A Little Bread with Your Jam
My father-in-law, Jonathan loves his homemade strawberry jam. He won't eat any other jam, his spread has to be strawberry and homemade is a requirement. Bread is completely optional. I'm pretty sure that PB and J sandwiches are one of his favorite foods. My husband grew up picking strawberries with his family every June. After harvesting enough berries, off they went - back home to process, mash and cook up as much strawberry jam as possible.
When I married my husband, I quickly gained an appreciation for the food storage abilities of my mother-in-law, Jennifer (aka-Jinnie). I grew up with my parents gardening and canning; later in life my mom began putting everything in the freezer. However, Jon and Jinnie take food storage to a whole other level; it is quite amazing. From the jam, to canning their homegrown pears, to storing the apples from their little orchard in multiple fridges, to making apple cider, to vacuum sealing the fresh caught fish, to getting whole flats of blueberries from growers and freezing them. This is what they do; they are able to eat their favorite foods all year round for a fraction of the cost because they understand the process of growing/catching, harvesting, and then storing.
My son, Anthony, has always been extremely suspicious of food. As a baby, he had to look at the food carefully, tentatively touch it or smell it before trying it. I quickly realized that his food issues had to do with texture and color, not the taste. Often, it takes many introductions; exposing him to a food multiple times before he'll even tolerate it on his plate or touching it with his tongue. It took many many tries before he would try a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but now its one of his favorite foods, just like his grandpa. Last year, I had made jam, but all of a sudden there was no more jam because Anthony was eating it all. This year, I was determined to fill up the shelves with homemade strawberry jam.
Now, I realize that you might be thinking, "Oh no, another parent catering to their picky child..." However, when your child's philosophy of life is that "Food is optional," and hours have been spent in therapy getting him to try something new - beyond his applesauce packs and Mac and Cheese, let me tell you that being able to eat a PB and J on white bread is counted as a WIN in my book.
If you've never had homemade strawberry Jam, it's like taking the strawberry off the plant and eating it right there in the strawberry patch. The flavor of the berry is still present; it hasn't been dulled by all the preservatives needed to keep the jam "shelf stable."
So, Yes. This Jam is GOOD. If my picky son will eat it, then it's good. And yes, it's full of sugar and Not Healthy. However, it's fresh, tasty and made with local berries that we get every June from our PAC NW farms. I would argue that the strawberries grown in Washington State are some of the best berries in the world. There is something about our climate, the rain forest we live in - with the hints of sun that we get every May and by June the strawberries are the sweetest that you'll ever taste. If you want Jam that tastes like summer, this is the recipe for you.
The first step to making Jam is sourcing a large amount of strawberries. I estimate a half flat (pictured here) will make you 10 pint jars of jam. This year's goal was around 30+ jars of jam. If you can go to a local farm and pick your own, the cheaper it will be. The cheapest option is to grow your own like my in laws do, but that's not always an option for everyone. I bought these up at the Sammamish Farmer's Market from Youngquist Farms in Skagit Valley. One trick is to ask the grower for "Jam Berries." They will often have flats of imperfect berries that are "perfect" for Jam - overripe mushy berries. If you can get your hands on these, your Jam will become really cheap. However, even if you buy the expensive nice berries, you will find that making your own Jam is always cheaper than the store bought stuff. Plus, it just tastes better.
Next, gather all your supplies. The best pectin for cooked jam in my opinion (and my Father in Law's) is MCP brand. Make sure you get your pectin fresh, don't use last year's pectin. You will need A LOT of sugar, lemons for fresh lemon juice and of course, the berries.
Note: if you want to make freezer jam, use Sure-Jell because the recipe is simpler. I love the taste of freezer jam, but it won't have the thickness that this jam does.
Gather up your canning supplies: Pint jars, rings, lids, etc. I want to note here that the best place to get all the supplies is your mom's basement or your auntie's attic. Ask family and friends if they have canning items that they aren't using. Not only will you make them happy to know that you want to carry on the tradition of canning, but you will save yourself a ton of money. I have invested in the funnel and the jar grabber you see here, and I often buy new lids and rings because they easily get beat up. All my jars and pots have been given to me by family. I usually sterilize the jars in the dishwasher and just clean the rings with warm soapy water.
Having lots of hands to help will make the process go faster. When kids help in the process, they are more excited about eating the final product. Getting Grandma and Grandpa to help is a bonus too.
Wash your berries well. Don't these beauties look so yummy?
