Monday, July 23, 2012

Preserving ~ Strawberry Jam the Real Food Way

Strawberry season is wrapping up here in our neck of the woods, but if you hurry you might be able to snatch a flat or two before it's too late.  Some folks actually prefer waiting for the end of the season to get their strawberries because they believe them to be sweetest, though they are a lot smaller than those big ones harvested at the beginning of the season.

The recipe I use is found in the Pamona's pectin box.  It's simple, amazing, and only uses half the sugar in normal jams.  You also have the option of using honey which allows those on the GAPS diet to enjoy jam so delicious it'll feel like you're cheating.  The honey option also makes it Paleo-friendly.  

I make double batches at once which is technically a no-no because this can make your jam more runny if you're not careful.  I'm not willing to take the time it does to make single batches and I haven't had much trouble with it being runny.  

If you haven't already, I started a preserving series last week where I talked about equipment needed and why I decided to return to my canning roots even after becoming a real foodie.  You can find that post here.  This is a continuation of that discussion in our journey of preserving this summer's harvest.  Let's bring this chat over to my kitchen and start jamming, shall we?

Strawberry jam is our favorite jam, hands-down.  Once you experience the homemade version, you'll never want to buy another jar of it again.  The taste and color absolutely does not compare.  We'll break it down to cost comparison and worth at the end of the post, but for now, let's fill the canner with water up to the indent you see there:

Now we move this beast to the stovetop, place seven clean, empty jars in it to sanitize, put the lid on it, and set it to boil.  Next, we put the lids, seals, and bands into a medium-sized sauce pan, cover it with water, and bring that to a boil.  Once it boils, I set it to simmer.  I am making some for us to keep and some to give away, so there is a mixture of BPA-free, reusable Tattler lids for us and the disposable kind that come with the jars we'll use for the gifts.

While the big canner continues to come up to a boil, we'll start getting the berries ready.  First, I soak them in some produce wash and rinse them off.  While the strawberries continue to drain in the colander, I start taking the stems off, toss the stems into the chicken scrap bowl, and chop the berries into thirds if they're small or sixths if they're large.  The chopped berries go into the eight-cup measuring cup.

We'll need eight cups of mashed berries.  I gave the potato masher to my four-year-old and she became the official strawberry smusher.

While she did that, I measured the organic evaporated cane juice.  I decided to use this sweetener because it's way cheaper than honey and a little of it goes a long way with this kind of pectin.  It's very important to thoroughly mix the pectin in with the sugar or the pectin will glop up and you'll end up with runny jam and globs of pectin.

Next, you mix calcium water (it comes with the pectin as well as instructions on how to use it) with the fruit and bring it to a boil.  Slowly pour in the sugar or honey/pectin mixture and bring to a boil for a minute.  I stir constantly through this whole process.  I highly recommend skimming off that foam.  I didn't and once the jam settled down in the jar, it left a bigger headspace (the space from the jam to the lid) than I wanted.

Your canner should be full of boiling water at this point, so use your jar lifter to take your first empty jar out.  Put the funnel on top of the empty jar and start ladling that strawberry goodness into the jar, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.  My funnel has a line on it to use as a reference on where to stop filling.

Now get a clean towel (paper or cloth), fold it, and dip it into the scalding water in the canner.  

Use it to wipe the rim clean.

Use tongs to first get a seal out (if you're using the lids that come with the jars, the seal is attached to the lid).

Carefully put the seal on the center of he jar's rim.  If it's off-center if won't seal properly and you'll have to throw the jam out which is a travesty of epic proportion.

Next, center the lid on...

and screw the band on until it's snug but not super tight.  Air bubbles need to be able to escape from the jar during the water bath that's coming up.

In goes the jar of jam to the water bath.  Repeat this until all jars are full.  Put the lid on the canner and allow to sterilize.  This jam is supposed to get a ten-minute water bath, so after the canner is full of filled jars, I set the timer for seven minutes and by the time I get each jar out, they'll have been in there for that long.  Just keep track of which jar goes in first.  I start at the top of the canner and go clock-wise.

