Canning for beginners…Strawberry Freezer Jam

My first foray into canning was an attempt at pickles.  All flavors of pickles, from basic dill to spicy garlic.  After hours in the kitchen and a month of staring at jars of pickles waiting for the flavor to develop, I was devastated when they didn’t turn out.  Some were too salty, some weren’t salty at all, and the rest were just plain not pickles.  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and seriously disappointed.  It would be two years before I tried my hand at canning again.  Enter the world of freezer jam.    If you have the desire to start canning but aren’t sure where to begin, strawberry freezer jam is an excellent jumping off point.

When strawberry season hits, there aren’t many people around here that haven’t paid a visit to the local U-Pick strawberry fields.    My mother-in-law first taught my two daughters and me how to make freezer jam several years ago.   The first year seemed to take forever, especially since my children were still quite young at the time.

Now we can hit the strawberry fields, pick gallons and gallons of strawberries, wash, mash, and fill 15+ jars with jam by tea time.  We even manage a strawberry pie or two.

Strawberry freezer jam has just a few simple ingredients: strawberries, sugar, pectin (I use the Sure-Jell for low sugar or no sugar recipe), and water.  There are old-fashioned (non-freezer) jam recipes out there without pectin that I intend to start tackling later this year.  Or next year.  Remember, baby steps.

Mason jars can be quite an expense if you intend to make a lot of jam your first time around; but, remember, once you make the initial investment, good jars will last years if you take care of them.  Other than that, you need a bowl for mashing the berries, a potato masher, measuring cup, large saucepan, spoon, and canning funnel (though not necessary, it reduces the mess).  It helps to have the items laid out and washed beforehand.  Especially the jars.  It’s even better when I remember to line up the jars near the stove.

The first step to jam making is picking the fruit.  If you choose to pick the fruit yourself, you’ll want to make sure you head straight home and start washing those berries.  If you pick on a warm, sunny day, the heat seems to continue ripening those berries all the way home.  We always end up with a handful that we can’t use because they seem to have over-ripened during the short car ride home.  Although it could have something to do with having a four-year-old help pick the berries . . .  If you don’t have a U-pick farm around you, the grocery store has great sales on strawberries during early summer.  I have a friend that prefers to buy the strawberries from the grocery every year.

Once you’ve washed the berries, it’s time to cut the tops and any bad spots off.  The tops go to the chickens and the rest of the berry goes into a mashing bowl.  The difference between jam and jelly is the consistency.  Jelly is made from the juice, while jam is made with juice and the crushed fruit.  When you mash the strawberries, be sure not to mash too much or you’ll end up with runny jam.

Once you have 4 cups of mashed strawberries, it’s time to measure out 3 cups of sugar.  Mix the sugar and pectin in the saucepan.  Stir in 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for 1 minute, then remove from heat and add the strawberries.  Stir for 1 more minute or until blended well. 

Using a funnel, fill the jars to within a ½ inch of the top (the lower ledge is just over ½ an inch down).  I aim for the ledge, so when I get a little over the ledge, I know I’m still within the ½ an inch requirement.

Wipe off the top of the jars and place the lids.  Once your jars have sat at room temperature for 24 hours, they are ready for eating or freezing.  My mother-in-law insists we make jam at her house so that she can hear the lids pop as they seal.  FYI: when making freezer jam, the seal popping is not a requirement since the jars will be frozen.  That’s it!  You now have delicious strawberry jam to enjoy on toast, banana bread, zucchini bread, biscuits, or straight out of the jar when you get the hankering for something sweet and fruity.


For the love of food….

Canning and preserving food sounds, to me, like a step into the past.  Kindred spirits such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables, and the steadfast frontierswomen of our nation’s past are just a few who float through my mind’s eye as I imagine a pantry full of beautifully arranged jars of colorful and delicious homemade food.  The idea of being prepared for a disaster, natural or economic, is a great comfort and motivator that adds fuel to our desire to be more self-sufficient.

Food did, and still does, conjure romantic images of great gatherings of family and friends in which everybody is laughing and smiling as they enjoy life around the table.  Inspired by an intrinsic longing for good food that nourishes the body and soul, we began our journey toward self-sufficiency and natural living.  Nothing is more satisfying than a home-cooked meal that was grown, harvested, and preserved on our homestead.  We know what’s in our food and where it came from.