I got a hot tip about some cheap strawberries last weekend. It’s a little while past the peak of their season, and sure enough, they weren’t the prettiest berries– but at 99 cents a pound, I knew they had jam-making potential.
Now, I know I didn’t make this up, but I also don’t know where I learned it: when I make any kind of berry jam, I sneak in an apple. Berries don’t have much pectin to speak of, and you can get them there with a bit of lemon juice, but if you want a thick, gelled jam without adding in a commercially produced pectin, an apple’s a good way to go.
I have also mentioned before that I am not a fan of super sweet jams, so the standard ratio of four parts berries to three parts sugar is not one I subscribe to. It means my jam has a shorter shelf life, but because it’s less sweet, you’ll want to use much more of it.
For about 4 pint jars of strawberry jam, you’ll need:
8 cups of strawberries, hulled and sliced
a scant 2 cups of sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of your berries)
Put your hulled and sliced berries and your sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Using a paring knife, remove the peel and pith from the lemon, and add that to the pot (I cut it off in one long piece so it’s easy to fish out later). This helps add flavor and additional pectin. Squeeze as much lemon juice as possible out of the remaining fruit. Peel, core, and roughly chop your apple, and using a blender or food processor, puree the apple and lemon juice and add it to the pot. If you’re pressed for time, you could also just throw in about 3/4 cup of applesauce and skip the apple entirely. Mix everything together thoroughly, so that the sugar is evenly distributed and can begin to dissolve. Your pot should look like this:
Now you’re ready to cook. Find a small white or light-colored plate and put it in the freezer. Put the pot over medium heat, and stir. This part takes about 45 minutes or so. Make sure you’re stirring constantly, because a batch of burnt jam is pretty useless. Your jam might reach a very gentle boil– this is ok, but if it becomes more than gentle, turn down the heat. After a while, the juice will reduce, the berries will begin to break down, and everything will thicken. At this point, turn the heat all the way down, retrieve that plate from the freezer, and drop a bit of jam onto it. The cold plate will cool the jam quickly, and you’ll be able to tell whether or not it has gelled. After a few seconds, run a fingernail through the jam drop. If it seems like it’s solidified some, you’re done cooking. If it’s still runny, turn the heat back up to medium, return the plate to the freezer, and retest every minute or so. When your jam is cooked, ladle it into jars, screw on the lids and bands, and let it cool to room temperature. Store in the fridge. The jam will be good for a couple months– if it lasts that long.