tastes more like strawberry rhubarb filling than straight strawberry (which probably explains why I liked it so much). The kids preferred the grape jam by a long shot.

So in the future, I think I would try cutting the amount of lemon zest used in this recipe, and instead use our grape jam trick of adding the lemon rinds to the jam as it cooks down, but removing them before jarring. I think that using all that zest adds too much of the lemon's essential oils to the jam, when all you really want is the pectin. The zest and all its flavor stays in the jam this way, but more of the flavor might be removed along with the rind if we try the rind method next time.

On the other hand, I really like this strawberry jam, so maybe the kids should learn to make their own jam next summer if they prefer it fully sugared. Then we can have a strawberry jam cook-off, enter the jars for judging at the fair, and see who gets a ribbon.


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