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Jun 20, 2005 09:44 PM

Making my own strawberry jam

  • c

This is the year I try making jam for the first time. I've got a flat of strawberries coming from my CSA on Thursday, which gives me a few days to figure out just how the heck to do it. I've never made jam or canned anything before. I've found a few recipes for "freezer jam", and I do have a chest freezer, so I'm wondering if I should go in that direction, although I love the thought of tidy little jars of homemade jam in my pantry. My local grocery stores have canning sections, full of mysterious looking supplies.

I'm looking for recipes/resources/tips. Pointers towards previous threads or other websites discussing this topic are fine too. Ideally I'd like to do something really simple, with as little added sugar as possible. Lay it on me, hounds.

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  1. Jam is simple. I would suggest that as a beginner you get The Ball Blue Book (paperback, large and cheap) and read it. It is put out by the Ball canning jar company and will be a keeper for years to come. It will walk you throug all that you need to kniw about selecting jars, sterlizing and making jams, jelies, preserves and pickles. Yes, freezer jam is pretty fool proof but all of those jars lined up in your pantry is a pretty sight.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Candy
      Caitlin McGrath

      And if you do it in jars, you can give some for gifts if you wish. I second the rec. for the Ball Blue Book as a guide; it covers the technical aspects thoroughly, and I think it has recipes for low-sugar fruit jams (I'd check if it weren't packed away).


    2. I just put up 3 batches of plum jelly last weekend. I would suggest you get a kettle style canner that goes on your stovetop. It's like a big pot with a lid and it comes with all the supplies you need. Except your jars and lids. You get a basket, funnel, a lid magnet thing, the jar lifter thing.
      You buy a case of little jars and lids. You also need to get canner bags, to drain your fruit. They also make Sure-jell for low-sugar (pink box) recipes. Or you can use the regular (yellow box).
      Make your juice according to the sure-jell recipe in the box. Usually takes 5 1/2 cups of fruit per batch.
      While your juice is draining, bring hot water to a boil in the canner. Prepare your jelly mixture according to the directions in the sure-jell box. Sterilize your jars for 10 minutes. Carefully move them to a toweled work surface. Do not let them touch anything but the tongs. Put your lids in a bowl. Right before you are ready to fill your jars pour boiling water over them. Fill your jars. Use the magnet and put on your lids. Tighten them on. Put the filled jars back in the hot water in the canner. Bring to a boil, covered. Boil 5 minutes. Remove. Enjoy waiting for the jar lids to pop!

      Obviously, this is simplified a bit. The timing is different in different recipes. But this is it basically. You would get complete instuctions with your canner and sure-jell. Btw, the sure-jell recipes are very good. And no I do not work for sure-jell.

      It is really enjoyable and delicious. Give it a try!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Becca Porter
        Caitlin McGrath

        To clarify, the bags and draining Becca discusses above are for making clear jelly, not jam or preserves with whole fruit.

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          I prefer jelly, so I guess I am stuck in that train of thought. It's so good.

        2. re: Becca Porter

          Also, if you are going to make jelly using a jelly bag to strain the fruit juice from the fruit, never squeeze the bag. It will make your jelly cloudy.

        3. A couple random tips:

          use a minimum amount of sugar to let the natural fruit flavor shine through and don't add gelling agents-unless of course you like that very jellyish texture. Do an overnight maceration to let the fruit & sugar develop together-you can always skim off excess juice if it produces too much and save for another use. I prefer short cooking times (15-20 minutes) to keep the fruit flavors bright and the natural (whole) texture intact. There's an interesting slow-cooked method in the linked article below-their ratio of fruit to sugar is good. Cook in small batches to manage the process easier. Use a heavy-ish & wide pan that allows for evaporation and won't scorch easily. Check the jam's set with a cold spoon & plate kept in the freezer.

          Keep the kitchen very clean and organized during your jam making sessions. Now is not the time to get sloppy and casual. Prepare & read all your instructions ahead of time.

          Good luck!


          1 Reply
          1. re: petradish

            so here's what I wonder. the thermometer is in there as I was gone a good long time and it's back to making the jam.
            the liquid is reducing but the strawberries don't look broken down enough from the little 2 minute thing. how will they become jam with just the liquid being reduced? I think they should be going in the pot too... < no? reading how good this particular method seems to taste, more about the fruit than the sugar is a good thing, but consistency matters to me also. I'm questioning when it's at soft ball stage to just put the berries in as is and jar 'em up?

            ok, the soft ball stage is over the liquid reduced, just don't like the looks of the rather limpish not bright red looking berries. my problem may be the amount of sugar used per the qts of berries used. don't think enough liquid so I added more and am cooking on low now to hopefully get the berries more broken and cooked in appearance.

          2. OK! I love bringing virgin jam-makers into the fold. Here's my method, learned from Helen Witty's excellent book Good Stuff. The trick to making good not-too-sweet jam with an amazing fresh-strawberry flavor is to let the berries macerate in the sugar beforehand, and to cook the syrup, not the berries, for the bulk of the time.

