Since this is a blog about food and home traditions, it only makes sense that I begin at home. My mom taught me to preserve fruit when I was about six years old. We spent countless balmy nights at our northern Michigan cottage putting up jars and jars of strawberry, blackberry, apricot, peach, cherry and grape preserves. Strawberry jam was always our favorite though. The first big fruit harvest of the season, it always felt like summer really started with that pot of simmering smashed strawberries.
I was up in Northern Michigan last weekend visiting our old summer haunts and bought a big flat of strawberries and brought them to my parent’s house. My mom and I made strawberry jam together for the first time in several years. As we prepared the fruit, steamed the jars, and simmered the berries, my mom told me about the first time that she learned to make strawberry jam.
She was 23 years old and had just gotten her first teaching job in Petoskey, Michigan. She went strawberry picking that first summer in Northern Michigan and came back to her little house with 10 quarts of strawberries. Not knowing what to do with all the berries, she offered her next door neighbor some berries. Instead of accepting the berries, Claudia taught my mom to make jam.
Click on the video to hear the story in my mom’s own words.
Nancy’s Strawberry Jam
Makes 9 pint jars (18 1/2 pints)
12 cups smashed strawberries (approx. 6 quarts)
8 cups sugar
2 boxes of sure jell pectin
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 tiny dash of butter (1/4 teaspoon)
To prepare berries:
First, clean and destem berries. Often freshly picked strawberries will be pretty sandy, so give them a good rinsing. Then, using a paring knife, remove the tops leaving as much berry as possible. In a big bowl or pot, mash berries with a potato masher until nicely mashed. It’s okay if there are a few chunks. Put the smashed berries in a well insulated pot and turn up the heat. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar removed from the 8 cups with the 2 boxes of pectin. Stir mixture into heating berries. While your making additions, add the zest of one lemon and the juice of lemon. Throw in a tad of butter as well. Bring strawberry mixture up to a rolling bowl, stirring constantly (with a wooden spoon). When the mixture has boiled for a full minute (count to 60), stir in remaining 7 1/2 cups of sugar. Return to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. If it gets really foamy, remove the foam with a spoon and set aside to enjoy with bread. The foam is delicious Again, count to 60 and then remove from heat and start filling jars.
To prepare jars:
Wash mason jars in hot soapy water or the dish washer. Make sure that you have new lids for each jar. Also, it’s important to use actual mason jars not recycled jam jars that you bought from the store. They won’t hold up to the heat of the canning process. Then, my mom sterilizes her jars and lids in boiling water on the stove. This isn’t necessary if you are going to process your jam in a water bath, but I think it’s a good idea.
To can the jam:
As the strawberries are heating, spread out a clean cloth on your counter. Find a tongs, a clean rag for wiping the rims, and a rag for holding on to hot jars as you place lids on them. You will also need a measuring cup preferably with a lip to pour jam into jars. There is specialty jamming equipment (special tongs, a special funnel, canning racks). This is nice but if you don’t have it, you can improvise. Take four jars out of the sterilization pot at a time. Fill with jam. Leave about 1/2 inch of “head space” at the top of the jar. Wipe the top of the jar well with a clean cloth so no specks of jam will interfere with the seal. Then, place the lid on the jar, and screw the ring down. There’s no need to screw it super tight as it’s only needed to keep the lid in place until it seals. My mom then turns the jar upside down for 5 minutes and then, turns it upright before she places it in the water bath. This isn’t necessary, but is one way to avoid air bubbles and ensure a good seal. Place lids and seals on all jars and then in groups of 6 or 8 depending on the size of your water bath, give them an extra dose of heat to ensure their safe keeping.
The water bath along with sterilization of the jars and general cleanliness, ensure that your jam will store safely for up to a year.
While the jam is cooking, prepare a large pot half-way filled with water. If you have a jamming rack, set it aside. If you don’t, make a rack, by placing extra canning rings around the bottom of the pot so that the jars won’t bounce against the bottom. Bring the water to a boil. When the jars are full of jam and lids have been placed. Put the jars either into the canning rack and lower into the water bath or if you don’t have a rack, lower the jars into the pot with a tongs. Return water to a boil and put a lid on the pot and bathe your strawberry jam for 10 minutes. The water should cover the jars by at least 1-2 inches. When it has boiled for 10 minutes, remove the jars with a tongs and place them upright on a clean cloth. Make sure that they are out of any drafts and let them cool completely.
It sounds like a lot of steps but once you get the hang of it, preserving fruit is fun and easy. It’s especially great with a few helpers.
Happy Jamming and feel free to write with any questions!