Jammin' with Strawberries

The fields are ripe for harvest. The produce stand overflows with red luscious fruit. The season for strawberries is now. Why not put up some jam? For the seasoned jam maker, you know how easy it is to make jam and the beneficial results it brings to dinner table. If you have never tried making jam, try it this year!

Strawberries

One of the best ways to preserve the luscious flavor of strawberries is with jam. Even during the cold winter months, you can again enjoy this delightful strawberry taste. Accent that morning cup of coffee with a piece of warm toast topped with strawberry jam! To get the best flavor possible, don't purchase the jam at the store - make it in your very own kitchen. Preserve your strawberry jam either by canning or freezing - both are easy to accomplish, even for the beginner. Be prepared for an afternoon of fun and a sense of accomplishment.

At my house, putting up strawberry jam has become a family event. The workload becomes lighter when you have additional fingers picking the berries (It also helps out the back muscles when picking). Washing the berries and removing the stems is more fun when you have someone to laugh and joke with; and the cleaning process has become a lot easier since we all have a nifty little tool - the strawberry huller - to remove the stems. We prefer the taste of freezer jam and when the actual process starts, everybody has a job. From crushing berries to measuring sugar, from stirring and stirring and stirring to adding pectin, from ladling in jars to labeling - it's a family assembly line.

Before you start the strawberry jam adventure at your house you must obtain the strawberries. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Purchase or pick only the amount of fruit needed for your recipe.
  • 1-1/2 pound of strawberries equals one quart or 4 cups of sliced strawberries
  • Make jams in small batches. (This aids the gelling process).
  • Look for bright red berries with fresh green caps. When you remove the caps, you tear cells in the berries, activating ascorbic acid oxidase, an enzyme that destroys Vitamin C.
  • Check each package to make sure there are no signs of mold growth. If one berry is molded there is the possibility mold spores traveled throughout the entire package.
  • Discard all diseased fruit. You don't want spoiled fruit taste to tarnish the flavor after all your hard work.
  • Use strawberries as soon as possible after purchasing or harvesting. Don't leave at room temperature for more than a few hours.
  • Do not wash berries until ready to use.
  • To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to sit in water, as they will lose color and flavor.
  • If you have washed your strawberries in a bowl. Don't pour berries and water into a colander. Lift fruit from the rinse water, as the dirt will settle on the bottom and you don't want to disturb it.
  • Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for 2-3 days at maximum.
  • Ask neighbors, friends and relatives who make strawberry jam for their recipes. Everyone has his or her favorite. You may also want to purchase a canning book to review accurate procedures on water bath canning and freezing. The Ball Blue Book covers recipes for both types of food preservation and contains over 450 recipes for different fruits, vegetables, jams and pickles.

To preserve strawberry jam by canning, you will need jam/jelly jars and caps, a water bath canner, canning tools and a large saucepot. Ingredients will include pectin, sugar and possibly lemon juice (it depends on what your recipe calls for). After washing and crushing the berries, you will cook them in a large saucepot along with the pectin, sugar and lemon juice. Be prepared for lots of stirring! The mixture will then be transferred into jelly jars, caps adjusted and processed in your water bath canner. Follow the directions on your recipe and canning book for ingredient amounts, detailed instructions and cooking times.

To preserve strawberry jam by freezing, you will need jam/jelly jars and caps or other sturdy freezable containers, mixing bowls and small saucepan for boiling the pectin. Ingredients will include pectin and sugar. The difference between canning and freezing is no cooking is involved in making freezer strawberry jam. The only thing cooked on the stove is the pectin, which is then added to the strawberry/sugar mixture. Your freezer strawberry jam has the best results when the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Be prepared for even more stirring than when canning jam. Your arm may become fatigued. (I like to incorporate family help at this point.)

For both canned and freezer strawberry jam, best results are obtained when you follow recipe instructions accurately and precisely.

Back to the strawberry jam marathon at our house. Although we make each batch individually, with our assembly line, I am able to make at least 8-9 batches in one afternoon. The extra labor force is great! Everyone contributes to the work and everyone has a sense of accomplishment when finished. (To keep them busy, bring in the CD player and stir to the beat of their favorite songs).

So after a good night's sleep, and some muscle cream for the arm, you wake up with a sense of accomplishment and requests from the kids like... Could I give a jar of jam to my friend Beth? Can we give some jam to...

You may also want to consider jam as a gift and use decorative lids or labels to have it ready at a moment's notice. It's a great way to say thank you or a nice little gift to take to someone's home when you've been invited to supper. Those who receive such a treat will think of you every time they taste it!

For your own consumption - don't limit your strawberry jam to the top of toast or as a close friend of peanut butter between two slices of bread. Strawberry jam is very versatile! Open that jar, and top some vanilla ice cream, stir it into yogurt, bake it into cookies, or glaze some pork. Become creative - the strawberry flavor is worth getting to know in different forms!

Keep on jammin'!

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