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Red Red Strawberry Jam

There are a lot of obstacles to moving across the country. The obvious ones are logistics and schlepping. Lots and lots of backbreaking schlepping. But once most of the boxes have been unpacked and you're sleeping on your own bed at night (as opposed to a dreaded air mattress or a futon), you can start to dip your toes into your new surroundings.

One of my favorite ways to introduce myself to a new city and to feel at ease in my surroundings is to go to the local farmer's market. Farmer's markets, as different as they may be from region to region, have a familiar feel to them. The produce and the vendors are different, but the vibe is much the same. Best of all, you can start to get a sense of what grows well in your region. This is key, because what grows best near you is going to taste the best.

One of the most pleasant discoveries I've made so far in Portland is that the strawberries are unbelievable here. In fact, I feel like I've never really tasted a fabulous strawberry until the past two weeks. I realize this is a bold statement to make, but there's clearly something that strawberries love about the Pacific Northwest.

After nearly eating my weight in these fragrant, red-to-the-core berries (and developing a case of heartburn in the process), I wanted to do something special with the rest of the flat (!), and I'm not talking strawberry shortcake (although that may be in our near future).

When you have really exquisite fruit, you want to do as little to it as possible, or at least I do. And these berries...well, let's just say that I knew it would be hard for me to improve upon what nature had already done. But one way of concentrating the flavor and preserving it for less strawberry-rich times is to make jam. Really awesome jam.

For fruit like this, I add as little sugar as possible. After all, if the fruit is very sweet to begin with, it's only going to get more concentrated as you reduce it. Adding a lot of sugar will induce a quick set and cause the jam to jell more quickly, but you get a less saccharine, more fruity jam if you just add less sugar and cook it down a bit more. Having said that, this is not a strawberry jam that a spoon will stand up in. It's soft and very lightly jelled, but not runny.

Use your taste buds from the outset to determine how much sugar you need. If you have very sweet fruit like I did, you may add as little as one cup sugar. If you start with tart or only mildly sweet fruit, you may choose to add as much as 4 cups sugar. The amount of sugar used directly affects the jelling time. More sugar, and your jam may be ready in as little as 15 minutes after the fruit reaches a boil. Less sugar, and you may have to cook the jam for twice as long.

Also bear in mind that the variation in sugar content and cooking time will affect the yield. This recipe theoretically makes about four 1/2-pint jars, but I always like to prepare an extra jar or two in the event that I need them, and sometimes the yield will be less than stated depending on the water content of your fruit and how long you have to boil it. I ended up with three and a half 1/2-pint jars.

Other articles you might enjoy: Amy's Tomato Jam, Golden Cherry Tomato and Ginger Jam, Strawberries With Vanilla Bourbon Zabaglione

Red Red Strawberry (Vanilla) Jam
Makes about four 1/2-pint jars

Note: This is a refrigerator jam, meaning that it is not shelf-stable because the jars are not processed after filling. You must store this jam in the refrigerator.

Prepare your jars, rings, and lids by washing and rinsing them well. Place a folded dishtowel or a round wire rack in the bottom of a large pot. Place the jars and rings on top of the towel or rack. Fill the pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes if you are at an altitude of 1,000 feet or less. At higher elevations, boil 1 additional minute for each 1,000 feet.
Place the lids in a small saucepan. Add water to cover. Gently heat the lids over medium low or low heat. Do not boil the lids.
Meanwhile, wash, dry well, and hull:
           1 quart strawberries
Put them into a very heavy 10-inch pot, mashing some of the berries to release a little juice. Cover with:
           1-4 cups sugar depending on the sweetness of your fruit (you can always add more sugar during the cooking process if needed, so start small and add sugar to taste)
Throw into the pot, if desired:
           (1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped from the pod)
Stir the mixture very gently with a plastic or wooden spoon over low heat until it has “juiced up.” Then raise the heat to medium and stop stirring. When the whole is a bubbling mass, set your timer for 15 minutes. From this point do not disturb, but you may take your spoon and streak it slowly through the bottom to make sure there is no sticking.
When the timer rings, tilt the pot. If you used more sugar, you should see in the liquid at the bottom a tendency to set. If you added less sugar, you will most likely need to boil for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. When the jam bubbles thickly and the liquid drips slowly and heavily from your spoon, slide the pot off the heat. Allow the berries to cool uncovered. Then stir in:
            (Juice of ½ lemon or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice)
Remove the vanilla bean pod. Ladle the jam into the prepared jars. Refrigerate.


April G's picture

Can this recipe be finished with a water bath so refrigeration is not necessary?
john's picture

Hello April. As written, this recipe would be unsafe canned. Adding a sufficient amount of sugar is crucial to canning preserves safely, as is acidity. The benefit of this recipe is that you need not add too much sugar--just to taste--which ensures that the result isn't cloyingly sweet. The best processed, shelf-stable strawberry jam I've had in recent memory is made with rosé (which adds acidity)... here's the recipe:é-jam If you don't want wine interfering in your jam-related business, it's hard for us to recommend a recipe without knowing the quality of your berries. If they are fresh from the farmers' market, ripe, and fairly sweet, we recommend Kevin West's recipe (author of the fantastic book Saving the Season). His recipe is posted here: If your strawberries are not very sweet, reputable sources really lay on the sugar. The Ball people practically double the sugar that West calls for to "cover their bases" and account for sad, supermarket berries: This one definitely seems like it would be safe, but overly sweet. Sorry! Please don't be discouraged by all of the options I gave! Strawberries vary so much and canning recipes are all very particular... easy, but rigid.
April's picture

Thank you! This is all good information. I'm in eastern Washington state, and go to a local u-pick farm. The strawberries this year are absolutely beautiful, so I'll try the recipe from Saving the Season. Thanks again.
john's picture

We just picked several big handfuls from our patch! Have fun!

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