I remember my mom making jars upon jars of strawberry preserves when I was a kid. The preserves would be dark and sweet, and there seemed to be an endless supply always stocked in our basement. She didn’t use any other jam for our pb&j’s – only these preserves would do. As an adult, I still prefer a classic strawberry jam over any other kind.
When making my own strawberry jam though, I’ve always burnt it. I get impatient, increase the heat or pile too many strawberries in the pot, and inevitably ruin the entire batch. It’s always pretty heartbreaking and there have been times that I’ve called off jam-making forever. (I can be slightly dramatic.) But this spring, I’ve had good luck with making jam and chutneys, so I wanted to give strawberries another go.
Finding the right recipe was a bit of a challenge at first, since most strawberry jam recipes are loaded with sugar. I wanted the flavor of the strawberries to really shine, and didn’t want to use commercial pectin if it wasn’t necessary (it wasn’t). Surprise surprise, my new favorite canning evangelist, Kevin West of Saving the Season (which just came out last week!), has a solid recipe for berry jam that’s made the rounds on the interwebs and was just featured on NPR yesterday. The basic rule is 1 cup of sugar per every pound of berries, with some lemon zest and juice thrown in. You could fancy it up with some vanilla bean, booze, or a variety of fruit, like rhubarb or raspberries, but I didn’t have any of those on hand and sometimes basic is best anyway.
The final jam, in the words of my good friend and master taste-tester, is “lusty and sexy.” It doesn’t lose its bright crimson color because you don’t boil it too long or gunk it up with sugar, and the consistency is a little loose and promiscuous.
Strawberries are at the end of their season now, I know, but if you can find some small, sweet ones at the market, do yourself a favor and make this jam.
classic strawberry jam
2 lbs. strawberries
2 cups sugar
juice from half a lemon
zest from 1 lemon
Rinse the strawberries and remove their green crowns. If they’re large, slice them into halves or quarters. If they’re small, leave them whole. You will have 5-6 cups of prepared fruit.
In a big bowl, mix the fruit with the sugar, lemon juice and zest, and mash the fruit with your hands. Let the fruit macerate for 15 minutes – 1 hour.
Pour the mixture into a wide pot. The fruit should be no deeper than 1 1/2 inches. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir occasionally until it begins boiling – then start stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. The jam will reduce and become glossy over the next 8-15 minutes. Test it with the wrinkle test after about 8 minutes to see if it’s at the consistency you like. It won’t be fully set, but it won’t be syrupy either. Keep boiling it at 1 minute intervals and keep checking to see if it’s ready.
Ladle the jam into containers and store in the fridge for 1 month. Alternatively, process in hot, sterilized half-pint jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.