Posts Tagged strawberries

Four-way strawberries

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Strawberries are tricky. Definitely one of the yummiest summer fruits around, and perhaps the nicest jam of all (except for all the others). But they are so low in pectin, the magic ingredient that makes jam set, that it’s always a gamble whether you’re going to end up with jam or syrup. Or a sweet, tasty liquid with strawberry lumps.

Last year canning buddy and I had a bold day of experimenting with various pectin options, which included the much-vaunted Pomona pectin (which is surprisingly hard to find in Canada) as well as using raspberries, gooseberries and home-made gooseberry pectin to ensure a set. I didn’t like the Pomona pectin jam at all. Low suger, it’s true, and a good, if firm set. But I didn’t like the taste. This year was a little less experimental, but mostly successful, with a fast and simple race through strawberry jam, four ways. The method and the fruit-jam-lemon ratio was the same for all of them, but there were tweaks to the pectin and the flavourings.

Fruit-jam ratio: Seven cups of chopped up fruit (our traditional ratio would call for 6, but we added an extra cup this year.); 4 not quite full cups sugar; juice of two lemons.

Basic method: Mix fruit, lemon juice and sugar and allow it to sit around for as much time as you have. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil for at least 10 minutes. It will foam madly at the start — use a big, big pot. But the foam dies down as the boil goes on. Add whatever you are using for pectin and boil for another 5 minutes or so until it seems to set. Add any extra flavourings and boil a little longer. Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes.

Strawberry, kiwi, mint (5 jars)

This is based on a New York Times recipe, which uses one and a half finely chopped kiwis for the pectin that the strawberries lack (and adds that kiwi right at the start, as opposed to the later-on addition in the basic recipe). Finely chopped mint goes in at the end. It’s very good, although the little black specks of kiwi can be marginally disconcerting.

Strawberry lemon (5 jars)

Add the zest of three lemons before you start cooking the jam. It’s an interesting flavour, although I’m not sure yet whether I really like it. We used a cube of last year’s frozen gooseberry pectin toward the end of the boil and yes, it set. We could have used kiwi instead, or crabapple pectin. (Must make more of that this year.)

Strawberry balsamic pepper (5 jars)

Also with a cube of frozen gooseberry pectin for set (use a kiwi as an alternative). Add 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar and about 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper about five minutes before the end. Very yummy, with a lovely pepper kick that reminds me of the hugely successful peach white pepper jam we’ve made several times.

Strawberry rhubarb (6 jars)

With gooseberry pectin again (or kiwi). It’s a lovely taste combination because you get the sweetness of the strawberry and the tartness of the rhubarb. We used 4 cups strawberries and three of rhubarb. I think.

 

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More red magic

 

My “where’s the jam” crisis is now officially over, thanks to a smallish batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam with the first of the glorious Ontario strawberries. It’s the first time I’ve made strawberry anything jam in what was still a Canadian May, and it quells the fear that I might run out of home made jam before this year’s canning season.

I can relax now.

Having said that, it was a slightly strange venture, with a jam that foamed madly at the start and settled down quickly to something that passed my set test after just five minutes of a rolling boil, separating nicely on a chilled plate and feeling very jam-like in the pan. Except that it didn’t, and it wasn’t. This turns out to be a runny jam that will work in yogurt or ice cream rather than on bread, probably because both strawberries and rhubarb are pretty low in pectin and I didn’t add any of the bought or home-made stuff. I don’t see that as a problem, because most of my jam ends up in yogurt anyway, and it’s definitely thicker than the gingery melon syrup I made a few years back. And it’s also a very, very tasty jam, sweet yet tart at the same time. But it is a little curious.

What I did:

Rhubarb-strawberry jam (makes 5 jars, almost)

350g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and chopped
600g strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 lemons, juiced
750g sugar

Mix all the ingredients and let the fruit/sugar mix sit for a couple of hours until the juices start to flow.

Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, and then at a full, rolling boil until it sets. It foamed like crazy at first, rising half way up the very large pan. But it settled down eventually, and there was only a little foam left to skim off at the end.


Test for a set by spooning a blob onto a chilled plate. If the blob stays apart when you run your finger through it, you have a set. It did, and I didn’t, even though I kept the boil going for another couple of minutes after the supposedly successful test. No clue why.

Skim off any remaining foam (which is amazingly good on bread), and bottle the jam in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes, or just keep the jars of crimson magic in the fridge. The hot jars sealed quite nicely, even without waterbathing, and there’s a decent amount of sugar and lemon juice in this anyway.

