Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Traditional Strawberry Jam

This morning the boys and I went strawberry picking for what I guess will be the last time this summer. We went to a farm in Monkton which we were introduced to earlier in the season by friends. They have lambs, chickens, currants, strawberries etc and are really nice. The first time we went the owner told me to make sure the boys tried some of the berries in the field. Not a problem, my boys regularly eat Julian's birth weight when picking berries (Julian was 8 pounds 14 ounces when he was born, Sebastian was 6 weeks premature and only 5 pounds 10 ounces).

That first time we went we visited the bottle fed lambs and the chickens and the boys ran around pretending to play basketball in the court with friends. Everyone had a great time, although I got a shock on the electric fence around the baby lambs as I did not know about disabling it and I was happily taking photos. Today it was only me and the boys and they played together and grazed while I picked. Like that first time at the beginning of the season it was hard work picking. The boys are also a little "picked out" after being dragged out to the fields on several occasions. I'm hoping that in a week when we can start picking black currants they will rally. I tried one at the farm today and now my brain is buzzing with jam ideas.

As for the strawberries, I think I picked enough for the last batch of freezer jam I need as well as some to chop, measure and freeze for strawberry ice cream this year. However I have received several requests for my no pectin (or really no commercial pectin) traditional strawberry jam recipe. Many folks don't have enough freezer space for jam and so the traditional one is easier to store.

Strawberries are a low pectin fruit which makes it difficult to get jam to set. One trick is to have about 1/4 of the fruit you use be underripe. Unripe strawberries contain more pectin because as strawberries ripen they lose their pectin. Many folks just use commercial pectin to make strawberry jam. However with most types of commercial pectin you have to use more sugar then fruit. Which is why so many strawberry jams taste "red" and not of berries. While I am fine with using white sugar I would not feel good about feeding that much of it to my family. There is Pomona's pectin that does not require any sugar to set, many people love and swear by it. I however noticed a chalky texture when I tried Pomona's pectin. Some of my jam making friends also commented on a chalky texture when they tried it.

The other reason I don't like to use commercial pectin is how finicky it is. Commercial pectin often does not set correctly. Then you are left with runny jam. The runny jam can be "remade" by adding more pectin and cooking again. My understanding is often this results in a rubbery texture. Personally I would either label runny jam as syrup and use it on ice cream, pancakes, waffles etc or I would add the orange I use in this recipe and cook it again that way.

Because strawberries are so low in pectin and I did not want to use commercial pectin I decided to add some setting insurance in the form of an orange, peel and all to this recipe. Citrus fruits are very high in pectin, especially in the peels and pits. The tiny pieces of cooked peel ended up being really tasty, and the jam sets reliably.

As a note on safety, this jam should be processed in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes, or 5 if the jars had already been sterilized in boiling water for 10 minutes. Many folks don't water bath can their jams, insisting that they have always done it that way and been safe. Personally I have never been in a car accident but I still wear my seat belt. While botulism is not an issue for jam because it is high in acid the boiling water bath gives a tighter seal and kills mold spores. After all that work picking the fruit and making the jam I am not interested in losing the results to a seal failure or mold.

Traditional Strawberry Jam with Cointreau and Drambuie

6 cups roughly chopped strawberries (measure the 6 cups after chopping), About 1/4 not fully ripe
Juice from 1 juice orange, peels, pits and pulp reserved (chop half the peels and all the pulp finely and reserve, the other half and the pits should be placed in a tea ball or cheesecloth bag
3 cups white sugar
3 Tbsp Drambuie (optional)
1 Tbsp Cointreau (optional)

Place 2 small plates or saucers in the freezer to test the jam later. Put the chopped strawberries and all the other ingredients (including the bag or tea ball of pits and peel) in a 5 - 6 qt heavy saucepan at least 9 inches in diameter (a Maslin pan would be ideal. If you get one please send me one as well). Bring to a boil stirring constantly, if any foam forms on the top skim it off and either discard or place in a small bowl as a treat later. Cook until the jam is set, knowing when the jam is set is an art form. I use both temperature and the cold plate test to determine when my jam is done. When the jam reaches a temperature of 218° - 222° I take a dollop and place it on one of the plates in the freezer. Allow the jam to sit n the plate for 30 seconds to cool. If the jam on the plate has formed a skin that wrinkles when you push it the jam is set. If you don't have a candy thermometer you will have to test more often.

Ladle the hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top of the jar. Wipe the lids clean with a damp paper towel, use a plastic spatula or bubble remover to remove any air bubbles and screw on the lids and bands. Process the jam in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes for unsterilized jars and for 5 minutes for jars that have been sterilized in the boiling water bath empty for 10 minutes. After the jam has been boiling for the correct length of time turn off the heat and remove the lid, wait 5 minutes before removing the jars from the canner.

If this is your first time making jam, welcome to a new addiction, um... hobby. Also check out the processing guidelines here. Now that you are happily making jam and want more recipes check out the jam swap on Under the Highchair. I am sure there will be enough there for all of us to be chained to our stoves next summer.


  1. Kirsty MacLean SteelMonday, July 13, 2009

    The bit about using citrus fruit is interesting. I made some rhubarb and ginger jam a couple of weeks ago and it is very runny. I don't mind that actually. Adding an orange though would be delicious and presumably make it less runny.

    I should have checked with you first. Silly me.

  2. What an adorable lamb and your jam looks so tasty.

    Thanks for the submission!

  3. Thanks Aimée,

    I can't wait to see all the jams in the swap.