The fragrance of a hand-picked, perfectly ripe strawberry is enough to make you swoon.
We try to preserve that strawberry goodness for cold winter days, to comfort ourselves with biscuits, toast or peanut butter sandwiches.
Some friends love strawberry jam so much that they recently put up 71 jars in the freezer. It is a much-loved summer ritual for mom and the kids. They need a lot of jam because, on a typical day, this family of 6 can easily go through one half-pint jar in a single sitting.
When asked how long she expects this arsenal to last, my friend replied, “I hope until spring.”
My freezer isn’t very spacious, so a couple years ago I started making strawberry jam in the traditional, old-fashioned way, without pectin.
I did this primarily because I decided the old-fashioned style tastes better. It has a deeper, more concentrated strawberry flavor.
The other reason is that a package of pectin is yet one more thing to forget at the supermarket.
The “open kettle” or “long boil” method is neither difficult nor time consuming. I made three jars of strawberry jam in about one hour.
The process requires a careful flame and some stirring. You’ll want to skim the foam as it develops along the sides of the kettle.
The recipe I used recently is from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser.
(I love this book. I’ve lost track of time pouring through the hundreds of recipes gleaned from the newspaper’s history. This particular jam recipe dates to 1877, back when they were called receipts—I love that.)
In her introduction, Amanda Hesser notes that the ratio of fruit to sugar is 1 to 3/4. Most modern jam recipes are 1 pound of fruit to 1 pound of sugar, “a ratio that masks the flavor of the fruit with sweetness,” she explained. Hesser consulted with Eugenia Bone, author of Well-Preserved, who said the gelling success rate is likely to be higher using the 1 to 3/4 ratio.
The jams I made with this recipe gelled easily. I highly recommend a kitchen scale so that you can measure by weight, even if the scale is a small one like mine with 16 ounce capacity.
When I first started making jam this way a few years ago, I had mixed success. One kettle’s sugar caramelized before it gelled. I do not remember the fruit-sugar ratio that I used, and I know that I did not measure by weight, so it’s not surprising that happened. The jars of caramelized jam were not wasted, however, because I used them to make jam cakes. No regrets!
It takes a bit of restraint to preserve berries. I really just want to eat all of them fresh, right then and there.
Come winter, though, I will open a jar and remember the glorious summer day when I stood in a long line for well more than 30 minutes to make my purchase from the farmer. I will remember how, as I cleaned berries at the sink, our house rabbit reached his front legs on my calf and looked up at me, begging for a taste.
He was overcome by the fragrance, too.
2 pounds strawberries (about 2 quarts)
1 1/2 pounds sugar
Set out three sterilized half-pint jars with screw bands and new lids. To soften the lids’ rubber seals, put them in a saucepan of water and simmer, or pour boiling water over them and leave them be until they are needed.
Place berries in a heavy heavy saucepan and mash them with a potato masher. Start over low heat. Bring the berries to a simmer as they release their juice. Let berries simmer in their own juices for about 15 minutes.
Then add the sugar and stir until it is incorporated into the fruit. Keep the heat on low and let the jam cook very slowly. As foam rises to the top, skim it off. The jam is ready when a small spoonful dropped onto a plate firms up when cool.
Ladle the jam into the jars and leave 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims if necessary. Remove the lids from the soaking water and place on the jars, then add the bands. Screw the bands fingertip tight.
Place the jars on a rack in a big pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring ot a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and boil gently for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and then, after about 10 minutes, remove the jars. Allow the jars to cool, untouched, for 4 to 6 hours.
Store them in a cool, dark place. Enjoy. Refrigerate after opening.