Sunday, July 21, 2013

Old-fashioned Strawberry Jam, With a Twist!

I have been testing strawberry jam recipes for the past few years, trying to perfect it to be just like my late grandmothers'.  Too sweet, too thick, too syrupy, too runny- I have experienced it all. Then, after visiting with my grandmother's sister, I finally learned her secret.  

Very quickly, after describing my attempts at perfecting my jam, her 87-year old sister said "my dear, are you using pectin? If you are, get rid of it. That's why it hasn't turned out."  I was confused at first, but then prompted her for more details. She said that pectin starting being used in the 50s (according to her) to help make more of the jam- it made the fruit "go further".  She said it acted as a thickener so you wouldn't reduce your jam as much and would have more. A-ha!  Turns out there are lots of recipes for pectin-free jam.  I decided to give it a whirl. 

I used approximately 6 cups of fresh, local, juicy strawberries, 4 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, one stem of basil and 2.5 cups of sugar.  I didn't want anything too sweet and the strawberries were already naturally sweet. 

 I mashed up the strawberries in my non-stick dutch oven pot, then poured the sugar over them.  I added the vinegar and basil.  I brought it to a boil, skimming off the foam that developed.  I removed the basil stem about 1/2 way through the process.  I kept stirring (with a wooden spoon), skimming, and stirring some more.  I let it boil at a medium heat until it reduced quite a bit to the consistency I was looking for.  In total, it was about 25 minutes from the start to this point.  It will vary for each of us, depending on altitude, water content in the fruit, and heat from the stove. 
Checking for consistency
I then followed safe canning procedures to get them sealed in jars.  I checked my jars for cracks and chips and made sure they were okay. I sterilized them. I put the lids in a simmering pot of hot water to soften the sealant.  I brought my canning pot to a rolling boil (why is it that I always end up canning on a hot day?).  I then filled each jar, leaving about 1/4" of headspace in each jar.  I cleaned around the rim of the jar to make sure there was no sticky mess.  I put the lids on, then screw bands.  I submerged the jars onto the rack at the bottom of the canning pot, making sure each jar was completely covered. I put the lid back on, made sure it was at a rolling boil, and started timing the process. I kept them in there for 10 minutes, and used pint jars.  After 10 minutes, I removed them, put them on my cooling rack with space around them, and listened for the glorious "pop" sound.  Once they were cooled, I made sure the seal was made (the center of the lid should not be raised), labelled them, and stored them in a cool cupboard. They're going to make great gifts! 

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