Yesterday was all about strawberry jam for me.
Amanda and I have had a good strawberry crop this year from bed #10, but we never had enough to make jam. My feeble attempt to turn our own harvest into jam last week resulted in only five half-pint containers, and that was after supplementing the strawberries with grapes just to have enough to make it marginally worth the trouble. So yesterday we drove to Oakview Farms Granary for u-pick strawberries. We enjoyed our visit with Erin and with Joe Lambrecht and harvested three one-gallon buckets full of delicious berries – $30 worth.
When we returned to the farm I washed them gently and carefully in a galvanized tub and kept them soaking in the water until I was ready to cut them up. At first I cut them into tiny chunks by hand, but it was taking forever, and I began to have visions of my strawberry jam finishing up at 2:00 in the morning. So I stopped trying to cut the strawberries up in pieces by hand and contented myself with simply cutting the tops off and leaving whole berries. Then I used the slicer attachment of our food processor, which did a quick job delivering small slices of strawberry that I knew would cook down nicely in the jam pot. By the time I had washed and cut up our berries, I had filled up the large stewpot we call Aunt Ione’s pot (about 6 quarts) and a smaller Corning Ware casserole dish (about three quarts) beside it. I turned both pots on low and lit the fire under our big All-American canner full of water, and headed to town for some errands.
The trip to town took longer than I expected, partly because Jerry Denton happened by the church while I was there and we released about eight grass carp into the church pond together, but that’s another story. Knowing I was delayed, I called Amanda here at the farm, and she turned off the heat under both pots and turned off the fire under the canner. I knew I had left the heat only on “low” for both pots, so I didn’t know whether there would be much of a change. I was pleasantly surprised to see when I returned that the strawberries in both pots had cooked down wonderfully into a soft, soupy mixture of liquids and solids. Yum! Because they had cooked down so nicely, I was able to add the contents of the Corning Ware dish into Aunt Ione’s pot. I added two boxes of no-sugar-needed pectin and let the mixture continue to cook until it reached a full boil, stirring more or less constantly. After it had boiled for about three minutes, I turned off the heat to the pot and began to fill my jars.
Oh yes, the jars. So far, we’ve been faithful to the advice we get from all the professionals, and we have never re-used a lid. We always re-use jars and bands. When we returned to the farm with our strawberries, Amanda and I pulled more than enough jars, bands, and lids and put them in the dishwasher. Then I just left the dishwasher closed until I was ready to fill the jars with jam. I submerged all the lids in a small boiler and let them come to a full boil on the top of the stove.
I fired the canner back up as I began to add the jam to the jars. I use a funnel whose mouth fits our smaller jars and used a ladle to spoon the mixture from Aunt Ione’s pot into the jars, leaving about 1/4″ of head space. Then I used a magnetic wand to pick up one lid, placed it on the jar, and tightened it in place with a band. I put two layers of jars in the canner, but I still ran out of room and had two jars left over that will simply be “refrigerator” jam. I brought the canner to a full boil and let it continue to boil for 10 minutes, and then let it slowly cool down for about two hours while Amanda and I ate supper together (and celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary, but that’s another story too).
We ended up with 10 pint jars and 11 half-pint jars. Our strawberry jam is not as firm as most people tend to like it. I guess I could firm it up by adding more pectin, but I’m content with the consistency we have. It’s nowhere near as sweet as the jelly and jam you would buy in the store; Amanda calls it more of a “strawberry compote.” We love the taste of the pure fruit, but it may not be your preference.
Making the jam was fun for both of us, and we’ll keep doing it as long as this remains the case. Even if we were able to grow enough strawberries and didn’t have to pay $30 for the fruit, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t justify doing this to save money; I can only justify it because it’s fun and because the product of our work is something we couldn’t buy from others. If your tastes run to conventional sweetened jam and jelly, and if canning your own holds little charm, I would encourage you to channel your efforts in other directions.
On the other hand, if you prefer as we do the taste of pure unsweetened fruit, I think you’re in for a treat.