After making your first batch of homemade strawberry jam, you’ll never buy store bought again. It’s surprisingly easy and the flavor simply doesn’t compare.
I’ve heard stories from both my own grandmother and The Husband’s grandmother about preserving food in jars – or “putting up” homegrown fruits and vegetables from their gardens. Back then people had to preserve their own food. There was no 24-hour big box store selling canned green beans for $.88. There was no frozen foods section at the local general store.
You either found a way to preserve the bounty of your harvest or do without come winter. All the women would gather at someone’s house and get to work peeling, dicing, stewing, washing jars, and processing the finished products. They turned it into a social event.
Preserving Your Own Food Has Become a Dying Art
Somewhere along the way, the act of canning and preserving food in jars became a lost art. I can walk into my grocery store and buy a ripe tomato flown in from Florida in December (although it won’t taste nearly as good as a tomato from Smith County, MS, in June).
Until recently, I never would have considered canning my own food. I have two major grocery stores within 1.5 miles of my house. The aisles of both stores are lined with rows and rows of food in metal cans decorated with colorful paper wrappers.
But What Exactly is in Your Food?
I’ve become a lot more curious about commercial-grade preservatives and what exactly is in my food. After a little research, I’ve concluded that just about EVERYTHING bought from a store has been treated with something to extend its shelf life. I know the FDA says its fine, but is it really?
Some store-bought fruit jams and jellies contain subpar fruit, artificial dyes, fillers (Like turnips! Yes, turnips!), and artificial preservatives. Buying organic is one route. But have you priced organic lately? I’m a mama that buys store brand whenever she can and a toddler that has recently discovered the goodness that is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I cannot afford a $10 jar of spreadable fruit.
The Advantages of Making Your Own Fruit Jam
First, the quality and freshness of the fruit. I’ve turned making strawberry jam into an annual event. As soon as Louisiana strawberries arrive at the farmer’s market, I get to work.
Of course, you don’t have to use locally grown strawberries. You can use what’s available at your grocery store. You still have control over the quality.
Second, I know exactly what’s going into my fruit jam – strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and pectin. No preservatives or turnip-fillers here.
Third, the flavor just doesn’t compare. Put my strawberry jam recipe against the leading store bought. It will blow the brand name out of the water.
Frozen vs. Fresh Strawberries in Jam Making
Frozen strawberries can be used in place of fresh when making strawberry jam. Allow the berries to thaw beforehand. Add in any juice that has accumulated during the thawing process.
What is pectin?
Pectin is a soluble fiber used as a thickening agent. It occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, but some produce contains more pectin that others. Strawberries do not naturally contain a lot of pectin, which is why many recipes will call for the addition of a commercial version – either liquid or powder. The two most common brands of pectin are Sure-Jell and Ball. I have used both interchangeably with great results.
There are some recipes out there that do not use the pectin. These recipes usually have to increase the amount of sugar in order to get the jam to set — I’ll explain why next — or include another fruit that contains a high amount of pectin, such as apples.
I’ll be honest, the jam you see here is not my first batch. I tried a few other recipes without pectin and ended up spooning the non-pectin jars over my ice cream.
The Role Sugar Plays in Getting the Jam to Set
Sugar does more than just sweeten things up. It works in conjunction with the pectin to help the fruit jam thicken up, or “set.” Sugar also preserves the color of the fruit and prevents the formation of mold or bacteria.
It is important to use the exact amount of sugar called for in a recipe. Using less might result in jam that doesn’t gel. Most experts recommend using white granulated sugar. However, you can substitute up to 1/4 cup of the amount of sugar called for with other sweeteners such as stevia, honey, molasses, or brown sugar.
How to Reduce the Amount of Sugar in Homemade Jam
If you are really trying to make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of sugar in your homemade jam, low or no-sugar-needed pectin is the way to go. These pectins bind with calcium instead of sugar to form the gel. I’ve been able to reduce the amount of sugar called for by half with the same results. Ball and Sure-Jell both have low sugar pectin options.
You may also come across Pomona’s Universal Pectin. It also uses calcium to form the gel, but you have to add some acid, such as lemon juice, for the same results.
