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Making Strawberry Jam for Dummies

how to make strawberry jam

Why can’t my life be simple?

Let me preface this post by saying that, when all was said and done, I ended up with delicious, beautiful, properly-thick strawberry jam. If you’re here looking simply for instructions on how to do the same – without the ‘dummy’ narrative surrounding the process – you’ll want to scroll to the end of this post. Look for the heading that says Strawberry Jam Recipe. If you’d like to learn a little about what not to do whilst making jam, read on…

Jam Making for Dummies

We had a lot going on Monday night so I wasn’t able to make jam as planned. No worries – I decided I’d go to bed early, wake up early and get crackin’ on jam right away Tuesday. And that’s just what I did – got up early, put away some laundry and filled up the canner all before 7:00 AM. Still in my jammies, I started smashing berries and going over recipes.

Berries smashed – check!

Lemon juice added – check!

Canner rolling – check!

Jars sterilizing in the oven – check!

Pectin added to berry mixture – cheee… uh… wait…

My recipe calls for tablespoons but my box of pectin tells me ounces. Do I have enough? Surely Google will know. After quickly pulling up Google’s conversion calculator and entering the pertinent numbers, I determine that I’m short on pectin. By half. Crap.

I scour the cabinets. No more pectin. I text a neighbor (who is probably thinking “Who wants pectin at 8:30 in the morning??). I think about the dreaded amount of time I’ll spend driving to the store and back if I leave now. Then I remember that I’m wearing my pajamas… and I’d have to put on real clothes and possibly bathe myself before going into public… and that seals it: I’m gonna have to wing this.

Winging It

Thank God for Google (kind of… more on that in a minute). I started searching for pectin alternatives… there are several out there, but keep in mind I’m a jam novice so some of these “just use green fruit” (which I don’t have) or “just add cranberries” (which I do happen to have but are you kidding me?) options just aren’t going to cut it. In the end, I settled on two possibilities:

  1. Cornstarch and a little sugar.
  2. Boiled down orange peels.

Cornstarch and “a little sugar” sounds like a pretty safe, almost-like-my-packet-of-powdered-pectin option. Buuutttt… then I see all these warnings about “it burns” in your recipe and also I’m trying to make jam that leans more towards natural than unnatural and who knows what’s really in my cornstarch. And how much is “a little sugar” anyway?… no one in the cyberworld seems to know.

On the flip side, we don’t eat oranges. Ever… except (!!) many months ago when they were on such super-duper sale that I bought some… and I saved the orange peels in the freezer with plans to make orange extract out of them (because, we never eat oranges and I thought having extract around would be handy for natural flavoring). In all of my Google-please-help-me searching I ran across an experienced cook’s shot in the dark at how you could get usable pectin out of orange peels. Sounds natural enough – why not?

boiling orange peels for pectin

So…

Split strawberry mixture into to two covered bowl and place them in the fridge – check!

Turn off the burner under the roaring canner – check!

Look with disdain on my 1.75 ounce bag of pectin – check!

Start boiling orange peels – check!

Put on a bra and take a shower – pshaw!

Getting Pectin from Orange Peels

So for those of you who are as new to jam making as me, you might be wondering what this magical pectin stuff even is. According to our buddies at Wikipedia, pectin is:

“a structural heteropolysaccharide contained in the primary cell walls of terrestrial plants. It was first isolated and described in 1825 by Henri Braconnot. It is produced commercially as a white to light brown powder, mainly extracted from citrus fruits, and is used in food as a gelling agent particularly in jams and jellies. It is also used in fillings, medicines, sweets, as a stabilizer in fruit juices and milk drinks, and as a source of dietary fiber.”

In short, it helps your jams and jellies to thicken rather than being a runny mess. The recipe I found for extracting pectin from orange peels looked pretty much like this:

  • Peels from 2-3 oranges (frozen in my case)
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce mixture by half (20 minutes). Remove peels. Reduce by half again. Cool in fridge… add to strawberry mixture.

So that’s just what I did. And here’s what I ended up with:

Orange Peel Pectin

Here’s hoping there’s a whole heapin’ mess of pectin in this boiled-down-orange-peel water.

Making Strawberry Jam (Finally)

What if the pectin-from-orange-peels doesn’t work? I decided not to take the chance of ruining ALL of my strawberry jam so I set out to make two separate batches – one with store bought pectin and one with orange peels pectin.

And that’s when it happened.

I opened up the pectin packet to measure out the 3 tablespoons of pectin needed for half of my strawberry jam recipe… and oddly enough, there was some left over. And oddly enough, the leftovers measured out to 3 tablespoons. Now it’s been a while since I’ve had an arithmetic test, but according to my math, 3 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons = 6 tablespoons, which is the amount needed to do the WHOLE recipe. 6 tablespoons… right there… in the little 1.75 ounce pouch I’d been looking upon with scorn all morning. Everything I needed… right there… the whole time.

Fie on you, Google conversion chart, for telling me that 1.75 ounces is only 3.5 Tablespoons!

At this point, I’m sure the sensible thing to do would have been to just mix everything back together, make the jam as designed and get on with my life. But after all the effort I’ve invested into this orange-peel-pectin thing, I’m all in now! When am I going to have (or rather, take) another opportunity to see if this works?

So with the berry mixture in two separate sauce pans, I begin boiling. The recipe says “Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.”  And that’s just what I did. The only problem is, in my haste to do two separate batches (Why did I feel the need to do both at the same time?) I unwittingly placed the orange-peel mixture into a too-small saucepan. A too-small saucepan now sporting a strawberry goo in a “rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.” It can, however, explode over the side and onto the burner. Also, because of its high sugar content, it can quickly catch on fire. But it cannot be stirred down… just so we have that part straight…

Fortunately after catching fire, it can be extinguished.

Me: Owen – pause that game, I need you to come here quickly!

Owen: Do I have to?

Me: Yes!

Owen: *Owen appears* What?

Me: Open the door and the window so the smoke can get out…

Owen opens both…

Me: Now come and stir this for me so I can catch up on the other one. I don’t want them to burn.

Owen begins stirring… two seconds later

Owen: Do I have to do this?

Me: Yes.

Owen: Mom – it’s burning me alive.

Me. No it’s not.

Owen: Yes, it is.

Me: Just keep stirring…

Owen: *singing* Just keep stirring, Just keep stirring… much like this…

 

Once everything was under control and Owen was no longer singing while burning alive, I observed that, alas, the orange-peel pectin mix was not thickening. My guess is that if I let it boil a while longer, it would eventually. However 1) I didn’t want to lose all of the goo that would evaporate to make that happen and 2) I was a little afraid of what might happen next if I kept going! So, I abandonded the experiment, added about 1.5 tablespoons of pectin and moved on.

The end result? Six hard-won jars of appropriately thick strawberry jam! And also a disastrous kitchen mess…

how to make strawberry jam

Victoriously secured in the face of both flame and mental anguish (even if they were self-inflicted obstacles…)

Strawberry Jam Recipe

What to make your own? Here’s the recipe (adapted from this one).

Ingredients

  • 5 cups crushed strawberries (about 5 lbs)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 6 Tbsp pectin
  • 7 cups granulated sugar
  • 8 (8 oz) half pint glass canning jars with lids and bands

Instructions

  1. Fill boiling water canner and heat to boil water.
  2. Sterilize jars in the oven (225* for at least 10 minutes) or heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
  3. Combine strawberries and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Gradually stir in pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Add all of the sugar at once, stirring to dissolve. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.
  5. Scoop hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim clean and place the lid and band on tight.
  6. Process jars a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.
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