Last updated on May 12th, 2023
After making your first batch of homemade strawberry preserves, you’ll never buy store bought again. It’s surprisingly easy and the flavor simply doesn’t compare.
This post may contain affiliate links. Click here to learn more about how affiliate links are used on this site.
I’ve turned making strawberry preserves into an annual event. As soon as Louisiana strawberries arrive at the farmer’s market, I get to work. I like making my own preserves because I know exactly what’s going into every jar – strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and pectin. No preservatives or weird fillers here. Plus, the flavor just doesn’t compare. I’ll put my strawberry preserves recipe against the leading store bought any day. It will blow the brand name out of the water.
Ingredients and tools you will need
Whether you pick the berries yourself or buy them from a store or local farmer’s market, this preserves recipe will produce amazing results. To make homemade strawberry preserves, you will need:
- 3 pints whole strawberries (about six cups sliced) – you don’t have to use locally grown strawberries. You can use what’s available at your grocery store.
- 1/4 cup BOTTLED lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons powdered pectin
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- Large stainless steel or nonstick stockpot – stay away from cast iron. Your preserves could absorb weird flavors from the pot and the acid in the lemon juice could damage the finish.
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 powdered 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 preserves 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 preserves you see here are 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 jam making
Sugar does more than just sweeten things up. It works in conjunction with the pectin to help the fruit preserves thicken up, or “set.” Sugar also maintains 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 preserves that don’t gel. Using too much could result in preserves that are too rigid. Most experts recommend using white granulated sugar.
Picking and prepping the berries
Unripe strawberries start out pale green or white and don’t have a lot of flavor at this stage. Instead, select strawberries that are firm and dark red. Honestly, even if your strawberries are a little soft and slightly past their peak, you can still toss them into the pot. However, toss any berries that have formed mold.
Rinse fresh strawberries under cool, clean water. Remove the hull (the end with the stem), and slice them into smaller pieces. Place the 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 strawberry puree. I like my preserves to have small chunks of strawberry throughout.
Bring the preserves to a boil
Stir in the bottled lemon juice. Gradually add the pectin and whisk until everything is combined.
Some recipes suggest adding a little butter to the preserves. As the preserves cook, it will create foam on the surface. This won’t hurt you and is completely edible. But it 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. It will not affect the flavor of the jam.
Bring the preserves 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. Once you have achieved a full rolling boil, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Return the mixture to a boil and continue to boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
The spoon test
Remove pan from heat. Skim any foam off the top if necessary. The preserves 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 preserves on the ice cold spoon. It should thicken up almost immediately, then you know if your preserves have reached the right consistency.
How to fix jam that didn’t set
It could take up to 48 hours for homemade preserves 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 preserves, then pour it into a saucepan. If you have more than eight cups, you’ll need to work in batches. Bring the preserves to a boil, then for every four cups of preserves stir in 1/4 cup of white sugar and one tablespoon powdered pectin. Bring the preserves to a boil, then cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly. Test for gelling using the frozen spoon method I describe above.
Strawberry preserves that have not been canned or have been opened should be stored in and airtight container in the refrigerator and consumed within three months.
Preserves can also be frozen for up to a year. Be sure to leave 1/2-inch of clearance (headspace) between the preserves and the top of the container to allow for expansion as it freezes. Preserves that have been frozen should be thawed in the refrigerator. Once thawed, it may be a little more on the runny side than preserves that have not been frozen. I recommend freezing preserves in freezer safe plastic containers rather than glass since glass is more susceptible to breaking when exposed to extreme temperatures.
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. When filling jars for canning, leave 1/4-inch of headspace. Wipe the rim of each jar clean, then top with a lid and a ring. Process for 10 minutes.
Remove the canner from the heat and allow the jars to rest inside for five minutes. Then carefully remove them and allow the jars to cool at room temperature. After 24 hours, remove the rings and test the lids for a seal. If the center of the lid does not flex, the jar is sealed. Any unsealed jars should be stored in the refrigerator.
Check out my tutorial on water bath canning to learn more.
Frequently asked questions
How can I reduce the amount of sugar?
If you are really trying to make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of sugar in your homemade preserves, 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. Use the same amount of pectin called for in the recipe and reduce the amount of sugar to 1 1/2 cups.
Can I use artificial sweetener instead of sugar?
Yes. Follow the instructions listed above for low sugar preserves. Since artificial sweeteners are sweeter than regular sugar, substitute two tablespoons of sweetener for every one cup of sugar.
Can I use honey instead of sugar?
For preserves that use pectin, all of the sugar called for in the recipe can be replaced by honey.
Can I use brown sugar instead of white sugar?
Brown sugar can be used to replace white sugar in this recipe. However, it may result in a slightly different taste and texture.