(USDA recommends water baths, so I suppose I do too, theoretically at least.)

Enjoy.

 

 

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Playing with pectin

This is the week when canning buddy and I hit the pick-your-own farm and come back in a car that smells like summer. Then we race to turn the soft fruit (usually strawberries and raspberries, sometimes currants and cherries as well) into countless jars of jam in the hope that it will remind us of summer right through a Canadian winter.

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But I’ve written about the summer can-o-rama before, and there’s a limit to how many times you I can brag about how many jars of jam we made (44 this year). I want to opine instead on the pectin problem, given that strawberries don’t have enough of it for a jam to set, and strawberry jam is up there on the list of must-have jars.

I am not a fan of how regular commercial pectin gives my jam a gelatinous feel, so I’m always in the market for a workaround. The addition of a kiwi fruit, recommended by the New York Times a few years back, produces a nice, soft strawberry jam, although you have to be careful to remove all the kiwi’s woody core, and the black seeds are mildly disconcerting, a gentle reminder that it’s not all strawberry. Other recipes suggest adding an apple (I tried that with a cherry jam one year and it ended up like cherry jam with apple sauce), and last month I hit the jackpot by adding home-made crabapple pectin to a strawberry jam, which produced a genuinely “wow” jam, which might be one of the best I’ve ever made.

But I’m out of crabapple pectin. In the course of a mad canning afternoon, we tried out four alternatives, all of which seem to work around the strawberry-set problem. I’ll add the ratings when I get round to opening the jars.

1. Strawberry jam with Pomona pectin.

I’ve read a lot about Pomona pectin on the interwebz, and fans say it offers the set without the sour, so you don’t need as much sugar and you don’t cook your jam as long. It’s a U.S. product, so I was sort of surprised to see it at the local health food store. Expensive, yes, but worth a go.

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Because it was the first time, we followed the recipe pretty slavishly for this one, mixing one of the two packets in the box to produce a calcium water, and then stirring the recommended volume of the pectin packet into the sugar before adding sugar/pectin to hot strawberries and boiling for another 1-2 minutes. It all seemed pretty vague — between 3/4 of a cup and two cups of sugar to four cups of mashed up strawberries — and Pomona said firmly that strawberries didn’t need the addition of lemon juice. But it was definitely worth a try.

It’s early days, but while the set was firm (too firm, perhaps?) I do admit the first taste was not as truly yummy as I thought it ought to be. Maybe strawberry jam needs the bitterness of lemon to bring out the strawberries? Or maybe 2-1/2 cups of sugar to 8 cups of fruit just wasn’t quite enough? We have eight jars. It’s still strawberry jam.

2. Strawberry-raspberry jam

Second workaround was one we’ve used many times before, mixing strawberries with pectin-rich raspberries (and lemons) for glorious burst of flavour. The first taste is raspberry, but then the strawberry creeps through, and it’s always a lovely set. We make this jam each year. No reason to stop now.

3. Strawberry-gooseberry jam

Recipe number 3 swapped out raspberries for gooseberries, which have even more pectin than raspberries do. And while the strawberry-raspberry jam used 3 cups each of strawberries and raspberries, the strawberry-gooseberry one was a ratio of 5:1, with a little extra sugar to cut the gooseberry bite. Nice set. Taste rating to come.

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4. Strawberry jam with gooseberry pectin

Then things got a little more experimental, and if the crabapple pectin worked so well, what about making a gooseberry pectin, which meant boiling the berries up with a little water, and then straining the juice out in a jelly bag. In an ideal world I’d have left the goop to drip overnight, but we wanted now. So we added two tablespoons of gooseberry pectin to 6 generous cups of strawberries, and jammed them up with 4 scant cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. The taste is good. The gooseberry elixir adds a bitterness which I rather like, and you don’t have to top or tail the gooseberries, a sticky, frustrating and time-consuming task.

Plus there are 10 little ice cube trays of gooseberry pectin waiting for the next jam.

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We got five jars of that jam, but one jar had an accident in the waterbath. It’s only the second time that’s ever happened. Too many jars in the canner? A flaw in the jar?

Who knows. It was almost the end of the session, so we abandoned the idea of waterbathing the last 7 jars of pure raspberry jam and retired to the Ribfest up the street.

Despite that broken jar, it was a seriously successful day.