Why you should use bottled lemon juice instead of fresh in jam making
Lemon juice also plays an important role in jam making. It works with the pectin to increase its ability to gel. It also prohibits the formation of bacteria, which means your jam will last longer.
In just about all of my recipes, I recommend using fresh lemon juice instead of bottled. Homemade jam is the exception. Achieving the right amount of acidity in jam is crucial. Unfortunately, no two lemons have the same amount of acidity. It varies from fruit to fruit. Bottled lemon juice has a consistent acidity level and is recommended over fresh for making homemade jam.
How to make homemade strawberry jam
If you’ve ever wanted to test the waters with jam making, this easy strawberry jam recipe is a great way to get your feet wet. For this recipe, you will need three pints of strawberries. Wash your strawberries, remove the hull, then slice them up.
Place sliced strawberries in a 6-or-8-quart saucepan. I like to use a potato masher to crush the strawberries up. It just helps to break down the pieces and get things moving a little faster. You could also pulse the strawberries a few times in a food processor, just be careful if you do this so you don’t end up with puree.
Stir in 1/4 cup of bottled lemon juice. Gradually add three tablespoons of pectin and whisk until everything is combined.
Some recipes suggest adding a little butter to the jam. As the jam cooks, it will foam. This won’t hurt you and is completely edible. But is can make your jam look cloudy. The butter prevents the foam from forming by adding a little protein into the mix and breaking the surface tension.
Bring the jam to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly so things don’t scorch the bottom of your pan. Full rolling boil means that the berries continue to boil even when you give it a stir. I’ve included a short little video so you can see what a full rolling boil looks like.
Once you have achieved a full rolling boil, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. If you are using low sugar pectin, you can cut the amount of sugar required down to 1 1/2 cups. Return mixture to a boil. Continue to boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove pan from heat. Skim any foam off the top if any has accumulated. The jam will thicken significantly as it cools, but if you want to test it immediately, place a metal spoon in the freezer before you get started. Dribble a little of the hot jam on the ice cold spoon. It should thicken up almost immediately, then you know if your jam has reached the right consistency.
How to fix jam that didn’t set
It could take up to 48 hours for homemade jam to completely gel. If you’ve been patient and waited that long and you’re still not satisfied with the consistency, don’t throw it away. It can still be salvaged.
Measure out the jam, then pour it into a saucepan. If you have more than eight cups, you’ll need to work in batches. Bring the jam to a boil, then for every four cups of jam stir in 1/4 cup of white sugar and one tablespoon powdered pectin. Bring the jam to a boil, then cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly. Test for gelling using the frozen spoon method I describe above.
Can this jam recipe be doubled?
This recipe is considered small batch, which means it only produces a few jars. One recipe will typically yield two (8 ounce) jelly jars, or one and a half pint jars. This recipe can be doubled. However, I would not recommend trying to triple or quadruple the recipe. It can affect your cooking time and prevent the jam from setting properly.
How to store homemade strawberry jam
Opened strawberry jam should be stored in and airtight container in the refrigerator and consumed within one month.
Jam can also be frozen for up to a year. Be sure to leave 1/2-inch of clearance (headspace) between the jam and the top of the container to allow for expansion as it freezes. Jam that has been frozen should be thawed in the refrigerator. Once thawed, it may be a little more on the runny side than jam that has not been frozen.
My preferred method of storage is canning. The boiling water bath canning method is safe for foods with high acid, such as tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies, pickles and other preserves. I explain everything you need to know about water bath canning in this post. When filling jars for canning, leave 1/4-inch of headspace and process for 10 minutes.
Basic Homemade Strawberry Jam
- 3 pints whole strawberries
- 1/4 cup BOTTLED lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons pectin
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 3-1/2 cups granulated sugar*
- 2 (8 ounce) glass Mason jars with lids and bands
- Place sliced strawberries in a 6 or 8-quart saucepan. Crush strawberries using a potato masher.
- Stir in lemon juice, then gradually add pectin.
- Add the butter to the top of the jam.
- Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
- Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Return mixture to a boil. Continue to boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
- Remove pan from heat. Skim foam if any has accumulated.
Water bath canning:
- Fill clean glass jars, leaving 1/4-inch of headspace.
- Process jars for 10 minutes.