July 4th has come and gone in a whirlwind of playing, working, cooking out and blowing things up. Along with it has long ago pasted strawberry season in southern West Virginia. Fortunately for my cupboard void of strawberry jam, my husband and I had a trip to New York planned in late June where their season was coming to a close. Quickly I was reminded of one of the things I miss most about growing up in New York state – plentiful small scale produce stands and You-Pick farms lining the straight, flat rural roads. Before hopping back in the car for the 6+ hour drive home we stopped at one such place and picked until our fingers bled…or at least that’s what they looked like after the 12 pints of red, fresh, juicy, amazing smelling fruit we picked under the blazing sun. And while I may have been complaining that day about the sun beating down on my already partially burnt and freckled shoulders, I didn’t really care that much because the hot sun cooked the berries ever so slightly adding to the intoxicating smell of the fresh air surrounding us.
Alright, I need to stop. I really want some more of those strawberries, and alas, they are all gone; eaten or turned into jam. In the end we only turned about 6 pints into jam. On our way out of NY we stopped at my husband’s parents’ house where my parents also came to join for lunch and we gave them each 2 pints. We also gave another to our friends who watched our dog over the weekend; and before we could get enough time to make the jam a few days later, we devoured almost 2 other pints. It was so worth it.
A few days after we got back from our trip I went out to buy more jelly jars since we used most of our other ones when making maple syrup and a whole lotta sugar. Why does jelly taste so good? Partly because of the awesome fruit that’s in it, but let’s be real folks, we all know it’s because of the loads and loads of sugar in it 😉 I also picked up a package of Sure-Jell Certo liquid fruit pectin to help jell up my jelly. You can also buy low or no-sugar pectin, but I just grabbed the first thing I saw this time.
Jam is super easy to make so long as you follow the recipe and don’t try to skimp on the sugar. My husband and I spent 15 minutes taking all the tops off the strawberries (putting the tops in another container to feed our plump little chickens later on) and placed them in a large pot to mash them up. This was always my most favorite part of making strawberry jam when I was a kid; taking the trusty old-fashioned potato masher and squishing the holy heck out of those juicy berries. After doing that and breaking them up a bit we measured out 8 cups of strawberries and placed them in a large stainless steel pot, turning the heat on medium and stirring occasionally. While getting the berries up to temperature, 14 cups of sugar (yep, you read that correct) were measured out and added to the fruit mixture. At this point it is helpful to add a little dollop of butter on top of your fruit. As the mixture starts to boil away it will create a foam on top of the pot; the butter helps keep this down. The foam is fine and still tastes good but it does make for a less-pretty jar of jam in the long run. We skimmed our off the top as it cooked and ended up saving it, using it for sandwiches and ice cream later on.
After we brought the strawberry mixture to a strong, rolling boil (stirring constantly to make sure nothing burnt) the Certo pectin was added and the mixture cooked 1 minute longer. While all of this was going on, our canning pot full of water was coming to a boil and all of the mason jars we planned to use were in there getting sanitized. There was also a small pot of boiling water on the stove where our new canning jar lids were placed and warming up in. Then the fun began! While my husband ladled hot strawberry mixture into the clean jars, I took a wet towel and wiped the rim of to make sure nothing was there and getting in the way of the seal. On went a warmed up lid then a screw top over that to keep it tight. When all 18 of our jars were full, we placed ½ in the canner and boiled them (with 1” of water over the tops of the jars) for 10 minutes.
After they were all done boiling, we took them out and placed them on a towel to cool until the morning when we could check if they had sealed or not (100% success!!), although it did not take long until we started to hear the popping sound of the jar lids sucking down and sealing (what a great sound!). Now we sit and eat and wait until next spring when the strawberries come out….although blackberry season is picking up right now….. 😉
Here are more concise directions taken from the Certo box (What we made above was a double recipe):
- Prepare and sanitize at least 8 jelly jars
- Use 4 pints of whole strawberries
- Discard the stems and crush the berries
- Measure out 4 cups of crushed strawberries and place in a large pot
- Add 7 cups of sugar and stir – add ½ tsp of butter on top to reduce foam
- Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly
- Stir in pectin and return to a full rolling boil – boil for 1 minute longer stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off any excess foam
- Ladle jam into prepared (sanitized) jelly jars, leaving 1/8” of head space and making sure to wipe rim of jar with damp cloth to remove any jam residue that may have spilled
- Take a new lid from a pot of hot water and place on top of the jar and screw on metal rim lid
- Place the jars on an elevated rack in a canner and submerse them under boiling water (at least 1-2” of water above lid). Boil jars for 10 minutes (you may need to adjust depending on elevation)
- Carefully take the jars out of the canner and place on a towel top-up to cool for 24 hours. Once cool, check to make sure the lids sealed by pressing on the middle of the lid – if it pushes down and springs up it has not sealed – either process it again or put in refrigerator and eat right away.
- Store on the shelf up to a year or opened and in the fridge for 3 weeks.
Check out the Sure-Jell website for more recipes and inspiration. Strawberries may not be in season anymore but plenty of other delicious fruit is!!