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So very good

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Strawberry jam is always a little tricky, not the jam for a novice canner at all. Unless the fruit is seriously unripe, and hence only marginally tasty, strawberries are seriously short on pectin, which means it’s easy to make strawberry syrup, but distressingly difficult to make a strawberry jam that sets. My mother’s method was to boil stuff until the jam is almost brown, or giving up in despair and rushing out to get commercial pectin.

But I’m not a fan of commercial pectin — it adds a taste and a texture I don’t like — so I’m always looking for alternatives. For the last couple of years, I had a lot of success with the surprise addition of a kiwi fruit to a batch of jam (the little black seeds are marginally disconcerting, but you don’t taste the kiwi at all). But this year I discovered a few cubes of homemade crabapple pectin languishing in the bottom of the freezer.
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If I threw one of those into the mix toward the end of the boil, would my jam set? And what about the taste?

After three quick batches of strawberry jam, two of them with mint, I report astonishing success. This jam is deep rich red, with satisfying chunks of fruit. It mounds pleasantly on the spoon, rather than drizzling down the sides, and it tastes of summer. All I need to do is boil up more crabapple pectin later this summer, and I’m good to go.

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Strawberry jam

6 generous cups strawberries
4 slightly skimpy cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1-2 tbsp finely chopped mint (optional)
1 cube of crabapple pectin

Wash and hull the strawberries, and cut them into halves or quarters. Add sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit while you prepare the next batches of fruit. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, and then bring to a rolling boil for five minutes. Add the pectin and boil for another five minutes or so. Test for set, bottle in clean jars, waterbath for 10 minutes.

Try not to eat it all at once.

Rating: 4.999 (out of 5)

I admit I didn’t skim off all the foam, so there are little white flecks in some of the jars, which means it wouldn’t win any competitions at the Ex. But what’s a fleck or two between frends. This jam is knock your socks off awesome.

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Jam-boree!

Once a year, canning buddy and I have a marathon pick ‘n jam session, hitting the market at 7am, then the pick-your-own and then retreating to the house for as many batches of jam as we can be bothered to make. Raspberry and strawberry jams are givens, but there are so many options for things to add and subtract that the fun could go on all day.

We started with this, which included the last of my black cap raspberries from the community garden, and a small container of red currants, also from the garden. They yellow raspberries were a gift. We ate them, unwashed, between batches of jam.


jam3By 4pm, with the shortest possible breaks for coffee and lunch, we had 55 jars of jam, plus a container each of strawberries, raspberries and cherries to keep for eating fresh. It was quite the production line. At any one time we had one or two jams prepped and one on the boil. As soon as the on-the-boil one was ready, we moved one of the prepped jams to the stove and started on that. And rather than waterbathing each batch as we finished it, we did four big water baths of around a dozen jars apiece, coding the lids carefully so we knew which jam was which. It would be so sad to think you’re opening a jar of raspberry lime, and it turns out to be raspberry lemon instead.

jam1We mostly worked with a proportion of 7 cups of fruit, four cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons, which cut the sugar somewhat from our normal 6-4-2 ratio. It seemed to work, although the jams are mostly a little on the runny side. Not a problem my end, given that most of my jams end up in yogurt rather than on bread:

Strawberry raspberry jam (7 jars)
This has to be one of my always-favourite jams, melding two tastes of summer into one glorious mix. It’s so good that I tend to save it rather than open it, so there’s still a jar of 2013 strawberry-raspberry in the cold room.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Yummy. What else can I say?

Raspberry jam (7 jars)
The KISS principle jam. (Keep it simple, stupid). You can’t go wrong with raspberry jam.

Two-cherry jam (5-1/2 jars)
I think this one was half sour cherry, half sweet. We used kiwi instead of pectin. Using kiwi instead of pectin may change my jamming life.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I’m surprising myself with this one. After insisting repeatedly that I don’t like cherry jam, this one is wowing me. I ate it in midwinter, spooned over Greek yogurt or slathered on home-made bread. It was very, very good.

Red-black raspberry jam (6-1/2 jars)
Half red raspberries, half black-cap beauties, like the ones in the black-cap raspberry jam a week or so ago. My arms and legs are still scratched up from picking these. My partner in community garden crime says it’s like we’ve been wrestling with kittens.

Sour cherry jam (4-3/4 jars)
Kiwi for pectin again. Do you see a trend?

Raspberry lime jam (7 jars)
It looked as though we were going to run out of lemons. Besides, it tastes good.

Strawberry lemon verbena jam (5 jars)
This is that New York Times no-pectin strawberry jam again. I’ve done it with mint and with lavender, so it was time to give lemon verbena a try. That came from the community garden too.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I have to admit the strawberry mint is better.

