Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pectin-free Strawberry Jam

Every spring without fail, Project Graduation at Marianna High School has a strawberry sale, and every year, my parents buy a flat and end up with more strawberries than they know what to do with. Luckily, I was home when they came in, because I'm sure my mom and I can easily eat our weight in fresh strawberries. There does come a point, though, when you've eaten your fill of sugared strawberries, strawberry pie, and strawberries and cream, and you need something else to do with this giant pile of strawberries.  

Enter the ancient and revered art of canning. (Sorry, I'm sure with the title you were expecting something a little more exciting. I'm sure there was exciting stuff going on a little further south in PCB, but I guess old-age is starting to set in.) Around 9:30 Saturday, as I was winding down to get ready to head back to Starkville, when my mom proposes we make strawberry jam with the leftover berries. Having never done any of the canning other than watching my mom do it when I was a kid, I was interested, so we went to work. Surprisingly, it's not as complicated as it sounds. The whole process took about an hour and a half, minus sealing time.

First, carefully pick your strawberries. This is a great opportunity to use the ones that are still edible but not looking so hot.
 Chop off the green tops and cut those suckers up! You'll need 4 cups worth for this recipe, so it helps to put them in a bowl with marked measurements on the side. 
 Now you can release your frustrations about how strawberries don't grow all year or how stupid little Timmy was for falling into the well. Who has an open well anymore anyway? I digress. Mash them to a bright red pulp with a potato masher.....
 ...or if you get lazy like me, go all immersion blender on them. Just make sure your have 4 cups and you leave a few tasty chunks in there. We're not going for strawberry puree.
 Using the pot of your choice (I'd say stock pot or dutch oven), combine the strawberry mash with 4 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. No pectin in this one, folks!
 Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring often until it reaches 220F. A foamy substance will appear on top of the mixture, and you have the choice whether or not to skim it off. My mom does just because she doesn't like the way the layer of foam looks in the jar and if you want fair-worthy jam, it's definitely a no-no. But it tastes ok and doesn't hurt anything if you want to leave it on.
Okay, the next step is VERY important, so listen carefully. Collect your jars and lids and make sure everyone has a lid, a ring, and is rust and dent-free. Boil everything for a few minutes to sterilize (you can also run it through the sani-cycle in your dishwasher if yours does that). Once they're done, lay them upside-down on a towel to dry off and don't touch the inside or the rim of the jars at all if you can avoid it. If the insides of the jars or lids are germy, the jam can mold, or worse, botulism can take up residence.
 Now that we're through the fun stuff, let's start canning! This part is pretty simple too. You take the boiling jam mixture and spoon/ladle it into the jars. If you're cool like my mom and inherited stuff from grandmothers who did a lot of canning, you might have a jar-sized wide-mouth funnel that is pretty useful for this.

 Once the jars are filled, wipe the edges to make sure nothing will get between the rim and the lid to prevent sealing. Also, if you have a little bit left over that won't fit in a jar, you can put it in a heavy glass, cover it with foil or saran wrap, and refrigerate it to be used in the coming days

 Carefully place your still-hot sanitized lids on the warm jars, screw on the ring, and voila! Jars of jam. But not quite canned yet...
 To create the seal, my grandma always turned her jars upside down. I don't really know why, but it works! Give them a few hours to sit, and you will hear a reassuring POP when they've sealed. Anything that doesn't seal after a few hours needs to go into the fridge to be eaten.
 And there you have it! My first for jars of jam, ready to be stored away in a cool, dark cabinet. If for some reason the seal on a jar breaks, don't eat the jam. It's probably contaminated with bacteria, and food poisoning isn't fun.

Now wouldn't you consider that a late night spring break adventure??

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