Home grown Strawberry Jam!June 26th, 2009
Our neighbor gave me a few dozen strawberry plants several years ago. I set out a single row, and they have been spreading over a wider area each year. Now I have a bed of strawberries 60 feet long and 15 feet wide. I pick gallons of these sweet berries, and many of them are made into jam. Bending over and picking so many berries near the ground is hard on your back, but all our children are eager to get jars of homemade strawberry jam. You don't need to start with too many plants. They multiply by sending out runners each year. You can move the new plants farther from the established ones, or just wait for them to migrate.
Jams are simply cooked fruit and sugar, with pectin added to 'set' or thicken it. Acid is part of the chemistry, so lemon is added in some recipes. Jelly is made from strained, cooked fruit in much the same way. All fruit may be cooked and processed whole or pureed in a water bath canner, with or without sugar added. Fruit can be made into liquid Nectars. Look in the Related Articles section below for other ways of preserving fruit. Added sugar does really bring out the flavor. Combining fruit and sugar, and cooking it together is the easy part. You do have to avoid burning it at the bottom. The Maslin pan we use was designed for jam, jelly and candy making. I wondered if it would be worth the price when I ordered it, but now I have no doubt. I love it, and use it for boiling tomatoes down as well. Second best, is any stainless steel pot, with a thick slab of aluminum bonded to the bottom. Enamel ware can be used, but thin pans are much more likely to scorch on the bottom, and ruin the flavor of the whole batch. Do not expose fruit directly to aluminum and cast iron, or both will discolor.
Thickening jam into just the right consistency is the tricky part. I have many older canning booklets which give instructions for the homemaker to extract pectin from certain fruits, and use it to set jelly or jams. It is an art to master that process in the home kitchen. There are local variables because of your climate and the varieties of fruit you grow. For anyone just starting to make jam or jelly, buy the prepared pectin products. Follow the instructions EXACTLY, and you will make good jam or jelly right away. I happened to be using CERTO brand liquid pectin today. Sure-gel is another common brand, also available in a reduced sugar variety. Pomona's Universal Pectin is available for recipes without added sugar.
Many years ago, jelly and jam were poured into hot clean glass jars, and sealed with a thick layer of melted wax. Jars were just stored on the shelf. This is no longer an approved method. I like to cook the jam and jelly just enough for it to set, and freeze it for long term storage in canning/freezing jars. They are tapered outward all the way to the top. A wide mouth pint, a small mouth half pint, and any of the smaller jelly jar styles will work. If you are not sure what I am trying to say, look at canning jars in a store, and see which shapes are labeled for both canning and freezing. Don't freeze wet foods in any jar with a shoulder at the top. It may break when the water in the food expands as it freezes. The color and taste are better with 'freezer jams and jellies'. Vitamin C is also preserved. A root cellar will certainly keep my jars of jam and jelly over the Winter, but it would not be a 'government approved' method. For safety, use methods from a recent food processing guide. The old ways are certainly interesting though.