Raspberry-mint-chocolate jam (7-3/4 jars)
The jury is still out on this one. We threw chocolate chips in at the end, and they didn’t melt in that well, so we have chocolate blobs as well as raspberry seeds. And I’m not 100 percent convinced about the idea of raspberries and mint. But it might grow on me.

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). In all honesty, I can barely taste the mint, and the chocolate blobs are a little disconcerting. The spouse says they taste of soap. But it works nicely with plain yogurt or with home-made bread.

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Irritating little beasties

Gooseberries, as I have mused before, are an awful lot of work, especially when all you have is the tiny ones I stripped from the gooseberry bushes at the community garden this week. It doesn’t take long to pick them, and the thorns on the bushes are pretty easy to avoid (bitter memories of scratched arms/legs/hands from the black cap raspberries). But topping and tailing the little beasts is irritating and finicky, whether you use your fingernails or try with scissors, which is what one internet recipe suggested. But gooseberries do have a very distinctive taste, and if you boil them long enough they turn into a chewy, rust-red jam, so I wasn’t going to pass up on the chance. But there really were not many fruit left on the bushes. What was I going to do with a mere 375 grams of small red gooseberries?

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Luckily I had some leftover strawberries in the fridge, so I cleaned the gooseberries, chopped the strawberries (which weighed in at 275 grams), and mixed the fruit with the juice of a lemon and 450 grams of sugar for a quick-boil small-batch jam.

The result: three jars of pretty pink jam, which will probably flow nicely into yogurt — it’s a little on the runny side. But then I boiled it for less than 5 minutes, which even for high-pectin gooseberries maybe wasn’t quite enough.

But there’s something very magical about small-batch jams. A little taste of summer.

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Spendidly special strawberries

Strawberries are a slightly quirky fruit — not the best jam for the beginner — because they don’t contain much pectin and have this distressing tendency to turn to syrup rather than to jam. But my last strawberry jam, a last-minute marriage of strawberries, rhubarb and mint, was amazingly delicious, with a rich, red glow, a beautiful, soft set and a delicate taste of mint. Could I repeat that magic? Can I get a strawberry jam to set without using bought pectin, which I try to avoid because I don’t like the texture it offers.

Cue a recipe from the New York Times last year, which suggests adding a pectin-rich kiwi fruit to the mix. We made two batches with mint and one with lavender, and wow are these yummy. Lovely soft set, deep red color, beautiful fresh taste. The first jam was a little sweet, so we doubled the lemon for the second batch as we jammed our way through a generous eight pounds of fruit. For the first batch, we put the sprigs of mint in at the start, and fished them out at the end, as per the recipe. For the second we chopped the mint up really fine and threw it in at the end. I think the taste is better that way. The boil was far less than the 35-40 minutes the NYT says it will be.

The only problem: Our three batches of jam, two using three pounds of fruit (and three cups of sugar) and one with two pounds of fruit and two cups of sugar, produced a can’t-divide-by-two 11 jars. “There will be blood on the streets,” I muttered, before canning buddy graciously allowed me to take the extra jar, given that I picked the fruit, and will give a couple of jars to the friend who took me out there, helped me pick and drove me home.

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Here’s our take on the recipe.

Strawberry mint (or lavender) jam)
3 pounds strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 cups sugar
1 kiwi fruit, peeled and diced
Juice of 1 (or 2) lemons
4 sprigs of mint (or lavender), stems removed and leaves chopped finely

Put the strawberries in a big pan with the sugar, lemon juice and kiwi fruit, and leave them to sit while you prepare the next batches of fruit. (The recipe says at least 2 hours, we didn’t have that sort of time, and it didn’t seem to matter.) Heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it sets. Stir often — this jam stays liquid (and very foamy) for a longish while, and the foam suddenly vanishes and it starts to set. Take it off the boil, stir in the chopped herbs, wait for 2-3 minutes to let the fruit settle a bit, and then bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes.

The very detailed  recipe says boil the jam until it reaches 210F on a candy thermometer, but I’ve never managed to make the candy thermometer idea work. Instead, we test our jam for set by putting a small blob on a cold plate and seeing if you can draw your finger through and leave a gap. But you also get a good idea from how easy it is to stir. And even a syrupy jam works just fine with plain yogurt, which is my preferred way of using up my jams anyway.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Boring, I know, but it’s another drop-dead delicious jam.

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