I have always liked jam, or is it “jelly”? Seeded raspberry to be exact. Take it over buttered toast, pair with peanut butter, swirl it in to plain yogurt, or enjoy jam in its purest form — straight from the jar with a spoon. Whichever term you may use to refer to this sticky child-turned-adulthood favorite one thing is certain; you never outgrow the stuff. It is a staple growing up and by virtue of it’s timeless appeal, we all have memories connected to this candied treat.
I have two clear distinct memories of jam back in New England. The first being a boy and the family taking us all on a weekday dinner to Friendly’s. If you aren’t from that part of America, Friendly’s is a family-style restaurant with popular food fare; burgers, fried fish, milkshakes called “Fribbles”, and of course my then favorite: chicken tenders. I was always restless growing up so to pass the time waiting for that fried chicken basket I built towers and buildings with their packets of jam. I ate a few with a butter knife in sheer boredom and always avoided direct consumption of their rind orange marmalade. Guess I was too young to appreciate it.
The second was at my grandmother’s house when she canned her own. They say that to raise a child it takes a village. Truth. So many days before school or on the weekend, I was babysat and installed myself at the kitchen table with the women in the neighborhood. They would gather in my grandmother’s kitchen and work together to make large batches of sweet orange rolls and one time, jam.
I can still smell that morning and see my grandmother in her housecoat. The steam from the boiling strawberries rising like heat from a shower, the white noise of the women’s voices excited and outgoing against the glass mason jars chinking against the golden, screw top lids (that always seemed to cut at one’s fingertips, those razor-like saucers). Canning your own jam was hot, dangerous stuff for a small boy. “Watch out,” Gram’s voice came from above, “it’s very hot.” And she shooed me away back to the kitchen table and I stuck to what I did best: coloring.
Nowadays it seems like canning your own jam is not so popular or perhaps people simply don’t have the time. I also think that some of us vaguely know the process but haven’t done it in awhile. I am the latter. I had never completed the process start to finish until the other day but wanted to relearn. Strawberry season is coming to a close now in the Czech Republic, too, and we had just picked up over 2 kilos on a recent drive in the countryside.
The other night after work I put on my apron with my helper, the husband. Almost like my Gram, it was amusing as he tried to shepard me away from the hot jars as not to burn myself. Gram never is too far away. Funny, though, because I actually did burn myself when I absentmindedly went to pick up a jar forgetting that it had just come out of a 200 degree oven! Goes to show me, right?
Friends, jam is a cinch to make and the home cook ultimately can craft their own recipes, adjust sugar proportions, or combine ingredients to develop their own flavor. I added rum to my strawberries to give it a bit of sweet kick. Also, I made my 2 batches vegan by removing gelatin products.
As the weekend approaches, give it a go. Try learning the process by canning your own. It sets you up for a productive summer as we go into full swing with fresh berries. Making your own has so many benefits; you know the ingredients, there are no added preservatives, and you use the freshest ingredients. Homemade jam also makes for a great gift, too.
If we ever happen to move back to New England, I will visit my Gram’s basement where the non-used jars have lied in disarray for decades, and begin again what was once common: canning your own jam. How New England of me.
The Process, Step-by-Step
First, combine the strawberries with the sugar and mash. I personally like bits of fruit in my jelly so my mashing was minimal.
Next, add the strawberry mixture to a large pan, add the citric acid, pectin, and rum. Bring to a rapid boil for 10 minutes.
As the fruit boils, foam will begin to form over the top. Carefully skim off and place in a small bowl. Tip: save the fruity foam for a sweet addition to ice cream!
Remove your clean, warm jars from the oven and carefully begin to ladle in the jelly. Fill, cover, and flip upside down until cool. Store in a cool spot, away from direct sunlight.
Lastly, if you are like me, either you have hand picked them yourself or bought them at the farmer’s market. There are dozens of ways you can prepare jelly and combine ingredients but the recipe below serves as a starting point to get the basic process down. Once learned, it is all up to you in your kitchen this summer!
- 1 kg (2 lbs + 1/2 cup) fresh strawberries, rinsed & quartered
- 400g sugar (1 3/4 cup) + extra to taste
- 1/4 cup rum (*optional)
- 5g (1 tsp) citric acid
- 40g (8 tsp) pectin
- If making strawberry rhubarb, halve the amount of strawberries and substitute steamed rhubarb, cooked in rum for 5 minutes
- Required: 5 mason jars, cleaned and dried in the oven at 275F (135C) for 10 mins
- In a large bowl, combine the strawberries and sugar; mash until you reach your desired texture. Place the strawberries & sugar in a large, heated pan and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Add citric acid, pectin, and rum. Combine thoroughly.
- As the jam cooks, spoon away any foam that surfaces from the top and set aside in a small bowl. Reduce to a simmer for another 5-7 mins. Taste, and correct sugar if needed.
- Clean canning jars and dry in the oven. Use rum to sterilize the inside of the lid where the rubber film will touch the jar. Carefully begin to fill the warm jars using oven mitts. Once filled, carefully flip the jars onto a kitchen towel and let it sit until cool.
- Store in dark, cool place or in the fridge if consuming directly.
- Use the leftover foam for desserts or spread over vanilla bean ice cream for dessert!