Monday, March 28, 2011

We Be (Strawberry) Jammin'

When I started my recipe wishlist, homemade jam didn't come to mind. But when I had quickly ripening pints of strawberries sitting in the fridge it sure did! I was under the impression that jam was hard because it involved preserving ... but it turns out there's a bit of a difference between preserves and jam (and even jelly, for that matter). Or at least that's the way I interpreted Ina Garten's Fresh Strawberry Jam recipe.

Most jellies and jams involve pectin, a powder used as a gelling or thickening agent. Ina's recipe is sans-pectin, leaving you with just a few simple ingredients. I initially thought that pectin was also an ingredient that preserved the jam, but my Wikipedia research seems to say that the preservation of jams and jellies has more to do with the method (i.e. canning) than the ingredients.

So while Ina proved me wrong in the degree of difficulty for fresh jam, I'm still convinced that canning - or preserving foods for later use - is tough. The process of sterilizing the jars for this recipe was a good amount of work itself! Tips on sterilizing follow the recipe.

Fresh Strawberry Jam
2 cups sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 1/2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

Combine the sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and cook over very low heat for 20 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate (keep one in the freezer). Pour carefully into 2 pint canning jars. Refrigerate and use immediately.

Sterilizing Jars:
Jars should be made of glass and free of any chips or cracks. To sterilize jars, wash them with hot, soapy water. Rinse well, then boil in a large saucepan, covered with water, for 15 minutes.

Use tongs when handling hot sterilized jars to remove them from the boiling water. As a rule, hot preserves go into hot jars and cold preserves go into cold jars.

After I jarred my jam, I wasn't entirely convinced that I had been successful because it didn't seem to gel or set up. But then I realized two things: 1) I was making jam, not jelly, so it was bound to be runnier (especially without using pectin), and 2) Even my store-bought jams are a little runny ... probably because they're not jelly!

So once I got over that, I determined that I'd had a pretty successful attempt at jam! It's sweet and delicious, and it's just begging me to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Or bake some biscuits. Or even make some jam thumbprint cookies.

Incidentally, pectin is also used in making jellybeans, which gives me an idea ... :)


  1. One of my most favorite things is jam and cream cheese on toast or on a bagel. There's probably nothing better. Me and Jackie have always fought over which jams to buy-- I like cherry and apricot, she likes blackberry and boysenberry... but we can agree on strawberry! The Trader Joe's brand jams are very good, as are Smuckers and the one with the black gingham style top and hand written style label (have no idea which brand this is!). It's quite an accomplishment to make your own, I didn't think that it was a coincidence that grandmas made the best jam (decades of practice!)

  2. I also LOVE jam and cream cheese! I used to think it was an odd combination, until I realized how delicious fruit- and cheese-filled danish are! So jam and cream cheese on a bagel is just like a shortcut danish to me.

    Have you tried Smucker's Simply Fruit? It's low-sugar jam, but it SOOOOOOOOOOO good! They call it spreadable fruit. Strawberry and apricot are my favorite flavors.