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  • Strawberry Jam (Lower Sugar!)

    After picking and sorting through 35 pounds of strawberries last weekend, I was left with pretty much zero fridge and freezer space. I froze 7 gallon-sized bags of them. Even after sorting the berries between "eat now" (ripe and ready to eat) and "jam/pie" (more ripe or damaged), I was still left with a hefty haul to deal with. Strawberry smoothies, strawberries and coconut ice cream, strawberries alone, and a strawberry pie (ok-two pies!!) later, I still had enough to crank out a batch of jam! Wow.

    Strawberry jam...the stuff you eat in the dead of winter to give you hopes of summer. The stuff that actually tastes of strawberries and the sun, and is sweetened with non-gross-corn-derived substances. The ruby red, fruit-packed, sweet stuff that is slathered onto toasted bread, pancakes, muffins and biscuits. I grew up eating my grandma's strawberry jam. It is probably the one thing that makes me think of her most! It is her signature; usually birthday or other gifts include a small jar of her strawberry jam (sometimes, it is elderberry, if you're lucky). Back in 2012, I had the pleasure of actually making it with her. It was so much fun, and she even shared her "secrets" with me. What wasn't secret was the slightly obscene amount of sugar needed to form a gel with the pectin she uses. Yes, I still love and enjoy her jam. But sometimes, it is nice to have a jam in your fridge that doesn't scare you pancreas. Enter: high methoxy pectin!

    I will put all the fancy food science terms aside, and sum it up here: high-methoxy pectin forms a gel in the presence of calcium ions, not sugar. The end. 

    (Note: If you are still freaked out about traditional preserves, check out some great recipes for-nearly- instant "chia seed jam"!)

    Back in 2013, I had to embark on my own jamming adventures...by myself...because I was a lonely recluse who lived in Janesville and worked all. the. time. I discovered Pomona Pectin at my local food cooperative, and knew I had to try it out. Not going to lie, it was kinda scary, even for someone who has been formally educated in the know-how of food colloids and stabilizers, to make jam by myself. Where was my grandma to stick her finger in the mixture, and know it was "sweet enough" for the low-methoxy pectin to gel? or that it was "thick enough" for the berry chunks to not separate in thr jars? Who on earth would tell me that the berries were smashed enough? And who was going to submerge their un-protected hands into that boiling bath of water to get the jar lids out?? Gaaah-it was all too much (ps: don't stick your hands into hot water). But I hunkered down, gave myself a pep-talk, and did it. And it was a success. I was floored! I made freakin' jam by myself, and it tasted great!!!

    So here we are now...third year in a row, with 8 pretty darn respectable half-pint jars of strawberry jam, waiting to be enjoyed once the strawberry season is long gone. I think the third time is a charm, so I must share the recipe with you. Pomona Pectin is awesome...and I say that on my own opinion. It is easy to use, reliable, and produces a great texture. You can use almost any dry or liquid sweetener, including xylitol if you're into the sugar-free jam thing. I have included a few optional add-ins that I have tried the past three years with success; feel free to experiment, and make your own twist on your strawberry jam! The force is with you...so go on, and preserve those seasonal fruits!!

    Note: sweetener preference and amount will vary; in previous years, I have used equal propotions of organic cane sugar and local honey, 1/2 cup each, for the recipe below. However, this year, the berries were a bit more tart, so used 3/4 cup organic cane sugar and 1/2 cup WI maple syrup. You can also use agave. See the Pomona Pectin website for more details, tips and recipes! My recipe below was adapted from their prescribed formula. It can easily be cut in half or doubled. 

    Double Note: I have provided a list of equipment/tools you will need; preserving the bounty of summer requires some forethought, but please, don't be intimidated by this! If you stay calm and organized, it will go smoothly. You can even prep your jars and tools the day before, and make your jam the next.  

    Cheers to jam and fruit and all the summer things!!



    Strawberry Jam // vegan, plant-based, gluten-free, nut-free, oil-free, soy-free // makes 8 half-pint jars, or 4 pint jars //

    Jam:

    • 8 cups strawberies (you want a solid 4 cups smashed fruit)
    • 1/2-1 1/2 cups dry or liquid sweetener of choice (see note above)
    • 2 tsp Pomona pectin
    • 2 tsp calcium solution (made by mixing 1/2 cup water with 2 tsp calcium in a jar, and shaking vigorously; solution will keep for several months in the fridge for future jam adventures)
    • 1 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Optional add-ins to try:

    • small pinch salt
    • 1-2 tsp freshly grated ginger
    • zest of 1 lemon or orange or lime
    • 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
    • freshly grated nutmeg
    • small pat virgin coconut oil or Earth Balance (this helps reduce foaming in the jam)

    Tools You Will Need:

    • large stock pot or other large pot with lid (I use my enameled cast iron French oven...since it is all I have for a big pot!)
    • small saucepan for lids and rings
    • medium to large pot for cooking jam
    • measuring cup for transfering hot jam into jars (I use my glass 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup with handle and spout for pouring)
    • funnel (optional)
    • potato masher, pastry cutter, or other mashing tool
    • tongs
    • heat resistant spatula for stirring jam and scraping bottom of pot as it cooks
    • hot pad holders
    • 2 clean kitchen towels
    • measuring cups and spoons
    • clean and sterile canning jars, lids and rings (I use half pint jars)
    • microplane (for zest, if adding)

    1. Wash and sterilize jars and lids, as well as a measuring cup (and funnel if you need it) for portioning the jam into the jars. I wash mine in the dishwasher, and then again with hot soapy water wtih antibacterial soap. You could also use a bleach solution after the dishwasher or washing by hand. I let them air dry after this. You can do this up to 1 day ahead of time, and cover the jars and tools with a clean towel to prevent any foreign material from contaminating the clean jars and tools.

