Pump Up The Jam (Strawberry, That Is)

Enter this post at your own risk: I made jam like a madman yesterday. A madman you say? Yes I do. Why a madman? Because I broke many jam making rules. The biggest rule? The rule comes to us from Christine Ferber who is a jam genius: her jam book “Mes Confitures” was recommended to me by Clotilde and all the jams in it look delicious. Here’s Chrissy’s rule: “Ideally, the fruit should be prepared a few hours after picking–the next day at the latest (and, if so, the fruit must be kept cool)–because it loses quality quickly.”

The next day you say? Oh Christine. How you’d howl if you saw what I did yesterday. See these strawberries?

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They were five days old! I bought them for Stella’s party and there were lots and lots of them and they never got et. So yesterday, when I spied them in the fridge, I said: “Something must be done!” I tasted one and it tasted fine. “Screw the French jam master!” I said ruefully. “I’m making jam!”

This month’s Martha Stewart Living (yes, occassionally I buy Martha Stewart living) has a recipe for strawberry preserves. I combined that recipe with some tips and quantities from “Mes Confitures” and I was on my way.

If you are going to do this, go to the Container Store and buy jars. That’s the only place I’ve found thusfar that sells jars. I’m sure that’s nuts–there’s plenty of places to buy jars. But that’s the one I know. I bought four jars, but only used one and a half.

When you’re ready to make the jam, rinse and clean your jars with soap and water and a sponge. Dry thoroughly and put on a baking sheet. I lined the sheet with parchament because I knew later, when I was ladeling hot jam into the jars, I’d want paper down to catch what I spilled. (And I did spill.)

Turn the oven up to 220, let it preheat. When you have five minutes left on your jam cooking, put the jars in the oven to sterilize them. This is Christine’s technique and it’s really easy. It’s either that or throw some penicillin in the pot.

Now for the jam making. Watch how easy. You need: 2 lbs strawberries, 1 Tbs plus 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice, and 1 cup sugar.*

*That 1 cup is from Martha Stewart. But in Christine’s book for the same quantity of strawberries she recommends two cups. So I compromised and used 1.5 cups. I think you should negotiate this number based on how sweet your strawberries are.

Here we go:

1. Put strawberries and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Cook, stirring occassionally, over low heat until juices are released, about 40 minutes. Stir in sugar.

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2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occassionally, until mixture registers 210* on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely; skim foam from surface with a spoon. Preserves can be refrigerated in an air tight container, up to 2 months.

*Step 2 is all Martha. Christine says to get the temp up to 221 on a candy thermometer. Since Martha’s making preserves and Christine’s making jam, I decided to go the jam route and get it up to 221. I took a tip from Clotilde and put a plate in the freezer before I started so when the temp got close to 221 (it actually never quite got there) I could “check the set” on the cold plate. You just spoon some of the boiling liquid on to the plate and feel its consistency. If it’s runny you know the jam’ll be runny. It’s really quite simple. Here’s my boiling apparatus:

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Instead of following Martha’s instructions to let it cool, I immediately ladeled the hot mixture (after checking the set) into the sterilized jars. You put the lids on and store them upside down (not sure why) until they come to room temperature.

Despite all these rules, the jam came out great. So don’t be intimidated by rules or standards or lofty jam expectations. Put summer in a bottle and make some jam. Your winter self will thank you.

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