            SO, rinse, dry, and hull 2 quarts of berries. In a big (non-aluminum) bowl, cut larger berries in halves or quarters (small berries can stay whole) and layer berries with 3 cups sugar. Stir up the whole thing with a wooden spoon, cover and let sit for at least 6 hours at room temp or overnight in the fridge. Soon you will have a whole lot of bright-red syrup with a bunch of shrunken berries bobbing around. Dump the whole mess into a big wide non-aluminum pot with juice of 1 lemon and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Let simmer for 2 minutes only, then pour back into your big bowl. Again, let sit for a few hours. Now, put a colander into your big pot and pour in the berry mixture. Let all the syrup drain into the pan. Remove the colander and bring syrup to a simmer. Let simmer, stirring often, until reduced by about half; syrup should darken somewhat and start to look thicker and a little sticky. When that happens, dump in your berries. Stirring frequently, simmer the berries until they begin to break down and look translucent--anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes, usually.

            Take off heat, and scoop into sterilized canning jars (the Ball-jar kind with the two-part lid--you can find these at most hardware stores, sold by the case for about $8-$10). Wipe the edges of the jars with a paper towel dipped in boiling water, put on the tops and rings, screw lid on. If you want, you can put filled jars into a pot of boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes to ensure a good seal.

            Voila! fabulous homemade not-too-sweet jam, made by you! This jam doesn't get a really firm set, but it's thick enough for toast, and has lovely big berry chunks. Like most homemade low-sugar jams, once opened it's best eaten within a couple of weeks.


            21 Replies
            1. re: dixieday

              I'm just throwing my vote behind this method. I also use Helen Witty's books, along with Christine Ferber, and they both use this method to great success with strawberries and other fruits. It provides a stronger, brighter flavor than the cook-it-altogether method. And it doesn't have that gumminess that you can get with packaged pectin. I've been using this method for about five years now to make jam, and I can say (blushing modestly) I've developed quite a reputation as a jam maker. Last year's strawberry jam with balsamic and black pepper was my favorite jam so far. Use good fruit; that's the other essential.

              I don't make freezer jam because I don't want to give up the room in my freezer, I want to be able to give jam as presents, and I love the look and feeling of a well-stocked pantry. But I know some people swear by it. If you have the time and inclination, you might try a little of both.

              1. re: curiousbaker

                How is this method with other fruits? Would you use basically the same technique with ollalie or blackberries?

                1. re: Millicent

                  Blackberries, and by extension ollalieberries, have a LOT of natural pectin (especially freshly picked), so they don't need so much fiddling around. I mix 4 cups of blackberries with 1 cup sugar, let sit for an hour or two, then pour everything in a pot and bring to a boil. When it starts to foam up, turn heat to low and keep stirring. At first, it will produce a lot of frothy, magenta-pink foam. After about 5 minutes of simmering, the foam will subside and the mixture will start to thicken, turning glossy and deep purple. When it begins to look sticky and slightly gummy rather than watery, itÂ’s done. The whole boiling process should take around 10 minutes. Remember that it will thicken more as it cools.

                  1. re: Millicent

                    I haven't made blackberry jam* with this method, and I don't know if that the method Witty or Ferber uses for that fruit, though I can check the books at home tonight. I know neither of them uses this method exclusively for all fruits, but I've used it for apricots and peaches as well as strawberries. Blackberries are a more delicate fruit, though, so I'm not sure how they would work.

                    *I haven't made blackberry jam mostly because I have too vivid memories of picking gallons of blackberries for free to pay the insane prices for tiny baskets of the fruit. Why are blackberries so expensive? They're a weed! We used to pick them in the suburbs where they would grow under the high wires. I wish I could find a blackberry patch. Blackberry is one of my favorite jams.

                  2. re: curiousbaker

                    well I'm doing it this way.
                    started yesterday with hulling 3 quarts of gorgeous berries.
                    measured the berries to the tee and the sugar as well.
                    measurements were the 3 quarts of berries, not 2 qts but 3, and same amount of sugar called for in the recipe for 2 qts berries, so I hope it'll be sweet enough, I think it is.
                    took a lemon out of the freezer, let it defrost, then zested it and used 1 tsp fresh lime juice instead of the lemon juice from one lemon, which calls for no zest. so as usual, I can't just follow a recipe to perfection, there is a must factor in there some where. I am wanting a non fresh strawberry jam meaning I don't want lots of large chunks of berries in there, but rather hope it's more together with berries and liquid. not using pectin and don't plan on it, so hoping it does its' thing on it's own. they are in the simmering 2 minutes only stage right now after sitting all night in their liquid. goin to the gym while they sit a few more hours. I just turned off the heat under the SS huge vessel. maybe they'll break down a bit more being in there. we'll see when I return...

                    1. re: iL Divo

                      ready to dump this batch.
                      thankful that strawberries are on sale everywhere.
                      even an ugly not at all appetizing color rather dark wine color.
                      disappointed girl here. more research when I have time.