    2. Place jars in a large pot. Fill with water to submerge jars. Bring the water up to a boil, and then take off the heat. In a small pot, place lids and rings. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat, keeping the lids and rings in the hot water.

    3. In a medium/large pot, measure out your fruit. Using a potato masher or a pastry cutter, or other similar smashing tool, mash the berries into medium-large chunks. Add the calcium solution. The berries will break down further as you cook, and you can always mash them more as they are cooking. Bring the berries up to a rolling boil.

    4. As you wait for the berries to come up to a rolling boil, measure out your dry and/or liquid sugars into a medium bowl, then thoroughly mix the pectin into them. Take the hot jars out of the pot using tongs, and place them on a kitchen towel (you may get jam on this!). 

    5. Once the berries are to a rolling boil, add the sugar and pectin mixture and stir vigorously to distribute the pectin to prevent lumps. Add any of the optional add-ins now, if desired. Bring the mixture back up to a rolling boil, about 1-2 minutes, stirring every few seconds to prevent scorching and to distribute the pectin. During this time, taste for sweetness, and add more sweetener if needed. Take off the heat, and transfer the pot to the area where the warm jars are at.

    6. Using the clean measuring cup (and funnel if desired) from step 1, carefully portion the hot jam into the warm jars. Wipe rims of the jars clean using a clean, damp kitchen towel or paper towel. Quickly, but carefully, place a warm lid on each jar. Tightly screw on a jar ring on each jar, using a kitchen towel to help hold the hot jars. Carefully transfer the filled jars back to a large pot with a lid, and fill with warm water to cover the jars. Bring water to a boil, and hold the jars at the boil for 10 minutes. Off the heat, and carefully transfer the hot jars using a set of tongs to a kitchen towel. Let the jars sit for 12-24 hours, until set. Do not disturb, as this is when the vacuum is formed inside the jar, seal is set, and jam structure solidified. 

    7. To check the seals, simply press down on the center of each lid. If the lid can be pushed in, a seal was not formed. Simply re-process in boiling water (step 6; see the Pomona Pectin website for more tips on how to properly re-process). Sealed jars will keep 1 year; once opened, enjoy jam within ~2 weeks and store in the refrigerator. I usually keep all my sealed jars in the fridge, but these are shelf stable so can also be stored in a cool, dark place (i.e. do not display them on a shelf, in the sunlight...despite how pretty they are and how much you want to show-off you awesome skillz!).



    The clean and sterile jars, the lids/rings, berries and pectin. And a lemon, too.

    Most of the tools you will need, plus some of the ingredients and calcium water in a jar:

    Ok, now...the berries. Smash those beautiful berries!

    And after...something tells me I shouldn't be wearing a white shirt right about now...

    Ok, now throw those berries into the pot you'll cook the jam in. Put in the calcium water, and turn the heat to medium-high. Meanwhile, mix together your pectin and sugars (if using all liquid sweetener, simply mix it with that). You do this to prevent pectin lumps from forming in the cooking jam.

    Back to the cooking jam: bring the berry and calcium water mixture up to a rolling (rolling!) boil:

    Now, add the sugar/sweetener and pectin mixture, along with any of the optional add-ins. Bring that back up to a boil, about 1-2 minutes. 

    Ok-you have made jam! Now, to get that sweet stuff into the jars, work as swiftly as possible, as it will being to set-up as soon as it begins to cool. I like to use my 1-cup glass pyrex measuring cup with a small spout. Pour enough jam into each jar to come up 1/4" from the top. Wipe the rim of the jars clean with a clean and damp towel, then place a lid and ring on top of each. Tightly screw on the rings, using a kitchen towel to help hold the hot jars if needed. 

    Now, back into the large pot. Fill the pot with water until it covers the jars, and bring to a rolling boil, and hold for 10 minutes. Off the the heat, and using tongs, transfer to a kitchen towel lined surface. Allow the jam to sit for at least 12 hours to cool, set and seal. Check seals by pressing down on the lid; if you can feel it compress and lift back up again, a vacuum was not sealed, and the jam needs to be re-processed. See the Pomona pectin website for tips on how to do this properly. 

    Pile all jars on top of each other, with strawberries on top. Take photo, and laugh at yourself for staging jars of jam....! Enjoy within 1 year, and refrigerate after opening (I keep all my jars, sealed or opened, in the fridge). Be sure to eat the jam within ~2 weeks of opening, cause nobody likes moldy jam! Happy summer!