It’s strawberry season here in Jacksonville!
Back home in PA, strawberry season to me always meant that winter was really over. I was so excited when I could finally harvest ripe berries from my strawberry patch. I could eat fresh strawberries until I was absolutely sick. Even then, there was still so much to do with them!
Of course, I don’t have my own strawberry patch here in North Carolina, so I set out to find a local farm to supply my addiction. I made a trip with some friends and our children to Carol Sue Farms in Hampstead, where you can pick fresh berries for only $1.50 per pound! The owners are super nice and the kids had a blast trying to pick the ripest strawberries (although they probably ate more than ended up in the baskets). By the time I left, I was taking 8 pounds of amazing berries home with me.
One of my first endeavors during this time is always to make some fresh strawberry jam. I have tried several methods over the years, most of which involve a lot of sugar or some other type of sweetener. Since good strawberries are basically 1000% sugar already, I have come up with my own method that makes a low-sugar strawberry spread that tastes as close to a fresh picked berry as you can get. The texture of the final product is a little more velvety than a standard jelly because of the lower sugar content.
Supplies You Will Need:
- Large pot with lid for boiling water or pressure canner
- Half-pint Mason Jars
- Lids and bands (the lids must be new but you can reuse old bands)
- Canning rack if using regular pot
- Medium to large pot for cooking jam
- Small pot for heating lids
- Metal spoon
- Potato masher
- Immersion blender (optional)
- Jar lifter
- Magnetic lid lifter (optional)
- Thick rubber gloves (optional)
- 1 qt fresh strawberries
- 1 c. sugar or 3/4 c. honey or 2/3 c. agave nectar or 1 tsp. stevia
- 1 pkg. or 3 tbsp. low- or no-sugar pectin
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
*Each quart of berries will make 2-3 half pints of jam, so if you want more, simply increase your amounts!
1. First, all of your strawberries will need to be washed and hulled. I like the give them an extra rinse after I hull them just to make sure they are squeaky clean. I used 3 quarts of berries so I tripled everything else in the recipe.
2. Put your berries in a large pot on the stove. I like to use an enamel-coated cast iron Dutch oven because it is really easy to clean, but any non-stick pot is fine. Just make sure that the pot depth is twice the height of your berries – you will get a little bubbling action once it gets going. Add your sweetener, pectin, and lemon.
3. Heat on medium-low. As the berries cook, they will release juice and get soft. Use your potato masher to (what else?) mash them. Do this at intervals as they cook.
4. In the meantime, you should be heating water in your other large pot (this will be used to sterilize your jars as well as the water bath to process and seal your jam). You can also use a pressure canner as long as you do not pressurize it; make sure the metal plate is in the bottom so the jars do not directly touch the bottom of the pot. Evenly space your jars in the bottom of the pot. Make sure they are covered with water. They will need to boil for a minimum of 10 minutes to be completely sterilized. Do not skip this step if you want your jam to be shelf stable!
7. This is fully blended and will make a smooth strawberry spread.8. At this point, I turn up my heat to medium-high or high to get it bubbling. Make sure to stir it frequently so the bottom doesn’t burn. It will need to cook for a while, to evaporate some of the water and allow the pectins to do their magic and thicken the concoction. You can scoop off that foam if you want to; I usually don’t because it has never affected anything except the appearance of my jam.
9. So while this is happening, heat your lid bands. I just scoop some of my boiling water from my canning bath and pour it over the bands. Then close the lid and you can set them aside until you need them. They will stay very warm in there.
10. Back to your jam now. You need to be watching and stirring almost constantly from here on. You are looking for it to reach the “jelling point.” This is something that could have its own tutorial, so I will provide some links at the end to help beginners understand this concept a little better. This is where your metal spoon comes in to play. Below is the best picture I could get to show you approximately what this will look like when you test with your spoon. I also find it helpful to keep a dish in the freezer that can be used to drip a little jam on. It should cool quickly and you can check if its consistency is correct. The amount of time this will take will vary depending on how much fruit you are using, the size and type of your pot, and your heat source. Mine took about an hour from start to jelling point.
9. Once your jelling point is reached, remove the pot from the heat. Use your jar lifter to remove the jam jars from the boiling water bath and set them on a dish towel . You can wear the rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat and steam if you want to.
10. Position your funnel in one of the jars and use a ladle to spoon the jam into the jars. Leave 1/4 inch of headspace. Repeat with remaining jars.
11. Wipe any drips off of jars, then position your lids on all the jars. Now you can use you magnetic lid lifter or gloved hands to remove your bands from the hot water and fit them onto the jars. They only need to be hand tight so don’t over-tighten them!
11. Use jar lifter to put jars into boiling water bath. Make sure they are evenly spaced and not touching or use your canning rack. Process 10 minutes.
12. After that, remove from heat and use the jar lifter to remove them. Sit them on a dish towel somewhere that is out of the way. They need to sit for at least 12 hours undisturbed.
You will hear the jars “pop” as they cool and seal. Once they are cool, check to make sure they have all sealed correctly. If not, readjust the lids and bands and reprocess (or just stick it in the fridge and eat it).
Please comment if you like this tutorial or have any additional questions!