Can I use fresh lemon juice in stead of bottled?
No. 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 preserves is crucial. It works with the pectin to increase its ability to gel. It also prohibits the formation of bacteria, which means your preserves will last longer. Unfortunately, no two fresh 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 preserves.
Can this recipe be doubled?
Yes. This recipe is considered small batch, which means it only produces a few jars. One recipe will typically yield four (8 ounce) jelly jars, or two 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 preserves from setting properly.
My jars didn’t seal after I canned them? Can I recan them?
If after 24 hours your lids have not formed a seal, you can recan them. Remove the lids from the unsealed jars and discard them. Wipe the rims of the jars clean and top them with a new lid and a ring. Follow the canning instructions listed above.
Can I use liquid pectin instead of powdered?
Yes, but the cooking method will differ. Powdered pectin needs to be added before cooking. Liquid pectin is added after. The measurements will also differ: 1 tablespoon of liquid pectin = 2 teaspoons of powdered pectin. So for this recipe, use 4 1/2 tablespoons of liquid pectin to replace the three tablespoons of powdered.
Can I replace the strawberries with another type of berry?
Any low pectin berry, such as raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry will work for this recipe.
All my fruit rose to the top during canning. What do I do?
First, you didn’t do anything wrong. Sometimes this can happen and it’s not a big deal. When you open the jar of preserves, simply give it a stir to mix the fruit back in.
Can I use a pressure canner instead of a water bath canner?
You can use a pressure canner for water bath canning, but you should not pressure can these preserves. Confused? Let me unpack. My pressure canner is the largest pot I own. If I have a lot of jam to can, I will use it as a water bath canner. Simply cover the jars with enough water to cover them by one inch. Place the lid over the top, but don’t seal it. You don’t want to build pressure within the canner.
Foods like jams, jellies or preserves should not be pressure canned. Pressure canning heats food to a much higher temperature than water bath canning. This can break the gel and cause your preserves to be runny.
Can I use frozen strawberries?
Yes. Frozen strawberries can be used in place of fresh when making strawberry preserves. Allow the berries to thaw beforehand. Add in any juice that has accumulated during the thawing process.
Basic Homemade Strawberry Preserves
- 3 pints whole strawberries (about six cups sliced)
- 1/4 cup BOTTLED lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons pectin
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 3-1/2 cups granulated sugar*
- 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 preserves.
- 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.
Fran, it happens to the best of us! Yes, you can absolutely reheat the fruit and add the pectin.
I messed up!! I am 70 years old and sometimes forget things. This time I forgot to add the pectin. I followed all the directions on the sure jell box, then sealed my fruit but didn’t add the liquid pectin I had bought. Can I just reboil the fruit and add the pectin and reseal them using new lids? I don’t want to waste 15 jars of jam, but as it is now its just strawberry syrup. Thank you.
Hi Pat, yes you can. Look in the post under the header, “Can This Jam Recipe Be Doubled?”
Have not tried recipie yet. Can you double the recipie?
As a city girl who frequents farmer’s markets and grows some berries in my backyard, I give you kudos for doing the work for a fresher jam with less preservatives. I am a freezer-jammer who toys with the mostly natural alternative sweeteners of erythritol, allulose, stevia and monk fruit, so I pay attention to anyone jamming and reducing sugar. I offer the following information so that folks can even further reduce chemicals. Minute Maid makes a preservative-free lemon juice which can be found in many grocery store’s freezer section as, alas, shelf-stable versions contain various chemicals. Any sugar that appears white has been bleached such that the sugar contains residue while less processed sugar retains a golden hue along with the lovely molasses flavors that compliment most jams. Commercial pectin is created from a nasty ammonia process from citrus rinds. Unfortunately, other than making fruit butter, or using chia seeds or grass-fed sourced gelatin there is no good replacement (though I skim-read an industry paper that marked an untapped market for organic apple pectin so maybe someday) for the pectin while each alternative has serious drawbacks. In the post-Johnny Appleseed days, people made their own pectin from the unripe apples that were picked to thin the crop to allow the remainder to reach full size or used crab apples. In the pre-Johnny Appleseed days, grated quince (brought by colonists) was used in jams in a long cook method. I hope this helps folks control the chemicals (and sugar) they take in from the lessons learned by a diabetic cancer survivor.
Hi Rita, the lemon juice is to prevent bacteria from forming.
I’m so glad to hear that, Cathy! Thank you for coming back and leaving a comment.
The best I’ve ever taste
I haven’t maded jam in some time, that you just put on the shelf. I don’t remember myself or my Mother ever putting lemon juice in it.
It will thicken as it cools. It may not be as thick since you used liquid pectin.