The good news is that after my expression of teen angst last Friday San Francisco turned on a dime, helping us to forget a soggy week by giving us a glorious weekend of sun, (mostly) blue skies, and a good, strong wind that blew out the cobwebs rattling around my brain — so, yeah. I’m over it. (For now.) (Thank you for your nice notes and emails.)
The other good news is that I spent a good portion of the past week/end cooking — mostly working up recipes for an upcoming article (all about souffles, if you must know) — and thinking about cooking and also stuffing my fridge with farmers’ market bounty and beauty. I misread one recipe and went nuts for strawberries thinking I needed more than I did; the bonus was that after eating them out of hand, in my granola, and atop vanilla ice cream I still had a lot. So I made jam. I small-batched it and came out with just three wee jars, but I preserved them properly so they will last for a good few months (if indeed we can make them last that long).
Which brings me to my point of the day: what to do when you have too many berries? Can ’em, o’course.
I know – breaking news.
Still, I can’t help but sing the praises of home preserving yet again: it’s (fairly) easy; it’s (pretty) cheap; it’s (very) pretty in general; it’s actually quite fun, no modifier necessary. I indulged myself in a few Weck jars and used them for my strawberry jam, mostly because the size of the Ball jars – a flat of which is currently perched atop a length of my kitchen cupboards; small apartment kitchens for the win! – are a bit too large for the kind of canning I wanted to do. (Oh and also I truly love the funky shapes and pretty lids of Weck jars, even if they’re a tiny bit more fussy to use what with the rubber ring and the metal clamps. I used Weck jars for my blackberry jam wedding gift project last summer and have a real fondness now.) We have one jar leftover from the Great Blackberry Jam Project of ’11, and it’s of a medium size, which means we can’t linger over it too long lest it go bad – which is fine, who needs an excuse to eat jam? But I think canning in smaller jars is more to my taste. Especially since I don’t eat jam every day.
Sunday afternoon after I slid a batch of chocolate ‘soufflettes’ (my new favorite made-up word) into the oven, I cut the tops off the extra strawberries I’d picked up at the farmers’ market, sliced them in half, and put them in a pot with a sprinkling of sugar and lemon juice. Meanwhile I sterilized about 4 jars – I ended up needing 3 – so I’d be prepared, started my Sunday Dinner prep and tidied the kitchen, every so often turning to stir and check the jam as it simmered. The Giants game continued its progress in the other room, the sun shone, and it was a fine place to be, my kitchen on a weekend afternoon with my run done and tucked away, the laundry filed, the dishes done.
I like to make the simplest kind of jam, and skip pectin when possible (this latest batch lacked pectin for the simple reason that I didn’t have any one hand and didn’t feel like going to the store). I use a light hand with the sugar and let the jam simmer as long as it needs ’til it becomes thicker and ready to can. I am not one to experiment with more exotic flavor combinations, but I’m letting myself consider it, and will check out the fruit options at tomorrow’s market to see what I might concoct. Still, though: I like simple, fresh, clear flavors that taste of themselves and will probably keep my jams that way for a long time to come.
I’m including my basic jam recipe here, with lots of notes, exactly as I cooked it last weekend. Maybe this weekend will be your weekend to make jam. Something to consider, at any rate.
(Not-too-sweet) Strawberry Jam (warning: massive headnotes to follow. Ahoy!)
There are many, many home canning guides available either in real-time or on the Internet (I often refer to the USDA site), so I won’t detail here. Suffice to say it’s a quite easy and very satisfying endeavor! This is a loose recipe, as I wanted to detail more the process of jam-making without tying you down too tightly to specific instructions – I think the main thing to keep in mind is that when making jam it does taste better when made in smallish batches, so don’t fill up your biggest soup pot with berries + sugar lest you get overwhelmed and end up with undercooked, unsatisfying jam.
I prefer to rely on the natural sweetness of the berries and limit the amount of sugar I include, but again – up to you (the amount of sugar you use should also depend on the type of berry; for example, the blackberry jam I made last summer needed a bit more sugar because blackberries are more tart). Experiment, taste as you go along, and try not to fret if your jam stays a little too soupy (it can happen) – use it over ice cream or in a cake and try something different the next time.
Note: pectin-free, wheee!
Strawberries, at least 2 cups, hulled and sliced in half
Sugar, 1/2 cup or less, depending on how many berries you have, how sweet they are, and how sweet you like your jam
Juice of 1/2 lemon (more if you have more strawberries)
In a large, heavy bottom saucepan, toss the sliced strawberries with the sugar. Turn the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the strawberries get juicy. (At this point you could add a tiny bit of water if you’re concerned, as I was, that the berries would burn. However, I caution against this as your berries may end up too soupy. I would say … a drop or two of water would be OK.)
Bring the berry/juice/sugar mixture to a boil and stir in the lemon juice. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 (or more) minutes; you want the jam to reduce and thicken before removing from heat. Try the spoon test – dip a spoon into the pot of jam to check the consistency of the jam; if it’s very thin and liquidy you want to keep it cooking for awhile longer – every so often.
When jam is thickened, spoon/pour into prepared sterilized glass jars and either can or keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks (or however long it lasts – 2-3 days?). Jam will further thicken as it cools.