Homemade Strawberry Jam
Strawberry season was a glorious one this year, starting early and lasting a long time. From the very first quart of local strawberries I saw – or rather smelled – in early May, I vowed to savor them more than ever. Somehow that sweet ripe fragrance got in my nose and stayed there, keeping the craving constant for these morsels of juicy ruby heaven. I never did get my fill, even after more than a dozen quarts!
While it was a bit expensive buying my strawberries from fellow vendors at the farmers market, I felt it was a worthwhile indulgence for fresh eating, particularly after a long hot day of selling my flowers. I wasn’t quite willing to fork over more than $6 a quart (really) to make my annual stash of strawberry jam though so I wait until I visited my parents in rural central Pennsylvania to stop by a nearby produce farm that had generous quarts of super-ripe berries for a mere three bucks. I greedily grabbed five quarts, though only four somehow ended up in Philly after the three hour drive back. Musta been a hole in the car console or maybe a stow away squirrel on board…
In any case, to send off strawberry season in style, I made a luscious batch of jam scented with a vanilla bean and cooked to a perfect consistency. Jam making really is quite easy, especially when you have a simple recipe that doesn’t require that dreaded pack of pectin that never seems to be on city store shelves. If you haven’t tried making your own homemade jam or jelly before (by the way, jam in chunky, jelly is strained to be smooth), this is the perfect one to try since it’s really very simple. The only trick to making sure the jam thickens is to let it boil vigorously, which means you’ll be needing a very large pot to keep it from spilling over and making a mess of your stove.
Slathered on a fresh thick slice of bread from a loaf given to me by another farmers market vendor, I decided strawberry season wasn’t really ending after all. This jam is so full of fresh berry flavor, I’ll feel like I’m eating a ripe strawberry when I crack open a jar in December.
Homemade Strawberry Jam
5 C. crushed strawberries*
4 1/2 C. granular sugar
1/3 C. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, scraped
*I used about 3 quarts of whole ripe berries to get this amount of crushed.
Gently wash berries, cut off the tops, and place in a large bowl to mash up with a potato masher or large fork. Measure out berries into a very large heavy pot to confirm you have five cups. Use a very large pot because the jam will expand while boiling. Add the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean scrapings.
Place three small plates in the freezer.
Stir mixture and set over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to high and stay with the pot because the jam will begin to intensely boil. Stir regularly to keep the bottom from burning. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until you notice some resistance when stirring.
Place a small amount of jam on one of the cold plates and place back in the freezer for a minute. Run your finger through the middle of the dab of jam. If it doesn’t run back together, the jam is ready. If it does run back together, continue to boil the jam for another minute or two and try testing it again.
Transfer jam to hot sterile jars (simmer jars in a large pot of water while making the jam), leaving a 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch headspace at the top of the jar. Seal with sterile lids and turn upside down on a dish towel to cool.
When jars are completely cool, test the lids. If they spring back when pressed, they have not sealed; store those jars in the fridge. Jars with taut lids are sealed and can be stored in the cupboard until opened.
(makes about 6 pints)