22 January 2009

Making strawberry jam

I don't do nearly as much preserving (canning) as I used to. Since we made the decision to keep our garden going year round, there has been no need. Now I preserve only those foods I want to make into jams, relishes and cordials, and generally I freeze the juice for cordials when we have an excess. But we had a windfall of strawberries the other day so yesterday Hanno washed and cut the fruit for me and I cooked up a pot of strawberry jam. Cut up and ready for cooking we had 2.6kg (5.7 lb) of strawberries. When you're making strawberry jam it's good to have the mass of strawberries fully ripe, for a deep and full flavour, and a small number that aren't so ripe, because they contain more natural pectin to thicken the jam.
You'll need glass jars to hold the jam. So inspect your jars to make sure they're not cracked or chipped. Check the lids as well, you don't want to use dented or rusty lids. If you're using Mason jars, check the rubber seal, or Fowlers preserving jars, make sure you have new rubber rings and clips. Generally jam is stored for a long time, so you want to be sure that your method of storage is sound. I have written about preparing jars for preserving here.

Please note, that if you're making a small amount of jam, say one or two jars, you won't need to process it in a waterbath, as long as you can store the jam in the fridge and you know it will be eaten in a few weeks. In that instance, you'd simply sterilise the jars and lids, in boiling water or the oven, before adding the jam.

To sterilise jars in the oven: wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse in clean water and set them, and their washed lids, upside down, on a rack in the oven set on low (about 140C/ 275F). Leave them there for at least half an hour while you make the jam.

There are many ways to make good strawberry jam, this is my way:

  • Wash the fruit and cut off the green top. Don't used any soft, rotting or damaged bits, cut that part out and give it to the chooks. Cut the fruit to an equal size. You can leave the small strawberries and cut the larger ones in two or, sometimes, four. Weight the fruit.
  • Whatever weight the fruit is, add an equal portion of white sugar. So for our 2.6 kg of strawberries, I added 2.5 kg of sugar. The sugar helps preserve the jam as well as adding sweetness. You can add less sugar if you wish. I tend to go for the equal rule as we don't eat a lot of jam and have it only on our toast every so often, so the sugar isn't a problem for us.
  • Pour the sugar over the fruit and stir it through, then leave it for an hour or so. This will start to release the juice from the strawberries and start to soften them.
  • When you're ready, add the juice of two lemons - this will cut through the sugar sweetness as well as help set the jam.
  • Place the pot on the stove and bring it to the boil. Then turn it down to a rolling boil.
  • As the frothy scum starts to form on the top, remove it with your spoon.
  • After you have a rolling boil, continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Stir the jam to make sure it doesn't burn or stick on the bottom of the saucepan. When it is the consistency you like and it's reached setting point, it's ready.
  • Check your setting point by putting a small china saucer or plate in the freezer. When the plate is very cold, pour some of your jam on the plate and wait to see if it sets. The coldness of the plate will speed up the setting process. If your jam is still runny and hasn't set, keep boiling it for another ten minutes.
  • When you're happy with the look of the jam and you know it's set, while the jam is still hot, add it to your hot jars. Be careful and use a canning funnel and tongs.
  • Fill the jars, making sure that you allow ¼ inch headspace.

I made 10 jars of very good jam yesterday. The taste is deep and full bodied and doesn't just taste sweet, like commercial jams do. It taste primarily of strawberries, funny that! This jam will last us at least a year because I sterilised it in my trusty old Fowlers preserving outfit. You can see a photo of it in the preparing jars for preserving link above. But even if you have a few cups of strawberries, it's a worthwhile task to make a jar or two of delicious jam with no preservatives.

Jam making is an important skill for us folk who wish to live outside the constraints of the commercial world. It's also a necessary skill in your role as a provider of natural food, if you're wanting to preserve your excess garden harvests or if you're building a preparedness pantry. Yesterday, President Obama urged Americans to help rebuild America, but all our countries need help with their own rebuilding - Australians lost almost 7000 jobs yesterday, and I'm sure that story was repeated in many other countries. Learning these old skills is one of the ways we can help rebuild, and besides, it's wonderful feeling knowing you can turn an excess into a delicious product that will serve your family through the year ahead.

Let's get our aprons on and begin.

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