Process the berries by taking the green top off and remove any mouldy bits. If it's a little bruised, no worries, it will still taste good. Just get rid of the really nasty stuff.
Grab your potato masher, a really sturdy one, and start mashing. But wait! Don't mash too much - you want some really nice hunks of berries to keep the jam nice and chunky.
Kids love the mashing part.
Don't forget your hot cocoa break!
See all the big chunks. Just mash enough to get the juices going and the berries softened.
Next measure out your sugar - EXACTLY and set aside. Do the same with your fresh squeezed lemon juice.
Measure out your berries...
Get your pots set up. The big pot, I use for the berries, because when you add the sugar, sometimes it can foam up and you Don't Want That - unless you like sticky gooey hot messes all over you and your stove (I may or may not have done that at some point). The canning pot, fill up about halfway with water and get it hot becuase you will want it to boil right away after the Jam is made and in the jars.
Add the measured berries, lemon juice and one box of pectin to the pot. Use a spoon that has a flat edge, it helps with stirring to make sure you don't burn the jam.
Here's the big SECRET to making this Jam. Add one tablespoon more of the pectin. This is the only ingredient that you can add just a little bit more of. It makes the jam perfectly Jammy. Trust me. Try it. After you add everything, crank up the heat and get the mixture boiling.
Once you have it boiling to where you can't stir away the boil, then add the sugar and continue to stir.
If you haven't already, get your lids warmed up in a pan with warm water. Lay them out like this so that they won't stick to each other. This gets the rubber all softened up and ready for sealing.
Once the Jam reaches a FULL ROLLING BOIL, like its just really going and you can't stop it from boiling, then turn the timer on for 4 mintues.
When your timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat immediately and start ladling the Jam into the jars. Wipe off any sticky excess from the top of the jars.
Grab your handy dandy magnet (I just had to show you mine) and pick up the lids one by one from your warm water saucepan and place on top of the filled jars. Take the rings and tighten each lid down well. Using the magnet will keep you from burning yourself on the hot lids.
Place the jars in your hot water in the canning pot, cover and boil for 10 minutes.
Once processed, use your jar grabber to pull out the jars. Set on a towel in a safe place where they can rest for 24 hours without being disturbed.
While you are waiting for your Jam to seal, you'll hear popping noises. It's a beautiful sound because you know all your hard work has been successful.
The next day, make yourself some baking powder bisquits to have a little bread with your Jam.
Grandpa's Strawberry Jam
Adapted from the MCP pectin recipe
Makes 11 cups of jam (about 5 pints)
- 5 and 3/4 cups mashed strawberries (about 12 cups fresh strawberries)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 8 and 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 box MCP pectin + 1 tablespoon of MCP pectin
Supplies: measuring cups, for dry and wet. Very large pot, ladle, large bowls, jars, lids with rubber seal and rings. Don't forget your canning rack and canner.
Sterlize jars and rings. Simmer the lids in a small pot of warm water on low and make sure they are overlapping.
Wash and prep the berries by removing the stems and any bad parts. Mash the berries until just mashed with chunky parts of the strawberry still in the mixture. Measure the exact amount of berries into the large pot. Measure the exact amount of fresh lemon juice into the pot. Measure the EXACT amount of sugar into a large bowl and set aside. Stir in 1 package PLUS 1 tablespoon of MCP pectin into the pot.
Bring mixture to a FULL ROLLING BOIL (a boil that won't stop bubbling) on high heat stirring constantly.
Add sugar to the mixture in the pot. Stir constantly. Return to a FULL ROLLING BOIL and boil for exactly 4 minutes. remove from heat and skim off any foam from the top. (This makes a yummy quick jam to eat right away, don't toss it!)
Remove pot from heat and ladle immediately into the jars. Fill to 1/4 inch of the top, not past the threads. Wipe the jam rim and threads. Use a magnet to grab lids with rubber seal from the warming saucepan. Place on top of the jar and tighten down with the ring.
Place jars in canning rack and lower into the hot water. The water must cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Bring the water to a gentle boil and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After the jars cool, check the seal by pressing centers of lids with finger. if the lid springs back, it is not sealed and should be eaten soon. Store in the fridge or freezer. Let the jars stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Store on shelf for up to 1 year.
Note: We feel that if you want the freshest Jam, even though the jam jars have been processed and sealed, we recommend you store your Jam in the freezer as it will keep those berries with the amazing taste of summer.
PS - Don't turn your back or else you might find a bite of your biscuit missing!