                    2. re: curiousbaker

                      Would you be willing to post a recipe for that strawberry jam with balsamic and black pepper? It sounds delicious.

                      1. re: dixieday

                        I use a very similar recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook. The key is to take the berries out while reducing the syrup considerably. The FF recipe has you use a candy thermometer to reduce the syrup to soft-ball stage so you get maximum reduction without crystalization. Not only does this produce a reliably thick jam, but it intensifies the flavor of the fruit.

                        I've used this method sucessfully with blackberries.

                        The jam always turns out good, and if there is any problem, its that the jam is too thick or the berries are too intact.

                        1. re: moi

                          When I read your post, I got out my Fanny Farmer and decided to use that recipe for my first batch. I've got it setting on the counter- it says to set for 24 hours, and has been there for 7 hours so far and it's THICK.

                          Tomorrow I'm supposed to spoon it into jars, but as I said, it's really thick. Should I just chop it up and do my best to get it in the jars, or does it make sense to heat it up at all to get it to pouring consistency?

                          I'm also trying dixieday's recipe, and then I'm going to repeat the FF recipe with white Domino sugar (this batch was with the tan-colored "evaporated cane juice" from the bulk bins at Wild Oats.) Will report back with full results!

                          1. re: Chris VR

                            Oh, oh--take pictures! I love it when people take pictures of their efforts (although I was too embarassed to take pictures of the stuffed grape leaves I made from Nyleve's recipe .)


                            1. re: Chris VR

                              Well I think I spoke a bit too soon when I declared that first batch a success. It's definitely way too thick. The problem was I wasn't sure how long to cook it at one point, and ended up cooking it for about 20 minutes, when it should probably have been about 5 minutes. I think I'm just going to have to heat it a bit more to get it to a thinner consistency to get it into the jars. I'm not quite sure what I can do with it though- it's way too sticky to be spreadable. Oh well, I'll figure something out (suggestions?)

                              The second Fanny Farmer batch is setting up now, and the recipe from dixieday is in the fridge, setting overnight. Will post more (and will try to do pictures) tomorrow.

                              1. re: Chris VR

                                You can thin the too thick batch by adding just a leetle-teeny bit of water (a tablespoon or two), heat it up to a bare simmer for a few minutes, then let it cool and check it. You might need to try twice to get the consistancy right. If most of the berries are too intact (the berries won't squish when the jam is spread), then scoop out a third of the jam, give it a very quick chop in the food processor and then stir it back in. More chopped up fruit tends to make the jam consistancy thicker and more 'jammy', tho' its really nice to have plenty of whole berries too. So long as you aren't cooking the bajingles out of it, you can fuss fearlessly with this jam.

                                I've heard that anything other than white cane sugar can affect the results of recipes where the sugar molecule structure is important.

                                In the middle of winter, when you open your last jar, stand back, cuz' the strawberry odor will make you swoon.

                                Next year you will make a perfect batch the first try.

                              2. re: moi

                                I have a FF cookbook circa 1897 I think, I'll check. anyway, want to read it because I do want the result you stated with the intense flavor of the fruit to shine through, but still be thick and no crystalization in there.

                              3. re: dixieday

                                I made strawberry jam for the first time from a receipe using strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. I foe jarllowed the receipe during the cooking process but did not read about thejarring process. I did not have any jars so I just poured into class bowls that have no lids. now after reading about sterilizing and sealing can I still eat the jam? Can I reheat and then jar? I don't know what to do and I don't want to throw away unless i have to. I only made a small batch.

                                1. re: dpete

                                  Just put it in small covered containers and refrigerate. Will keep a long time.

                                  1. re: Plano Rose

                                    this is true but after a very long while, I chucked my batch a year or so ago simply because I was unsure if it was still ok or not. just being safe.............

                                  2. re: dpete

                                    You only need to seal/process in jars if you want to keep the jam unrefrigerated in your pantry.

                                  3. re: dixieday

                                    I know this is many years after this conversation, but I stumbled across this while searching for the overnight maceration method. I just tried this with a significantly larger quantity of strawberries (1 1/2 flats), and it was not a successful jam project. The copious amount of liquid only reduced by about 1/3 after a full hour's simmer. The flavor is wonderfully intense, but I ended up with canned strawberries in strawberry syrup. This method may be effective for smaller batches, but I would not recommend it for larger batches. I prefer a thinner consistency in jam but not so thin as syrup. I will experiment with the overnight maceration and cooking the syrup separately because of the marvelous flavor, but I will have to add pectin or agar to get a jam consistency when working with large batches.

                                    1. re: Shyamala

                                      Not the same source, but Cooks Illustrated did a story about why small batches work better.

                                      LA Times references it....


                                      Maybe it IS the same source?

                                  4. And if your jam doesn't set don't fret. I made a "failed" batch last year. I used half the sugar and no gelling agent so it didn't fully gell. It turned out to be the most wonderful topping for ice cream I've ever had. I served it over vanilla ice cream from a local dairy at a party and everyone raved.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Ellen

                                      I just call it strawberry syrup and put it on pancakes.