Well, I completed my first venture into the world of homemade goods, and at the moment I’m pretty excited about it. Today I made my first two jars of homemade strawberry jam.
I have been scouring the web for over a week looking for the right recipe, and it didn’t take long for me to have my first “What?” moment, either. I discovered the existence of something called pectin, which almost all the recipes call for. It turns out that pectin, as defined by www.dictionary.com , is “a white, amorphous, colloidal carbohydrate of high molecular weight occurring in ripe fruits, esp. in apples, currants, etc., and used in fruit jellies, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics for its thickening and emulsifying properties and its ability to solidify to a gel.” Apparently, most jams require a bit of added pectin because most fruits don’t have a sufficient natural amount to make them congeal.
At first, I was very against using this, mainly because I doubted that in “the olden days” my great-grandmother ran out to the closest super market to pick up a box of Sure-Jell. However, after talking to my aunt about the subject, I kind of changed my mind. Store-bought pectin has been around for a while, and it’s pretty hard to make a thick jam without any (with the exception of apples, which has plenty of natural pectin).
The recipe I finally decided on didn’t call for pectin, but lemon juice instead (acids have a similar effect on jam). But after reading the comments on the recipe, a lot of people who had tried it complained of having too thin a jam, so I bought a box anyways.
I also bought a first-time jam-maker’s kit at Wal-Mart that included three mason jars and one plastic rack to lift the jars out of hot water. I bought a small box of sugar, three 1 lb packs of strawberries, a big pot (you need two and I only had one), a potato masher, and a funnel.
So, at 7 a.m., I got up and washed, de-stemmed, and hulled my strawberries. I then washed all my jars and lids and put them in a pot on medium heat. After that, I put my strawberries in a second pot—sans water— set on medium/low heat and began to squish them with the potato masher. That was probably the hardest part, and I was grateful that I had taken the advice of various people on the internet and bought the masher. I crushed the berries until they were mostly liquefied, with small pieces of fruit.
I added a little bit more than three cups of sugar to the mix after a few minutes. I was trying to make the ratio of fruit to sugar equal to that of the recipe, but I think I may have added a little bit too much. But sweet jam is good, so I think it will be okay.
While the jam heated, I stirred and skimmed all the foam off the top as it accumulated. I really stressed out over the foam because all of the recipes mentioned it specifically. The hardest part was trying to get the foam without taking too much of the good jam mix.
I let it boil for about twenty minutes, and then decided I was going to add a little pectin. I added probably a tablespoon full. You could tell immediately that it thickened up some. I let it cook another five minutes or so, then did the ‘Is it ready?’ test. The test involved leaving a spoon and glass plate in the freezer while cooking, then taking it out and spooning a little bit of the jam onto it. Wait a few minutes, then if I like the consistency when I poke it, it’s done. I did the test twice before I was satisfied.
Then I was ready for the jars. The point of the jars—and really the whole canning process—is to be able to preserve the jam without putting it in the refrigerator so you can give it as gifts, etc. So I took the jars out of the water and began to funnel the jam into the jars. I only had enough for two. After screwing the lids back on, I put them back in the pot with the boiling water and boiled them for fifteen minutes.
After that, it was just a matter of waiting. I was so nervous that the lids wouldn’t “pop,” which would mean I did something wrong. The first one popped within a minute. The second one took closer to five, but they both sealed up.
I did deviate from the instructions a bit, but I think it will turn out fine in the end. Mainly, I didn’t do the pectin part the way I should have. It was supposed to go in before the sugar, but I don’t think it matters much.
As a side note, if someone does this and the jar doesn’t pop, just refrigerate it and it should be fine. I just wanted it to pop because I wanted to make sure and do it the “right” way.
I’m extremely proud of myself. I am so anxious for it to cool and set so I can try it. I tasted a spoonful before I canned them, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be delicious. I’m definitely going to do this again, maybe as Christmas presents for different people in my family. It should be much less expensive the second time around because all I’ll have to buy is the strawberries.
There are also some really pretty ways to dress up the jars. I plan on buying some cute fabrics to secure around the lids with a ribbon if I give any jam away.
Overall, the process wasn’t that hard. It was on the expensive side, but like I said, it won’t be next time. It took me about two and half hours for the whole thing. It takes constant attention and patience, but I found it to be much simpler than I expected.
Now I’m hoping that sewing will be this easy.