I'm eating some rye bread with melted white cheddar and homemade strawberry jam for breakfast... mmmm!
Yesterday was my first time jam making and canning. It was even easier than I had anticipated. Without any canning equipment wresting the hot jars out of the boiling water at the end was kind of a pain in the ass, but otherwise this project required mostly stirring and some straining. It took some time and was a little messy, but it was definitely worth it. So much tastier and simpler than anything you could get from the store!
These photos are mostly in order and basically describe the process. More details about the process are in the text below.
Flickr slideshow: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whistlesfarandwee/sets/72157619432218710/
This blog post from Cincinnati Locavore was extremely useful. Using the unripe strawberries for their pectin was a really interesting tip, and saved me the hassle of going to the store, deciding what kind of pectin I wanted to use, etc. Her description of the process is way more specific than what I wrote below, so I recommend checking it out.
I decided not to add pectin mainly because it was an extra step I didn't feel like doing, but also because I really like the idea of keeping the jam simple: just berries, sugar, and lemon. The texture is much more like preserves, less like a hard jelly, which I personally enjoy, although I do know some people prefer a more traditional jelly. In any case, here's the recipe:
1. Picking your own fruit is the best way to get the ripest, cheapest fruit. Plus you're supporting small farmers. What's not to love? I got my berries from Larriland Farms. I got about 10 lbs. for $1.99 a lb. I got enough berries to eat them fresh, give several half-pints to friends, make 4 12 oz jars of jam, and freeze a few. For $20 total, it was definitely worth it!
People were literally gasping after taking a bite of these berries, they were so fresh & ripe compared to the giant underripe things in plastic cartons. I kept the flat of berries wrapped in a towel on my counter, and the cloth became perfumed with a rich floral scent. I put a few berries in the fridge but noticed a definite lack of flavor in the cold berries as compared to the sun-warm ripe ones.
Of course, the berries started to get soft in just 24 hours, which is why stores can't sell them that way. It's also why making jam is a perfect way to keep the yummy flavor.
2. Wash and hull the berries. Put them in the food processor with about equal parts berries to sugar and give them a rough chop. I added a little less sugar since I like things more sour than sweet, but I'm not sure if the sugar helps the jam to set?
This is also where the pectin-free part comes in. Thanks to the tips mentioned above from the Cincinnati Locavore site, I found a few things on hand to help the jam set, rather than running out to the store to find pectin. I added a few little green strawberries and about two tablespoons of lemon rind that I made previously from home-grown lemons that my friends brought back from California.
3. Cook the sugar-berry-lemon rind mix at a rolling boil for 5 minutes. Stir continuously to prevent the sugar from burning.
4. This is the fancy part: Strain the cooked berries to separate out the liquid. Return the liquid to the pan. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice. Boil the liquid until your thermometer says 220 F. Add the berry mash back in to the liquid.
This part was messy and the biggest pain of the whole operation, but it's supposed to prevent the preserves from being too liquid. Since I wasn't using pectin, I figured it was worth the time.
5. Heat the jam back up to a rolling boil.
6. Spoon into your sterilized jars. Add heated lids to jars and loosely screw on the rims to hold the lids in place. Run a knife around the edges of the jar to remove air pockets. Boil jars for 10-15 minutes. Remove to cool. Let jars sit for 24 hours before testing the seals. (There are plenty more detailed canning tips online, but this is a quick and dirty description.)
Check your lids the next day to make sure they are sealed tight. The part of the lid that pops up in the middle should NOT flex at all if you press on it. Now you're free to store your jam right in the cupboard instead of the fridge! Once the jar is opened, then store in the fridge.