Yep. It's that time of year. Strawberries! They are everywhere. I've been told they don't last very long here in Tennessee. I rushed out to get some a couple of weeks ago because I knew with the ultra warm weather we've been having that they'd be out early. And, they were. But, they weren't very sweet. Some folks look at jam like frozen coffee drinks or fancy pool drinks. It doesn't really matter the quality of what goes in there because there is all this other sweet stuff thrown in on top of it so who cares?
Well, I do. I want my berries sweet. I'd like them to be really good quality so I can use less sugar. I can tell you that a couple of years ago I started making my jam without added pectin too. It takes many more berries and it takes a much longer cooking time (and I mean @ 20 minutes compared with @ 3 hours). But, I sort of enjoy it without the pectin. I can control how thick it is. I actually prefer it a bit thinner. I don't want it anywhere near jelled. But, if you do, let it cook longer or truly just follow the directions on the box of pectin. I did that for years and it tastes great. I'm really just playing right now.
Hull those babies and chop them into sort of small pieces, you can always mash them later and sometimes, I do. ESPECIALLY important with the pectin. I noticed that not using the pectin, the mixture cooks long enough that you don't have to mash them so much, they fall apart. Then, you'll put the butter in the pan to melt, add the berries and mash a bit. Then, I add the lemon juice and let it cook for a bit. Then, add your sugar and bring it up to a boil. Watch it here and if you need to reduce your temperature, do. You don't want Strawberry bombs all over your house. And, I've heard that's what happens...
Then, you just cook away. Stirring occasionally. Keeping an eye on your boiling and temperatures. You can turn it down or back up. Generally, you want it to sort of boil if not fully because the water evaporation is key to getting it thicker and thicker. Honestly, I add as much sugar as I think it needs. If you want more, add it. Let me tell you that an average recipe is a couple of quarts of berries with @ 7 cups of sugar. So you can see the difference here. My problem is I would start playing with the sugar amount because my berries were sweeter then the pectin would over cook and loose it's gel, etc. See?
You may have to experiment and there is no shame in opening your jars and dumping it in and thickening it more. I've done this more times than I'd like to tell you. Again, I don't let mine completely thicken on the stove. If you want a more jell like appearance you'll need to cook this a long while. Do the finger down the back of the spoon leaves a trail test or a newer one is to have a frozen spoon ready and scoop some out, if it stays on the spoon, you're good. I need to be more scientific. But, I just go when I'm done. Ha. Remember that when it cools it will be thicker than it appears. I let some blueberries go last year and almost got leather. Ha. You want it to be a little runnier than what you want the finished product to be. I will stop talking now. I am not a cookbook author.
To jar, I fill them to almost an inch down. You need room. Put the seals on, loosely fit the rings and plop in a boiling water bath. BE CAREFUL HERE AND USE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT, ETC. They boil for 10 minutes before I remove them. **Please read about this here and do what they say. There is an oven method I haven't tried yet because I need a new oven and I don't trust its temps. Then, listen to the snaps, crackles and pops of your victory!
Make yourself some cute little labels and put them on top or use the ones that come with the jars if you buy them. I have a hodge podge of bought, given estate sales and yard sale finds. If anything, ask your friends and family to return jars to you for refills. It cuts back a lot.
Lauri's Strawberry Jam 2012
5 quarts of Strawberries
2 tbs. butter
juice of 1 lemon
5 cups of sugar