Strawberries are the best part of June.
In our part of the world, June days can be gray and cold and feel way too much like March, but every year this is the month our local Hood strawberries come in, reminding me once again what real summer tastes like.
Those big, pale monstrosities they sell at the grocery store are OK, sorta, but they’ve got nothing on these small, juicy, oozing-with-colorful-flavor beauties.
Two summers ago Cane and I made blackberry jam in August and vowed we’d do the same with strawberries come June, but last year we just couldn’t get things together in time to make it before the berries were gone. I promised myself that this year it would be different.
And–cutting to the chase–it was! This week I went to a local fruit stand and bought a crate’s worth–which was 12 of these guys:
First, a little prep work
I was ready to make some serious jam. Lots of it, because our homemade jam is just so much better than anything we’ve ever bought in a store.
This year, though, I wanted to do things the right way. I wasn’t sure that we had been preserving safely in our previous efforts, and having recently read a story about someone nearly dying of food poisoning from faulty canning methods, I decided that it was time we got serious about this whole jam business.
I googled and read and got confused because there are different methods and different people made different recommendations. I didn’t know who to trust, so I finally decided I needed an authoritative book. I went with this one:
All my reading did tell me that I wanted some new tools, so I got a nifty little kit with a few things:
One thing I learned we’d done incorrectly that could have caused a real problem is that you cannot re-use your lids. Last year we did, which means it is a really good thing that last year I mixed up some jars we thought we’d sterilized right with those we were planning to eat right away. Because I did that, we threw them all in the freezer, and we didn’t die. Or even get sick.
Anyway, this year I learned that while you can reuse the jars and rings, you can’t re-use the lids. That right there made me glad I decided to get more serious about this enterprise.
I also learned that you should not actually boil the lids (another thing we did last year), as that can interfere with their ability to form a seal. You are supposed to simmer them for about 10 minutes in water that’s 180 degrees.
I had some trouble finding a jam recipe. That’s because I didn’t find one before we ate a bunch of berries and I had removed them from the pint containers and husked them, so I wasn’t sure how many pints we really had, and I didn’t know how much they weighed. Most recipes I found indicated amount of strawberries by those two measures. I finally found one that called for a certain number of cups of berries (right here) so that’s what we went with.
Time to jam
I had lots of romantic ideas about making this jam. I don’t remember it being particularly difficult when we made it before. Maybe that’s because we were making it botulism-style? I don’t know.
I had visions of it going like such things always seem to go on some of the blogs I like to read. You know: sun streaming through the windows, and gorgeous berries filling charming vintage crockery, and sweet scents filling the kitchen. Kind of the way every day seems on Keeping It Cozy (where I found the recipe for these wonderful biscuits that turn out right every time):
And oh, it started out that way. After cleaning up the dinner dishes, we got out the berries we’d prepped the night before and set them to cooking on the stove. Early-evening summer sun was breaking through the clouds and glinting off drops of rain that covered the trees outside our window.
It was all just so idyllic, I had to run to my laptop for a quick FB status update:
The next thing I knew, it was Strawbeggedon all over the stove!
Turns out all the warnings I read about how quickly the berry concoction expands after it starts to foam were right!
This is the only photo I have of the actual making of the strawberry jam. Cane expressed just a wee bit of irritation when I ran out of the kitchen to get the camera while he attempted to contain the sticky red river that threatened to simultaneously fuse itself to the glass stovetop and run down that crack between the cabinet and the stove, which he had just happened to clean the very same day (for the first time since we’d moved in nearly three years ago). So I didn’t take any more photos.
You can see here his take on what happened:
About two hours later, we were exhausted and the kitchen was a total mess, and we had a whopping 9.5 pint jars of jam cooling on the counter.
Initially, I was a little underwhelmed at what we got for our time and money. The berries were $23, and we spent $6 on a jar of pectin (of which we used about 1/3), and another $2.50 for new lids. Let’s just call it 3 hours of labor and $30 for the jam, not counting what I spent on the book or the utensil set. That’s a little more than $3 a jar.
It’s definitely more expensive than the jam we can buy at the grocery store, but it’s way cheaper than some artisan jams I found for sale online. ($12 for 6 ounces!) I felt even better about the costs when I revisited a post from Kristy Athens of Get Your Pitchfork On. She’s got a much better breakdown on the cost of making vs. buying than I’ve just given, and she, too, concludes that making your own is a good economic deal.
Even better, it’s also a good deal for our bodies and psyches. (Well, as good for our bodies as anything that’s mostly sugar can be.) Our jam is pretty simple. I certainly wouldn’t call it “artisan.” But it tastes a heck of a lot better than the mass-produced stuff we’ve bought. Not only that, we know exactly what’s in it, we supported a local farmer, we have the satisfaction that comes with making it ourselves, and we laughed a lot in the making of it.
Considering that on top of all that we also got a good story out of it, we’re calling it a good deal all around. And even Cane is on board with making more this weekend.
Got any great jam-making tips? We’d love to hear them. Or stories about kitchen mishaps? (They would make me feel so much better.) Or just great plans for the weekend? You know we love hearing from you. Comments in response to my last post were so appreciated. Things are feeling much better now that we’ve had some days to decompress.