When it comes to the garden, my husband makes very few requests. In fact, I can probably count the number of things he has specifically requested on one hand, so when he asked me last week to make strawberry jam, I was happy to accommodate. I looked through a dozen or so recipes for strawberry jam, searching for a recipe that was classic, simple, and of course, tasty.What I ended up with is about as good as it gets. There are only three ingredients: fresh strawberries and just enough sugar and lemon juice to make the recipe canning safe. Yes, I’m talking about making jam the old fashioned way: slowly simmering fruit to release all the water until the fruit gels. No boxes of Sure Jell or pouches of liquid pectin, no emptying entire bags of sugar into the jam pot, this jam is all about the strawberries.
If I had any doubts about trying a no-pectin jam, they were gone within seconds of reading this post from Northwest Edible Life. It is a fantastic post and well worth pinning for future reference (and also, I now wantneed apricot trees so I can make some of Erica’s Apricot Jam with Lime, Ginger and Tequila).
What I love about her basic formula is it’s super easy to adapt to whatever quantity of fruit you have on hand:
2 lbs. fruit (washed and appropriately prepared)
1/2 – 1 cup (4-8 oz) sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
I prepared the strawberries the night before I canned the jam. I trimmed and then crushed them a bit with a potato masher. What worked best for me was to prepare and measure the berries in my 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup and keep a tally as I dumped the prepared berries into a large storage container. I ended up with 8 lbs of strawberries (about 15 cups), so I added 2 cups of sugar (the minimum amount, based on the formula) before covering the container and popping it in the refrigerator to macerate for a day.
The following night, I transferred the prepared berries into a shallow pan (I had to work in two batches because of the volume of berries/size of my pan) and let them simmer over low heat. If you have a large volume of fruit, it might seem tempting to dump it all in a larger (deeper) pot, but trust me, the extra surface area of the shallow pan made surprisingly quick work of reducing the berries into a luscious soft-set jam and it will save time in the long run. Once the jam had cooked down enough I was able to combine the two batches together to finish simmering. Just be sure that you stir the berries frequently, as strawberries have a tendency to scorch rather quickly.
Another thing I love about this method is that it allows you to read the natural sweetness of the fruit. As the jam started to cook down, I added the lemon juice and tested the sweetness level. I thought it was just about perfect with only 2 cups of sugar, but my husband (the primary jam-eater in the house) thought it was still a little tart, so I added an extra cup of sugar to bring the sweetness level more to his liking and let it continue cooking (I also added an extra 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice to the jam, as I really liked the way it brightened up the strawberry flavor).
Just for fun, I pulled the insert out of an extra box of Sure Jell that was in the pantry, just to see how much sugar a comparable batch of cooked strawberry jam with pectin would call for. For the same 15 cups of crushed strawberries, you would have to use 21 (twenty-one!) cups of sugar! That’s roughly 10 lbs. of sugar. My teeth hurt just writing that!
Granted, when using pectin, you’re not cooking down the fruit to the same degree, so you’re getting more volume out of all that sugar, but once you taste jam made without pectin, it’s a whole new jam-eating experience. Instead of tasting something super sugary sweet, you’re tasting the fruit. The natural sweetness of the fruit and the smaller amount of sugar caramelize into a rich, natural sweetness that allows you to taste the actual flavor of strawberries, not just sweetness. The depth of flavor you can develop in this type of jam will blow your mind!
Beginning jam makers might find it to be a little tricky to figure out when jam made with this method is “done” (especially if you are used to having the box of pectin tell you, to the exact minute, how long to cook the jam). I have found the “plate test” (described in this post by Food in Jars) to be a very reliable test of how the jam will set after it has been canned and cooled.
If you have been using pectin for jam making in the past, this jam will have a slightly different appearance than what you might be used to. It will have a softer set and a more velvety texture. The resulting consistency will vary based on the natural pectin levels of the fruit you are using, so you may find that this method works better for some fruits than others, depending on your personal preferences. Strawberries are naturally lower in pectin to start with (and pectin levels drop as the fruit ripens), but I was certainly pleased with the results, so this will be my new preferred method for all fruit jams.
This method is safe for canning as long as the ratio of fruit, sugar, and acid are maintained. I processed 11 jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes (the 12th was not quite full enough to can, so it went right into the refrigerator and was subsequently consumed with enthusiasm).
Between the reduced amount of added sugar and the incredible depth of flavor, you just can’t go wrong with this method. My husband got exactly what he requested with this jam. It is pure and simple, old fashioned strawberry jam. And it is delicious!