Homemade Strawberry Jam

So while on a flight from Miami to L.A., I dug into the July issue of Food & Wine magazine with the "Best New Chefs" cover story. Awesome, inspirational read by the by. Anyway, I came across this other great article about canning and making preserves. And here our story begins. One of the best things about living in Los Angeles is access to all the Farmers' Markets. There's literally one every day of the week around these parts. After finding a recipe for Strawberry Preserves in the aforementioned F&W mag while on that airplane, I decided that I would, upon landing, walk myself directly off that jetway and to my favorite Farmers' Market to stockpile fresh Joo-lah strawberries and get to jam-makin'. Welllll...it took two weeks to get to the market and stops at four different stores with my poor husband in tow to find proper jars (thank you, Sur La Table, when will I ever learn to just go straight to you first??), but the berries were still very much in season and said husband was so bored of my endeavor at that point that he left for the driving range and I got the whole place to myself and my jam making--yippee!

Now, I'm a kitchen gadget kind of lady, so I have pretty much everything I actually need when I feel like getting into cahoots with a recipe or culinary idea. There is much justification going on when I spot something new and kitchen-y I really want. So you can imagine how excited I was when jam making came along and there was all this new stuff that I needed to buy to pursue this new passion! Clearly, one cannot make jam without new stuff! And the stuff needed for jam making and/or canning of anything goes like this:

  • A huge pot
  • A big, deep skillet
  • Ladle
  • Wooden spoon
  • Sturdy tongs (for grabbing the jars out of boiling water)
  • Pastry brush
  • Candy thermometer (so many uses, it's not even funny)
  • Metal rack that fits your huge pot (to keep the jars up off the bottom of it)
  • Proper jars (You can use the kind with lids and rings; I got the pretty, patterned Leifheit ones that are one-piece lids because they reminded me of the ones my Grampa had in his kitchen and that was a nice feeling--I say call in your guardian angels for any endeavor involving boiling sugar.)
  • There are a few things you should know before making preserves or canning, and here is a great overview of Canning 101.

    After I wrapped my brain around the process, here's the recipe I used. You'll notice there's no fruit pectin in this recipe, which is commonly used to ensure that the jam sets. Because there's no pectin, you've gotta make sure that the jam hits the temperature indicated in the recipe before you pull it off the heat or it will be no bueno when it cools. You can test the hot jam for "doneness" by putting a few drops on a freezing cold plate. If it sets, it's ready to put it in the prepared jars.

    All in all, a very successful first attempt at making strawberry jam, I would say. It set up perfectly (thank you, candy thermometer) and has gotten rave reviews from taste-testers. You will note that in the recipe above I have screamed at you to skim the foam off of your jam before spooning it into the jars. I may or may not have forgotten to do that since the recipe I used may or may not have FORGOTTEN TO TELL ME TO DO THAT. Jam foam isn't untasty or anything, it's just unattractive on an otherwise perfect jar of jam.

    Also, next time, I will definitely make this recipe with less sugar. I was a little afraid to mess with the fruit to sugar ratio even though I thought the recipe called for too much sugar for my taste--I feared it wouldn't set properly or something. But after doing some research, I found out that you can absolutely reduce the sugar without sacrificing the consistency, though I might add some fruit pectin when I make a low-sugar version, just in case. The jars I bought were so cute, and fun to give as gifts. And by fun I mean seeing the shock on people's faces upon learning that city folk can indeed make jam.

    Strawberry Preserves

    Courtesy of Chef Linton Hopkins and Food and Wine Magazine:

    Makes 3 Pints

    Juice of 2 lemons, strained 4 1/2 cups of sugar 2 pounds small to medium strawberries, hulled

    In a large, deep skillet, pour the lemon juice around the sugar. Leave it alone and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until most of the sugar is melted. At this point, you can stir it gently with a wooden spoon until all the the sugar is melted, all the while brushing the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to keep sugar crystals from forming (because really, who wants crunchy jam?).

    Add the strawberries to the melted sugar and kick the heat up to medium high, mashing the berries gently with a good old potato masher until the temperature reaches 220 degrees (or 8 degrees above boiling, depending on altitude). This should take about 10 minutes, but I had to increase the heat at that point for about three additional minutes to get it up to temperature. Once you hit 220, continue to boil until the preserves are thick, about four more minutes. You can test the jam on a plate at this point if you want to.

    SKIM ANY FOAM OFF OF THE JAM AT THIS POINT! Then spoon the preserves into three hot one-pint jars (a MacGyvered funnel made of aluminum foil saved me here) leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top and close with the lids and rings. I used six, one-cup self-sealing jars instead.

    To process the jars, boil them for 15 minutes in your huge pot with a metal rack set in the bottom (I actually forgot to buy a rack and again MacGyvered my jar processing by placing a heat-proof plate upside-down in the pot instead. A little extra rattling ensued, but all was well.)

    Remove the jars with the tongs (this is scary-stuff--be careful!!) and set them aside to cool at room temperature. Serve after two days or store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year if they're around that long (yeah, right, I buckled after 36 hours and opened the first jar--still awesome, though). Refrigerate after opening.

    So I'm sure you would've loved some photos taken during the jam making process, and I'm sorry for not taking any--I decided it was a little dangerous balancing scalding hot, liquidy fruit and a digital camera, you understand, right? But here is the delicious finished product: