Thursday, June 24, 2010

Strawberry Obsession

In my family we didn’t can. My grandmother took convenience as a mark of progress and boy did we highlight these convenience items at all family gatherings. (Can anyone say canned ham with canned pineapple rings – and of course crescent rolls?) That is not to say we ate TV dinners or shied away from hours spent in a kitchen making a meal look just perfect. It’s just that we never spent time laying up a store for winter, or practicing patience over home spun taffy. There were too many hours to be spent in a pool, or ocean, or if you were with my grandmother; shopping.

But as I have gotten a little older and moved away, I have become enchanted (obsessed?) with producing foods I once thought only existed in the harshly lit supermarket isle. During my sophomore year of college I went through over 20 pounds of flour in bread-making experiments. And experiments they were, as my roommate can attest to. She grudgingly choked down more than one slice of 100% buckwheat brick loaf. Although 20 pounds doesn’t seem like a lot, it was in a half sized oven in between classes and other college antics (I mean studying). But since then, my bread and other “pioneer skills” have improved.
Last year I went strawberry picking with a friend in the middle of June. The weather leading up to that day had been consistently rainy until the designated strawberry day when the sun came out and ripened those little strawberries. This combination seems to make the best strawberries in the entire world. That’s not an exaggeration by the way, just the truth. There were no white hulls on those strawberries and the color of them was a deep blood-like maroon. I’m not trying to cash in on vampire imagery, but these delicate little things burst with juice and flavor unlike any other strawberry I have ever had, picked or store bought.
Well, needless to say that this year, I was so excited to pick strawberries I talked about it for approximately 11 months and 3 weeks. (The strawberry season came about 1 week early this year). This time I told myself I would get a metric ton of strawberries from which I could make strawberry jam, frozen berries, pies and of course sliced strawberries over vanilla ice cream. This last one is a highly recommended method, if you can let the strawberries sit in the sun to warm themselves, then slice them straight onto ice cream….oops I started to drool a bit on the keyboard.
But I digress; the real point of this is to talk about the jam that I made. Apparently making strawberry jam is a kind of expected chore here in Maine. Everyone has a suggestion about canning, preserving, pectin and freezing. But this recipe is phenomenal. There’s no pectin, no “jelly” of any kind. It’s a deep, rich, intense strawberry flavor; that if you can stand it, will take you half of a day to make.
Strawberry Jam
Adapted from Orangette

1 kilogram strawberries, washed (2.2 pounds)
½ kilogram sugar (1 pound)
Juice of ½ lemon

Hull and slice the strawberries into large chunks. Don’t worry about making even slices, as they will cook down to just a mash. Toss strawberries into a large heavy bottom pot, stir in sugar and lemon juice. Let macerate at room temperature for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, you will have a large pot of strawberry soup. Place the pot on medium heat and bring to a slow boil. A light, greyish-brown foam will form as the strawberries cook, skim this off and discard it. After about 15-20 minutes there won’t be as much foam. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 hours. You can begin to prepare the jars while the jam is cooking. The mixture should reduce by 2/3. At this point the strawberries should be mostly broken down with a few large chunks still visible, and the jam should coat the back of a spoon. If it looks nice and thick (and you kitchen smells like strawberries) then you can probably start canning.

Wash 6 clean 4oz. jelly jars, lids and rings in very hot soapy water. Let air dry on a clean dish rack or kitchen towel. Once dry, bake the glass jars (not the metal pieces) in a 250°F oven for at least 20 minutes. After about 20-30 minutes, I usually shut off the oven, but leave the jars in there.

Once the jam is set, carefully remove the hot glass jars from the oven. Spoon the jam into the jars until it reaches about ¼ of an inch from the top. Wipe away any drips on the rims of the jars with a clean, dry paper towel. Place the metal lids on the jars and lightly screw on rings. Place the jars in a pot of water so that the water comes up at least to the bottom of the metal rings. Bring water to a boil, and boil jars for at least 15 minutes. You will hear a lot of rattling if you don’t have a canning basket, but not to worry, I haven’t had a jar break yet. You will also hear some of the jars “pop” as the seal is formed. After 15 minutes, turn off the stove, and let the jars sit for another minute. Carefully remove jars from pot with tongs. Lightly press down on the tops of all your jars to make sure the seal has formed, and tighten the rings. Let cool enough to handle, then label and store. Jars can be kept on a shelf somewhere for about a year, but once you try this jam, it might not last that long.


  1. This is by far your best blog!! The berry photos are great, just wondering what happened to the peas...obviously they didn't last long enough to be photographed!
    Your berry good friend.

  2. Ohhhkay, ya got me. I was like "huh?" when you said no pectin, but I have to try this...there better still be strawberries when we get home next week, b/c I don't have half a day before we leave...


Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or question.