Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Jam Session

Yesterday I made homemade strawberry jam using the recipe for Soft Strawberry Jam in the 3rd edition of Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan. I have made jams before--strawberry, blueberry, mixed berry and peach, but this strawberry jam is the most delicious jam ever.

I have borrowed the Well Preserved cookbook from my library twice now and I just love it. So much so that I've decided to buy my own copy. I love the range of recipes from the classic to the novel, the clear, easy explanations and directions, and that it includes recipes for all sorts of fruit jams, jellies, preserves, conserves and also sauces, relishes, chutneys, and salsas. The author even includes recipes for dishes in which the preserved foods are a key ingredient.

Most of the recipes in Well Preserved are prepared without adding commercial pectin, which I find appealing because I try to follow a whole foods approach to food preparation. In other words, I strive to prepare and eat foods made from whole foods and whole ingredients that are in the form as close to their natural state as possible or that have been processed minimally and in a straightforward way. Not that pectin itself is a bad thing as an added ingredient since it is derived from pectin rich foods, but there are other ingredients such as preservatives and stabilizers in the package of pectin that I'd just rather avoid if I could. In the case of this jam, the ingredients are just strawberries, sugar and lemon juice.

The name of the jam is Soft Strawberry Jam, so it did turn out soft and slightly runny compared to most jams, but the color, flavor and fragrance is unbelievable. It is SO good.

Making homemade jam is actually quite easy to do. You just need to be a little organized with your supplies and your order of operations, and you need to set aside a whole morning or afternoon to dedicate yourself to jamming. If you don't want to bother with the processing part, there are a lot of great recipes for freezer jam out there that you just cook and then store in your freezer until you're ready to use. That's how I started making jam years ago until I decided to try canning one year just for the experience. It was so much easier than I expected and now it's the only way I make jam. Want to see how I did it?

For complete canning instructions, visit or borrow a book on canning and preserving from your library. I do not include all home canning and food safety guidelines guidelines in this post.

A Strawberry Jam Session:

Rinse and drain berries well.

Wash canning jars in warm soapy water, rinsing well. Then to sterilize the jars and canning lids, put them in a pot of water to cover, and keep the water hot and just simmering until ready to fill them.

At this point, I fill my canning pot half full with water, heat it on the stove until simmering, and keep it simmering until I'm ready to process the jars of jam. You don't need to buy a pot specifically made for canning, but it is helpful because it will be wide and deep enough to hold the jars and it will come with a stainless steel rack to keep the jars in place in the hot water. The pot I use is a big lobster pot that I picked up at my supermarket a couple of years ago that comes with a removable steamer that sits about 1-2" off the bottom of the pot and I just set the jars of jam on top of that.

While the processing pot is being heated up, I set to work slicing the berries.

Mash berries in a large pot with a potato masher or the back of a large serving fork.

Bring the berries to a gentle simmer over medium heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Add the sugar and lemon juice,

Stir to dissolve sugar and raise heat to medium high heat.

Bring jam to a steady boil, stirring frequently, if not constantly to prevent jam from scorching or splattering out of pot. Maintain jam at a boil for 15-20 minutes or until thickened then remove from heat.

The fragrance of homemade strawberry jam simmering away draws my first customer to the kitchen....

Useful magnet tool.

Used to lift bands and lids out of simmering water.

You actually don't need to sterilize the bands because they don't come in contact with the jam, but I always forget that and end up sterilizing them anyway with the jars and lids.

Jar grabber tool. What is this thing called anyway?

Jar grabber tool is used to grab hot, sterilized jars out of simmering water and then placed onto a kitchen towel to be filled with jam.

Ladle jam into jars using a wide mouthed funnel if you have one.

Leave 1/4" headroom between the top of the jam and the top of the jar.

Wipe edges of jars with a damp paper towel to remove any traces of jam that may have dripped.

If you have any left over jam in your preserve pot that won't fill another jar, simply put it in a jar and store in the refrigerator.

Remove the lids from hot water using the magnet tool and center them on each jar one at a time.

Carefully place the bands on the jars and screw them on until finger tight. Don't over tighten. The bands are really just there to keep the lids from coming off during processing... not to keep the jam air tight.

Using the jar grabber tool, carefully lower the jars of jam into your large canning pot that is half full of already simmering water.

It's kind of difficult to see it from this photo, but note the water level in the canning pot only comes part way up the sides of the jars of jam. The jars are not completely covered yet.

