With a week of warm weather in the low eighties and a couple of nice rain showers, my last trip to the farmers market in the Austin area before heading north to Michigan promised to be productive. After an early walk with the pups, I managed to get to the Cedar Park Farmers Market soon after opening time. What a day! Although the sky was overcast, rain was not in the forecast. So with a great growing week and good weather for the market all of the regular vendors were at the market loaded with crops. The strawberries were abundant, along with artichokes, zucchini, tomatoes and even kohlrabi which I haven’t seen in the grocery stores in weeks. Today, for me, it was all about the strawberries. I knew I had to make some strawberry jam this spring.
Several years ago, I decided I needed to try making strawberry jam. For some reason, in my mind, making jams and jellies or really anything that goes in a jar had to be really difficult. Off I went to the store to buy the jars I needed to make the jam. And the jars sat in my pantry. We packed up and moved to Austin. The jars came along. And the jars sat in my pantry. Finally, last summer when I was in Interlochen, I decided to make apple butter. Apparently, having my own fruit tree was the motivation I needed to get going. Apples are abundant in north Michigan and our sad little tree was no exception. Well, I made the apple butter. It tasted good but had a rather unappealing color. Next, it was peaches. More jam and more success. Finally, this spring I got those long neglected jars out of the pantry and now have strawberry jam!
It turns out what had intimidated my for so long was really no big deal. All through the winter I went back to Interlochen every time I spread some of that apple butter on my toast. The peach jam brings back the late summer days of eating peaches morning, noon and night. This strawberry jam will put me back in spring when we head north and go back to those chilly days waiting for the warmth to return.
Texas Spring Strawberry Jam (yields 2 pints)
- 6 pints strawberries
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup Zinfandel wine
- 1/2 lemon
Wash, hull and quarter the strawberries. I used an 8 quart stock pot to make the jam so I would have plenty of surface room to cook down the berries. Add the sugar and mix to coat the strawberries. Let the berries macerate (soften) in the sugar for 30 minutes. This will pull out some of the juices before you begin to heat the berries. After macerating, put the pan on medium heat and add the wine, juice of the lemon and the rind. The lemon juice add some acidity which inhibits bacterial growth and the rind adds pectin to thicken the jam. Heat the mixture stirring frequently for about an hour. When the liquid begins to thicken and easily coats a spoon, it is ready to ladle into prepared jars.
A little planning before making your jam will make the day a lot easier. This I realized when I had my strawberries cut up and in the pan. As I got the jars out of the pantry, it occurred to me I only have one pan deep enough to fully submerge the jars in-the pan the strawberries were in. No problem there, I just laid the jars are there sides when I sterilized them. When I was time to take the jars out of the hot water to fill them with jam it was difficult without a jar lifter. Again, a little improvising by using tongs and carefully lifting them out of the hot water while dumping the water out. No jar funnel to pour the jam into the jar-no problem. I ladled the jam in resulting in a small amount of spillage. The flat lids need to be softened in lightly boil water for 10 minutes to allow a secure seal. Just be sure to thoroughly wipe the jar rim before putting the lids on. Screw the rings on securely after putting the flat lid on the jar.
Finally, put the jars in a hot water bath cover the tops with an inch of water. You need to have some sort of rack in the bottom of your pan. Never place the jar directly on the heat. Leave the jars in boiling water for 20 minutes and then remove to cool. As the seal forms you will hear the ping of the lid. A concave lid is an indication of a good seal. If a jar doesn’t seal, just put it in the refrigerator and eat in the next few weeks.
For those of you who plan in advance, you can find a canning kit with the large enamel pot, jar lifter, funnel and a few other goodies at a box store like Wal-Mart for around thirty dollars. Believe me, it will make your life much easier when canning. And once you realize how easy it is to make jams and jellies, you will use this equipment frequently!