Preserving the Bounty: Turning Berries into Jam

Of the many wonderful things you can do with strawberries, jam is one of the best. It’s kind of hard to decide, because there are so many delicious delicacies like strawberry shortcake, or strawberry ice cream, or strawberry syrup, or strawberry lemonade, or… Like I said, hard to decide.

Good thing it’s strawberry season, huh? Too bad the strawberry patches have suffered this year for a variety of reasons from flooding to heat waves. Thank goodness there are still enough strawberries to go around!

I’ve visited the topic of berry jam before, but now that we’re at the threshold of a delicious new berry season that will last us well into July (depending on where you are) with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, I think it’s a topic worth revisiting.

If you’ve never made jam before and you’re not sure you want to try, please repeat after me:

Jam is not hard.

Jam does not take long.

One more time (let me hear it this time, folks!):

Jam is not hard.

Jam does not take long.

If you want specifics, it takes an hour or less from beginning (fresh dirty berries) to end (beautiful jars of bright red jam). If you’ve heard horror stories from seasoned cooks about jam that just won’t set – or whatever other complaint you may have heard – erase them from your memory, because I’m a total newbie, and every single one of my batches thus far has set without any particular effort or stress on my part.

If you can follow directions, you can make jam through our blog.

You will, however, need some equipment, or at least, equipment will make it easier. You can certainly improvise with what you have, but there are certain things that just make canning easier. Here are my recommendations:

Ball canning utensil set (with a wide-mouth funnel, tongs for picking up hot jars, magnetic seal lifter, and bubble remover/headspace measuring tool)

40z Jelly jars, or 8oz jelly jars (Must have both lids and rings; it’s a big no-no to use one-piece lids in canning and preserving. Also, you can re-use jars and rings, but not the lids. If you have jars from before, just purchase extra lids. )

a large stock pot or canning pot (Jam jars will fit in most stock pots, but for other canning, you’ll need a huge canning pot)

Pomona’s Pectin (my favorite) or  Ball no-sugar pectin or Sure-Jell no-sugar pectin

Everything else you should already have in your kitchen.

So let’s get started…

Begin by cleaning approximately 2 lbs of berries.

I put mine in a large bowl, filled it with water, and allowed them to soak while I set up the stovetop:

The stock pot (with a hot pad on the bottom to hold the jars in place) filled with water and set to boil, another large pot filled with hot water and clean jars, and a small pot with the lids on a low simmer to keep them clean and sterilized. The last burner will hold the actual pot of jam.

Back to the berries now: As you remove them from the soaking bowl, remove the stems and place them in a colander. Once they’re all in the colander, rinse them well with running water.

Put the freshly cleaned berries into a 4-cup measuring cup and smash them (with a fork, with a pastry blender, with a potato masher, whatever works. Just try not to use a blender unless absolutely necessary because that will interfere with the setting of the jam).

At this point, you will need to follow the instructions for whichever pectin you buy. For Pomona’s Pectin, pour the 4 cups of mashed berries and required amount of calcium water into a pot and bring to a boil.

Add the 3/4 cup sugar and required amount of pectin, and return to a boil. Using the jar tongs, remove the jars, one at a time, from the sterilizing water, and fill them with the jam mixture, leaving 1/4″ headspace at the top. Wipe the top of the jar with a towel or paper towel (this helps keep things clean to prevent food poisoning).

Use the magnetic seal lifter to remove the lids from the simmering water and place them onto the jar. Top with the ring and tighten just a bit (not completely). Use the jar tongs to place the jars on top of the hot pad in the boiling water (it should be a full rapid boil). Cover and boil for 10 minutes (the amount of time depends on altitude, check pectin package for instructions). Using the tongs once again, remove the jam jars from the boiling water and set on a towel to dry. Leave undisturbed for 24 hours. You will probably hear a ping or pop from the jars, indicating that they are sealed. Label the jars with contents and date and store in the pantry. Refrigerate once opened.

I always have one jar that doesn’t quite get full to the top. That’s OK. I don’t bother processing that one in the water; I just put it straight in the fridge and use it up within a few weeks.

Once again, repeat after me:

Jam is not hard.

Jam does not take long.

In fact, jam is pretty QUICK: an hour or less, start to finish (not a day-long process like I once thought).

Jam is very EASY with the right equipment.

Jam is CHEAP, even after the initial investment for the jars and other equipment. I paid less than $2/jar for delicious, fresh (REALLY fresh – strawberries picked that day!) strawberry jam with minimal sugar and no additives. Can you say that about the average jar of store-bought jam with who-knows-what inside?

Making jam at home is HEALTHY because you can control the ingredients and sugar level.