Arrange the jars so that they are evenly spaced and are not touching each other or the sides of the pot. This is where a canning pot with a rack to keep the jars in place would come in handy.

When all the jars are in place, fill the pot with more hot water to cover the jars by 1-2". I just use the hot water from the pot I was using to sterilize the jars and lids in.

A wooden ruler works great for determining if you've added enough water to cover the jars. Just insert the ruler in the water so that the end touches the top of the tallest sitting jar, and the water line will show when you pull it out. Then just keep adding water until you reach the 2" mark.

Cover pot with lid and bring to a rolling boil. Once water is boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes to process your jars.

Insider's tip: While the jam is being processed in the boiling water, find a piece of french bread to sop up the jam stuck to the bottom and sides of the pot in which the jam was cooked. Not only do you get the first taste of the warm jam {Yum!}, but it's a delicious way to start the clean up. ;)

Remove jars from boiling water using the jar grabber tool and place on a towel to cool. Within a minute, you should hear the seals being formed with a little pop from each jar. Some will pop within a couple of minutes, and some may take a little longer and even seal without the pop.

Leave the jam on the counter over night and check the next day to make sure each jar sealed by gently pressing on the center of the lid with your finger. If you can push the center down and it pops back up, then it did not seal properly and you need to store the jam in the refrigerator. I think you can actually re-process the jar in a water bath again, but I'm usually too lazy to do it.

I actually had one jar this morning that didn't seal from yesterday's processing. I think it didn't seal properly because the lid was not centered exactly on the mouth of the jar. Maybe I should go through the motions of trying to reseal it just for the experience so I can say with confidence how to do it. I'll think about it. ;)

Jam should keep for a year stored in a cool dry place. Be sure you hear a pop or the sound of the seal being broken when you open the jar. If you think the seal has been compromised, don't eat the jam.

Most likely your jam will be enjoyed long before the year is over and you'll be dreaming of getting to the strawberry fields again next June to make more all over again.

Enjoy! :)

What's your favorite flavor jam?

Mine is strawberry, but I also like other berry jams, too and orange marmalade.

What's your favorite way to eat jam?

I like jam on toasted bread for breakfast. I think I may end up using some of this soft strawberry jam like strawberry sauce over ice cream.


  1. Your rockin' the jam! That looks very yummy!

  2. oops...

    Strawberry is my favorite

    on bread :)

  3. OMG! I am in Jam heaven. I've always thought its so hard to make homade jams, but that looks so easy. My favorite is strawberry but grape is good too. I would so make these, but I need jars. You need to sell these babies :)

  4. *hops in car to go grab some jam*

  5. My mom used to make jam when I was younger and you've brought back memories of that. I can still remember the smell of the kitchen.....
    Hmm, my favorite jam is either strawberry or blackberry. And my mom loved orange marmalade, too. *G*

    Thanks for sharing your jam experience!

  6. LOL, glad that the book is so good :D and wow, it looks sooo good. Unfortunately, I don't eat jam. Dunno why, I just don't LOL.

  7. Boysenberry is my favorite flavor. I first had it at my grandma's house. Then at a restaurant called The Magic Pan. Your strawberry jam looks delicious. Lots of work but so worth it!

    I looked up canning tools and found this site

    No fancy name for the tool, just called "jar lifter". :)

  8. Strawberry and lemon jam - oh, this sounds very delicious! *looks at pic with the strawberries* Or I could just eat the strawberries. They look mighty yumm! *g*

    And LOL, I learn all kinds of things here. I've never seen a magnet tool before and I'm not sure I've heard of a canning pot either. Then there's a jar grabber tool... Great. :D Love your insider tip. Good for you!

    As for myself, I like all kinds of berry jams. :)

  9. Awesome post! I've never made or canned jam before, but you make it seem very easy. Even for a beginner like me. Now I'm hungry for some strawberry jam!

  10. YUM! Christine - I love how detailed your recipe posts are. You make it look so easy.

    I've never made jam, but I have preserved my relish and beetroot and stewed apple, which I have to do tonight.

    Favourite jam? Probably strawberry or raspberry, but I must confess to being more of a honey gal :)

  11. Strawberry Jam gets the most votes as a favorite, so I'm glad to have provided you all with detailed instructions so you can make your own. Which you're all going to do next weekend, right? Right?

    Leslie: Thanks for the link to that kitchen gadget site. I love browsing sites like that and may order a rack from there that will fit into my lobster turned canning pot!


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