Sometimes, you end up with some extra jam.  We call this Mommy's stash, er, cook's jam.  It goes straight in the fridge and is ready to be gobbled up.

While the jam is bathing (tehe), it's time to wash the equipment for round two.  I buy a flat of berries at a time which can make two double batches.

When the jam is ready to come out, I place it carefully on the counter under a dish towel.  You can also put them on cooling racks but I get nervous about them getting knocked off.  Take the jar out that you put in first and replace it with an empty jar for the next batch.  Continue until all the filled jars are out and empty jars have taken their place.  Now we get to do the process all over again!

One of my favorite parts about canning is hearing the rewarding ping! of the seals sealing.  Sadly, Tattler lids are anti-climactic in this way and you aren't able to tell if they have sealed  until the next day when it's safe to move the jars and you unscrew the bands to see if they're sealed shut.  

Now let's break it all down.
In a nutshell, did I think it was worth making strawberry jam?
Yes.  Yes I did.
Like I said, once you experience the superiority of homemade strawberry jam, it's hard to go back to store-bought.  It's downright heavenly.
Here's what it cost me:
  • 1 flat of no-spray strawberries from down the road: $18 (strawberries will be free once we establish our big ol' patch)
  • 1 packet pectin: $3.50
  • 13 1-pint jars (mine were given to me so they were free) $9.55 (reusable!)
  • 1 packet Tattler lids: (also given to me so they were free) $12 (don't forget they're reusable too!)
  • 8 cups organic evaporated cane juice (I buy it in 25-pound bags and also use it for kombucha): $9.60
Total cost for me:  $2.39/1-pint jar.
If I grew my own berries (easy and someday!): $1.07/pint!

A 16-ounce jar of store-bought organic strawberry jam costs $4.00

All the prices referenced were found at Azure Standard.

Not only does it end up being cheaper, it's also about half the cost of store-bought jam and, again, you just can't compare the end result to what you find at a store.  SO GOOD!  It will really be worth it once we grow our own strawberries.  I think they're the easiest berries to grow and my kids love picking them with me; so there's no labor cost and we all get paid with a pantry full of strawberry jammed goodness.

Getting your feet wet is the hardest part of canning.  Once you do it, you might find yourself looking for things to can just to have an excuse to do it.  It's kinda addicting and very rewarding.  Now go get some strawberries before the season is over and let me know what you think!

I'm sharing this at Seasonal Roundup, Real Food Wednesday, Fight Back Friday.


  1. what a gorgeous post! i only started canning last summer but having jars and jars of homemade spreadable fruit all year long hooked me. i'm eagerly awaiting blueberries...

    if you like, you should swing by on Wednesday @ Gastronomical Sovereignty and link up your post with the Fresh Foods Blog Hop - it really fits within our Fresh/Whole seasonal Foods mission.

  2. i made my 1st batch of jam on friday night! i used blackberries i picked and the pomona's pectin. it was my very time canning and i am still learning the timing part. you are right though, it is very fun and i am already planning what i can next. strawberry jam was what i was thinking...

    my recent post: simply thankful today

  3. I love making strawberry jam. My strawberry jam has won two years in a row at our local county fair! My recipe tho, doesn't need pectin. It's more of a slow cook method and only requires 5 1/2 cups of sugar (to 8cups berries). Tastes wonderful with a bright flavor. Love hearing about other canning journeys! Thanks for sharing

  4. Congratulations on the winning jam! I've heard of the slow cook method and it intrigues me...

  5. Yay for jam! You are going to love the strawberry jam. It's our fave by far.

  6. I would love the ratios for honey and strawberry jam. Love the pics and post. I'm gonna do peach I think this year. We have a humungous crop of peaches off our tree, so jam and fruit leathers hear I come.


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