I was just posting on my FB wall that I’d canned some strawberry jam.
Usually, I just make freezer jam, but lately my kids have decided to rebel against any jam that has chunks, so I decided to make a smooth version, and freezer jam doesn’t work that way. Also, our upright freezer likes to throw things at me–jam containers in particular. So canning just makes more sense, safety-wise.
I know canning seems daunting and like it takes a bunch of foreign equipment and pioneer know-how, but the fact is, it’s actually pretty easy once you’ve done it a time or two. Basically, the steps to canning jam are:
1) Sterilize/heat your jars in the dishwasher
2) Boil your jam ingredients on the stove
3) Fill your jam jars and boil them in water
See? Easy, right? But I’ll walk you through it.
For this strawberry jam recipe, you need about 9 half-pint jars. It doesn’t matter whether you use the taller, narrow-mouthed half-pints or squatty, wide-mouthed half-pints. In fact, you don’t strictly have to use half-pints. If you look at my picture, I used two pint jars and five half-pints.
Jars come with rings and lids. Jar manufacturers will tell you that you need to buy new lids *every time* you use your jars. That’s just silliness. I’ve used my jars at least three times without buying new lids, and they’re still sealing strong. Once the gummy sealing rubber on the back stops feeling pliable, or looks dry or cracked, though, it’s definitely not going to seal. I can’t say, for sure, how many times that will take–just use your best judgment. But if you’re nervous about them, you can always buy more.
The other thing you’ll need is a large pot with a flat bottom that’s a couple of inches taller than your jars, and wide enough to hold several at a time. It’s not necessary to process all of your jars at once, so it’s OK if you can only get five or so in your pot at once. You just want to make sure they’re not shoved in there so closely together that they’ll knock into each other when the water is making things vibrate.
Other canners buy pot racks, magnetic wands, and special funnels and tongs. I’ve tried them all, and now they stay in my closet. I just don’t think they’re worth the fuss.
OK: so you have your jars and your pot. Now, assemble your recipe ingredients:
Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens You Can Can: A Guide to Canning, Preserving, and Pickling (a book I can’t recommend enough)
4 pounds fresh strawberries
1 1.75-oz box Sure Jell Pectin
1/2 tsp butter
7 cups sugar
- Place jars, rings, and lids in dishwasher on sterilize or rinse/dry cycle.
- Fill your big, flat pot with water, about 3/4 full and set it over high heat. You’ll want it boiling and ready fairly soon.
- While jars are sterilizing, hull and halve strawberries. Cut away any mushy spots. Be sure to use any that seem under-ripe; the less ripe berries aid in the gelling process of the jam. Using a potato masher, food mill, or some other kitchen tool that’ll smash things, crush the berries. Unless you want a puree, a food processor isn’t ideal–some smaller crushed pieces are good. Continue adding berries and crushing until you have 5 cups crushed berries.
- Check on your jars. They should be about finished in the dishwasher. When they are, leave them in the hot dishwasher, but remove the flat lids. Place them in a small pot or pan with just a little very hot water. Place that pan over high heat to simmer.
- In a large pot (it can even be the one you plan to process your jars in, if it has to be), mix crushed berries, pectin, and butter and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.
- Add sugar all at once. Return to a full rolling boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon.
- Ladle immediately into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ empty space at the top. Wipe any drips from the rims so that they’re absolutely spotless. Using tongs, remove a lid from the hot water in the small pan and place it on top of each jar, and then add a ring, screwing on loosely. The rings don’t need to be tight yet.
- Place as many jars as desired in the big, flat pot filled with water (it should be boiling softly by now–if it’s at a rolling boil, turn it down. You just barely want water movement. Remember–you don’t want your jars banging into each other. The last thing you want is a broken jar!). Once you’re finished adding jars, your water level should be about an inch higher than the top of your jars. (I have to say, I often can with my water level below my jars, because I can’t ever remember where it needs to be and I can’t be bothered to look it up, and everything turns out fine. It’s not that finicky. So…no great tragedy if your pot is too short or whatever.)
- Allow the water to boil very softly for 5 minutes. Then remove jars from water (I use tongs and my silicone heating pad. They do make jar tongs, and those might be worth the investment. I think they’re cheap.) and let them cool on a wire rack. Or the stovetop. Whatever.
- The lids will pop if they’ve sealed correctly. Sometimes they pop while they’re in the water bath, sometimes right after being removed, and sometimes not for up to a few hours later. If it’s been 24 hours and one hasn’t popped, something bad happened–stick it in the fridge and eat it right away. But that’s never happened to me before, and I’m over here canning with a stock pot and a pair of OXO tongs, so I promise, you’ll be fine!
- After the jars have cooled, tighten up the rings and store at room temperature for up to 1 year.