A couple months back we went strawberry picking and came home with 20+ pounds of fresh, sweet strawberries.
I spent over 6 hours washing, hulling, and freezing the berries.
And then a delivery of 13 cases of 4-oz. jam jars moved into the house.
As I reported in previous posts, I was interested in learning how to make jam and can anyway, but this summer it was especially crucial that I learn how to do so because Alex and I intend to give away mini jars of jam as wedding favors. To pull it off required a bit of advanced planning; namely, we had to go get fruit, hence the pick-our-own strawberry adventure.
To date, I have made and processed 96 jars of jam. I still have about 50 more to go, but until recently the jars were just sort of hanging out, waiting for me to make up my mind about how I want to decorate them.
As you can see, I’ve begun experimenting with the favor decor, and I think I’ve settled on something I really like. The first photo highlights the decor of the jar itself. The jam (so far all red) is a beautiful jewel-toned color, and the primary cranberry red color in our wedding colors. The ribbon represents the accent color, turquoise. Affixed to the ribbon is one of those cheap little white circle key tags from the office supply store to write what flavor of jam the jar contains.
The second photo shows the lids of the jars and the custom sticker I designed on the computer. After doing a little research, I decided to use the phrase “spread the love” (thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week). Not totally original, sure, and some people have even used it as their brand name, but just so we’re clear, I’m using it in the imperative case as a message to our guests (plus, it’s not like I’m selling the jars and making a profit–it’s a gift of gratitude and love). Anyway, then there’s our names and underneath is the wedding date (which I’ve whited out in the image for privacy). I used a stamp that I found in the $1 bin at Michael’s to add a little bit of color to the label and to bring a little more “formal” back to the jars which might otherwise come off as more of a rustic/country theme than we are going for.
(And in case you’re going to be labeling some jam of your own, the labels I used were these which came with instructions for setting up a template in MS Word to print on your home printer. They’re an unusual shape and Word doesn’t have a ready-made template, but the label manufacturers provide a handy guide for helping you out. I used 2″ white labels and they just fit nicely inside the rim of the lid, just before where the lid rises up to meet the edge of the jar).
So, since we’re well over halfway through the making of the favors, I thought I’d pause to share some of the red-fruited recipes I’ve added to my collection so far. Beyond the first recipe, I don’t go into too much detail about the canning process. There are other folks out there who can give you additional information about that. Rather, I’ll share some foundation recipes and the flavor combinations that are currently tickling my palette.
Strawberry (adapted from Darina Allen in Forgotten Skills of Cooking)
– 4 pounds beautiful strawberries
– juice of 2 lemons
– 5 cups sugar
1. Mix together the strawberries and lemon juice. (*Note: If you’d like more of a strawberry-lemonade flavor, add even more lemon juice. I discovered this by accident, but it was lovely). Cover with the sugar and let sit for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight.
–> Make sure your jam jars and lids are cleaned and rings rinsed. Place the jars on a baking sheet in the oven and turn it on to 225F to keep them warm and to sterilize them. (Alternatively, run the heat cycle on your dishwasher and keep the jars in there until ready to use).
2. Pour everything into a large stockpot, such as what you’d use to make soup. Bring the mixture to a boil slowly and let it cook down for 20-30 minutes.
3. (Meanwhile, once the mixture is boiling and you are waiting for it to cookdown, bring another huge stockpot of water to a boil, covered. This will be your water bath).
4. You’ll know the jam is getting close to being ready when a) there is quite a bit of foam gathering on the surface of the jam; b) it has reduced down in volume quite a bit; c) the fruit looks thick and richly jewel-toned; d) when you let some drip off the spoon, it’s not runny but drips more in large heavy droplets (as opposed to a thin, steady stream). There’s another way to test that involves putting a cold plate in the freezer and then scooping some hot jam onto it, waiting a minute, and running your finger through the jam blob to make sure it’s the consistency you want; sometimes I do that, sometimes I don’t.
5. When it’s ready, turn off the heat. The jam will continue to thicken as it sits and cools down (read: your first jars will likely be runnier than your later jars). Use a jar lifter or tongs to remove hot jars from your oven. Use a funnel and ladle to scoop the jam into the jars, leaving anywhere from 1/4″ to 1/2″ headspace at the top. Run a knife or plastic tool around the inside edge of the jar to free up any air bubbles that may have gotten into the jar. Press the flat lids onto the edge of the jar. Screw the rings on just until they’re secure – but do not tighten.
