K: Here in Massachusetts, as best I can tell, strawberry season is about 3 weeks long, depending on the fickle, turbulent, New England Spring. For do not doubt it, June is still spring here – a concept that I still have trouble accepting, having grown up where we could get our first 70 F day of spring as early as the second week in FEBRUARY, and it is full Summer by the end of April. So, this year, after 10 years of trying unsuccessfully to correctly guess which two weekends in June to leave open for picking my own strawberries before the brief season ends, I joyfully bought a flat of 8 quarts from my CSA’s bulk offerings without the first twinge of guilt. And you know what else? I’m doing it again this week, too.
M: Yes, life is pretty sweet down here in Zone 7B. Winter is so short and mild we call school off if it looks like it “might be fixin’ to think about snowing”. There’s only about 5 minutes where you can’t have something going out in the garden. So what’s with all the canning? Much as I love to eat seasonally, I’m going to need a tomato in January. Pickles in March. And I’m going to need a jam-slathered biscuit… well, when don’t you need a jam-slathered biscuit? Summer at my house means jars, jars, and more jars as canning season hits full stride. Strawberry jam kicks it off in style.
In the six weeks or so when strawberries are in season, you can certainly hit the fields and pick them yourself, and that’s a good time and all, but we’ve got work to do. A trip to the farmers market finds booth after booth with long tables overflowing with luscious berries, every one of them offering samples and telling you why they have the best crop. While quality and price are the priority, some good banter goes a long way. I generally end up with a couple of flats sometime around late May, early June. Belly full and fingers stained, it’s time to get down to business.
Lest you think my enthusiasm translates into an impeccable success rate, know that I still stare at every batch I make, willing it to set. Most of the time it works. I did try my hand at homemade pectin stock this year, with great success, but it is hard to beat speed and ease of this simple SFA recipe using low/no sugar commercial pectin. A dozen or so pints later you have to wonder. Too much jam? Drop by in February. We’ll have some biscuits and talk about it.
Recipe: Strawberry Jam
Summary: Nothing says summer’s here quite like the first batch of strawberry jam. For detailed theory and instructions on waterbath canning for jams, jellies, pickles and the like, you should hop over to the extremely helpful folks at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and the Ball folks have good online resources. There are also a number of fantastic books on the topic these days, thanks to the resurgence of home canning’s popularity. Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook
- 2 q Strawberries, hulled
- 1 c Water
- 1 (1.75 oz) package Low/No Sugar Pectin
- 1 1/2 c Sugar
- Crush strawberries (be sure to leave some good sized chunks in there!) in a large pot and add water.
- Stir in pectin and bring to full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring frequently.
- Add sugar and return to that full rolling boil.
- Once a temperature of 220 degrees is reached, continue to boil one minute and remove from heat. (Please see note below regarding boiling times and commercial pectin.)
- Ladle into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace, wipe rims, and add lids and bands.
- Process 5 minutes in boiling water bath to seal.
Note: K: With commercial pectins, it’s best not to dwell much on temperatures and sheeting tests. Unless they are listed in your pectin’s instructions, save that sort of thing for non-added pectin canning. Boiling more or less than is suggested on the package has the potential negative effect of ruining your ‘set’. For instance, the pectin I used listed in its directions for step 4: “Return to rolling boil, then boil for EXACTLY one minute.” Folks, if they say exactly? Pull out your watch, and ignore your thermometer. If they say stand on your head and stick your left thumb in your right ear? You can believe they’ve tested that in their canning labs 8 million times & you’d best think seriously about listening. You should always follow the order of the steps provided with the commercial pectin you buy. This is one case where it’s actually important to read the little insert that comes in the package. If all of that is too rigid for you (as it generally is for me) then just don’t use commercial pectin. Jam recipes without it are easy to come by now, and all you need is a decent, cheap candy thermometer to make it work. Those can be found at almost any grocery store for around $10, but if you’re feeling motivated, you can spring for the $27 infrared thermometer. I truly love my long-boil jams and jellies, but the real payoff of the commercial pectin, if you’re willing, is its speed. Sometimes you just need to get your jam fix Right Now. Nothing can get you to jam nirvana quicker than a fresh box/bag of pectin, and if loving that is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.