Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe
When I was a child my mother, Claudia, would make strawberry jam every strawberry season. With five kids and a tight budget, it was one more way to stretch a dollar—even then commercial jelly was expensive. Whenever she did this, she would also bake bread—the smell of fresh bread and jam would fill the house. We would all gather around anticipating the treat of hot jam on warm bread just out of the oven.
None Claudia’s children seem to have copied her recipe—I’m not sure she actually had one. Most likely she scaled up the one on the pectin package. The problem I have with that one is the amount of sugar it uses—as a child I might have loved strawberry candy spread, but my diabetes suggests that this would not be the best thing for me.
Looking for a low sugar recipe, I came across Ina Garten’s. She uses about a third the sugar. She also avoids using commercial pectin by including the lemon zest.
The acid in lemon juice keeps the strawberries from oxidizing and turning dark. Also, much of the pectin in lemons resides in the white pith—and apparently in the seeds. Cooking the zest and sugar together releases the pectin and thickens your jam.
Sometimes the simplest of recipes can be the most complex. Technique maters, simply dumping the ingredients into a pot and cooking does not always produce the best results—this is why I have a problem with casseroles and crock-pots. How you treat each ingredient can make a big difference in the flavor of the final product.
Karl’s Strawberry Jam
2 lb. large ripe strawberries (about 4 cups)
2 ½ cups sugar, separate uses
1 lemon, zested (about 1 Tbs.)
1 lemon, juiced (about ¼ cup)
3 12 oz. jars with lids, sterilized
1. Rinse and hull the strawberries.
2. Halve and slice the berries into medium small pieces.
3. Put the strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle half a cup of sugar over them, toss gently to mix.
Tip: The sugar will draw out the juices from the berries.
4. Let the berries sit, tossing occasionally to redistribute the sugar syrup, for ½-1 hour.
Tip: After the berries have macerated to your liking, proceed to the next step.
5. Zest the lemon and place it in a large pot.
Tip: My old zester had very fine blades. It took off just very fine bits of the zest and left all of the pith. My new zester cuts much deeper and takes fine shreds of zest and pith. In this case this is important, because you need the pith for the pectin within. However, I did not strings of peel in my strawberry jam. I minced the zest strips as finely as I could.
6. Juice the lemon and add it to the zest with two cups of sugar.
7. Cook the juice and sugar over medium low heat.
Note: While one quarter cup of liquid does not seem like enough, when the sugar begins to melt it will become evident that that is all you really need.
8. After ten minutes all of the sugar will be completely melted.
Tip: You may add the berries at this point—as Ira does—but I prefer to go farther.
Note: Actually, this was an accident—I had lost focus—but when I realized what I had done I decided to go with it. At the ten minutes point the sugar will still be a whitish color. After about another five minutes of cooking the color will start to darken as the Maillard reaction builds complex flavors.
9. When the lemon sugar has caramelized to your liking, stir in the macerated berries and all of the juices.
10. Simmer the jam until it starts to jell to your liking, this can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour—depending on how juicy your berries were and exactly how high you have your heat.
Tip: Take a spoon of the juice and place on a plate next to an ice cube. After a few minutes pour the juice back into the pot. When the juice flows off in a sheet—rather than a thin stream— the jam is ready.
Note: Keep a close eye on your jam pot. A high heat may be quicker, but this jam will boil over with little warning. High heat also produces a lot of foam—the jam we on fresh bread was the foamy stuff mother had skimmed off the pot.
11. Skim any foam off the top of the jam and place it in a small bowl.
12. Pour the strawberry jam into sterilized jars and loose tighten the lids.
Note: Put the lids on the jars and tighten them down. Back the lids off about an eight of a turn so that they are “tight/loose.” This allows the air to escape—when you reheat the jars in a water bath—but does not let the water leak into the jars.
Tip: If you have more than the jars will hold put any extra in the bowl to be consumed immediately—don’t worry there will be plenty of volunteers to do this.
13. Place the jam jars in a water bath and boil for 20-30 minutes.
14. Remove the jars and fully tighten the lids.
15. Allow them to cool completely before storing.
Tip: The jam should last for a year on a pantry shelf.