When I was a kid my parents called me the strawberry girl because I just couldn’t get enough of them.
Many summers my mom would can all sorts of fruit, and make jam, and we always got to help out. Just looking at these pics makes me nostalgic for those summer afternoons of carefree kid-life. And they make me smile at the things my mom taught us…..like how to make apple crisp, sew a pair of pants, knead bread, play UNO, how to build a tent from clothespins and sheets, and how to work hard but still have fun playing.
Cindy was (is) an excellent mom.
And when she gave us the job of making freezer jam I was happy to help out. At least that’s how I remember it. I’m sure I complained a time or two about being on stem-duty, to remove all those leafy tops. But mostly what I remember is singing songs with my sisters in the kitchen, smushing up strawberries, and loving that tasty jam on homemade wheat bread all year long.
If you’ve ever made freezer jam, you know just what I’m talking about: candy jam.
And if you’ve never made freezer jam, you’re in luck! This is the easiest canning project ever. In fact it’s not even truly “canning” because you don’t have to cook the jam or sterilize and seal the lids all officially (like Casey did with his beets).
You simply smush, mix, and pour. Then you can freeze the jars in the freezer for up to a year and pull one out to the fridge whenever you need it.
It’s a fast project and only takes a few ingredients.
Let’s get started.
Now the key to making jam, whether you’re cooking the jam or using the simple fresh/freezer method we’re doing here, is that you need a jelling agent, or pectin. There are a few different types, easily available at most grocery stores and Walmart. You can also find canning jars at the grocery store and many other canning supplies if you want to tackle other projects. AND…for freezer jam (since you’re not officially sealing the jars), you can even use recycled bottles from store-bought food you’ve already eaten (just wash them in the dishwasher or with hot water and soap first). Personally I like the look of consistent matching jars—plus, they’re all ready to give away to a friend when a need a little gift.
Which pectin brand to use?
Well, that’s up to you. If you want to get super knowledgeable on the subject, I found a great post here. If you want to just jump in, purchase whatever brand your store carries. I’ve used both Sure-Jell and Certo and both have worked great.
Now because making jam is sort of a science, I’m not going to list the recipe here because you’ll need to follow the exact measurements/recipe on the pectin packet that you purchase…..so that it comes out just right. Of course most of the steps are the same per recipe, so let’s go over the tips and steps and yummy berry pics.
1. Start by washing and removing the stems from your strawberries.
Lucy bought me one of those cool de-stemming gadgets for Christmas and, sadly, I kind of hate it. It’s hard to use and isn’t very efficient. Sorry Luce. I love the thought.
Instead I think it’s easier to use a knife to slice off the top, plus you can do a quick quality inspection and cut off any bad spots from each strawberry.
2. Mash, smush, or chop up the berries.
There are a couple ways to do this. You can use a fruit or potato masher, which is what we did as kids. Or you can place it in the food processor and pulse for a bit.
Ultimately, I think I prefer the results of mashing because it rounds off the fruit pieces a little better. BUT. I’m also a girl that likes to save time so in the end, my food processor wins. The strawberry bits are slightly more choppy than using a masher. But when the jam sets, it’s delicious, and wonderful, and only a real foodie could tell the difference.
3. Measure and mix-in the sugar
I said that pectin is the key to making candy jam but really, it’s all about the sugar. And there’s a lot of it in there. And that’s why it’s heavenly. There are lower-sugar recipes out there—I haven’t tried them—but if you do, let me know how it goes.
Now, the recipe will tell you to measure the sugar into a separate bowl and then dump it into the chopped strawberry bowl. And because moms are good at being efficient your instinct will tell you to skip the extra bowl and measure the sugar directly into the strawberries….until, like me, you run out of sugar half-way through and realize you don’t have any left in the cupboard, and the berries are sitting there half-soaked, and you have to run to the store, and when you return you can’t really remember how many cups you already put into the strawberries, and you sheepishly conclude that the recipe is smarter than you.
So just go ahead and use that extra bowl.
Then mix the sugar into the strawberries, stir till dissolved, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
4. Mix the and add the pectin
Most recipes call for a little lemon juice, which makes me smile because I love lemons and I love yellow.
So follow the instructions on your recipe and mix the lemon juice and pectin.
Then pour it into the strawberry/sugar mixture.
Mix until everything is dissolved and you’re ready for the final step!
6. Pour the jam into jars (pre-washed and dried)
Be as clean or messy as you’d like.
And place a lid on top.
And just like that, you’ve gone from berries to jam in about an hour!
I always use a Sharpie marker to write the date on top of the lid.
You can keep the jam in the freezer for a year and in the fridge for 3 weeks. So just pull them out as needed.
And then enjoy the fruits of your labor!….just as did I did as kid, on a warm slice of my favorite bread.