strawberry jam

I opened up a jar of my latest batch of strawberry jam over the weekend and was thrilled with how delicious it was! I've been making jam for a few years now and have experimented with a number of recipes to find a great strawberry jam. A few recipes I've tried have been too sweet, and I've definitely ruined a batch or two by overcooking the strawberries. This time around, I collaborated with my friend Kelsi from Oakland Bakes to make jam after our fruit picking trip to Brentwood. We tweaked a recipe from the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook a bit, and I think we found a winner.

Every good jam starts with good fruit. No amount of sugar or flavoring can compensate for unripe or out-of-season berries, so be sure to start with the most delicious fruit you can find. Your best bet for the freshest fruit is your local farmer's market (unless you want to take a trip to the farm of course!). Most market vendors will often cut you a deal if you want to buy a whole flat of berries, especially near the end of the day.

Click for the recipe and more photos after the jump:

We were using some super sweet local strawberries, so we reduced the amount of sugar in the original recipe. I like to use as little sugar as possible when making jam, but you need a certain amount for it to set properly. The minimum amount recommended for 1 lb of bulky fruit is 1 1/3 cup (or 11.5 oz).

Be sure to use the largest pan you can get your hands on when making jam. A wide pan with a lot of surface area is particularly important, as it will allow for maximum evaporation and minimize the length of time the jam needs to cook. Using Oakland Bakes' huge commercial-sized pots for this batch was a million times faster and easier than trying to use my standard pasta pot at home. I think it made a huge difference in avoiding the overcooked flavor some of my jams have had in the past. I may have to break down and invest in a wider pan for any future preserving projects.

The finished jam! You can tell the jam has finished cooking when it develops this glossy sheen, thickened texture, and darkened color.

A wide mouth funnel is essential for ladling your preserves into jars without making a huge mess. I recommend this easy-to-store collapsible funnel from Ball.

Here is my new favorite recipe for strawberry jam. We added some fresh lime zest in the last stage of cooking to help cut through the sweetness of the berries. The flavor is very subtle, but the extra citrus really makes the strawberry flavors pop.

Hint of Lime Strawberry Jam
adapted from the "Children's Strawberry Jam" in The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders

4 pounds hulled and halved large strawberries
2 pounds 6 ounces organic sugar
3 and two-thirds ounces plus 2 and two-thirds ounces strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest from 1 lime (approx 2 tsp)

Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.
In an 11- or 12-quart wide nonreactive pan, combine the berries with the sugar and 3 and two-thirds ounces of the lemon juice. Place the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula. After a few minutes, as the juice starts to run and the mixture begins foaming a little around the edges, gradually raise the heat to high, stirring often.
Boil the mixture vigorously for 20 to 30 minutes, gently scraping the bottom of the pan every minute or two with your spatula to be sure the jam is not sticking. If it begins to stick, decrease the heat slightly, being sure the jam continues to cook at a rapid boil. Continue to cook, stirring and scraping frequently, until the foam subsides, the mixture acquires a darker, shinier look, and the berries appear softened and saturated with liquid, about 25 minutes total.
At this point, stir in the remaining 2 and two-thirds ounces of lemon juice and the lime zest, continuing to stir frequently. If necessary, lower the heat slightly to prevent scorching.
After 3 to 5 more minutes, your jam should look shiny and thickened. At this point, remove from the heat and test for doneness, using a stainless-steel spoon to carefully scrape all the white foam off the top of the mixture while you test. Do not stir. To test for doneness, carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful of jam to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it runs slowly, and if it has thickened to a gloppy consistency, it is done. If it runs very quickly or appears watery, cook it for another couple of minutes, stirring, and test again as needed. This jam, while spreadable, has a relatively loose texture. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and process according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Approximate yield: seven 8-ounce jars.
Shelf life: 6 to 8 months.

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