6. Lower into the boiling water bath and cover with a lid. Make sure the water is at a rolling boil the whole time. Process for 10-12 minutes. The jars should pop audibly shortly after being removed from the water. Transfer to a towel on your countertop to cool down 12-24 hours. Check the seals to make sure everything is good (there shouldn’t be any lids whose buttons you can press to make a popping sound). Repeat until all jars have been filled and processed.
If I remember correctly, this recipe made me about 20-24 4-oz. jars of jam. (This is an estimate though, because I didn’t actually have a kitchen scale to weigh out 4 pounds of strawberries so I had to estimate based on how weights feel in my hands when I lift them at the gym. Now would probably be an annoying time to confess to you that I am also notoriously bad at estimating in general…)
Strawberry, Mint, Thai Basil
Same as regular strawberry recipe, but after you’ve turned off the heat under the jam pot, stir in the chopped mint leaves from 1 or 1.5 sprigs, and about 2-4 tablespoons chopped thai basil. Vary amounts of these herbs based on quantity of jam you make.
Strawberry Rhubarb (adapted from Well Preserved by Joan Hassol)
– 8 cups strawberries, whole
– generous 3 cups chopped rhubarb
– 1 cup water
– juice from 2 lemons
– 7-10 cups sugar
1. Stir together strawberries, rhubarb, water, and lemon juice in large stock pot.
2. Once it’s heated through and the rhubarb has started to soften (but before the mixture boils) add sugar, one cup at a time, stirring in between each addition.
3. Bring to a boil and let it bubble away 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
– 2 quarts strawberries
– 6 peaches
– juice from 1 lemon
– 3 1/4 cups sugar
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Stir together strawberries, peaches and lemon juice in large stock pot.
2. As it begins to heat, add the sugar a little bit at a time.
3. Bring to a boil and let it bubble away, about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally so it won’t stick to the bottom and burn.
4. Add the cinnamon at the very end.
So there you have it! And miracle of miracles, my freezer is now totally devoid of strawberries (which is slightly unfortunate because they were really good and now I have no more to enjoy through the winter). But because I’m trying to look on the bright side of things these days, I will say that the freezer is welcoming a bounty of blueberries and peaches with open
arms drawers. (Yes, I realize that might make it sound like the freezer is putting fruit into its undies, and yes, I do know how ridiculous that sounds). So the next jam recap I do will likely involve both blueberries and peaches. So stock up while these fruits are available, and maybe you can make some jam with me next go round!
But wait! you may be wondering. What about the 50 jars I have left to make? What will I do if I don’t have any strawberries left to make jam? In keeping with the red theme, the plan is to make my savory tomato-chili jam (as described here). Won’t that be an interesting twist?
Beyond the fact that I’m pretty proud of myself for finding success canning jam for our wedding favors, I would like to say, for the record, that I am truly a make-your-own-jam convert, and I was with the very first batch I made. It’s super simple, easy to control what goes into it, is shelf stable for at least a year after processing, and makes great gifts. There are few other ways (that I know of) to make the fruits of the season shine–nay, to turn them into a beautiful, jewel-toned mess to be enjoyed all year long–than making jam.
So what do you think? Would you consider giving jam as favors or gifts to loved ones? Do you (or someone in your family) have a jam-making tradition already? What flavor of jam would you like to receive as a gift? Do tell.
P.S. Here’s two things I’ve learned so far that you may want to keep in mind if making jam of your own for the first time.
1. Most sweet jam recipes call for waaay more sugar than you actually need. I don’t know the alchemy behind it, so maybe there’s a reason that recipes are written that way, but I’ve found that if you have really sweet fruit to begin with, you can get away with using less sugar. (After all, big jam manufacturers make low-sugar varieties, don’t they?)
2. If you don’t have the equipment or haven’t yet built up the confidence to make a water bath to seal and process your cans, you can still make jam! When you’re done, after the jars have cooled down, just store them in the fridge and consume within a couple weeks. (You’ll probably want to make a smaller batch, in that case).