Making Strawberry Jam

We had a temporary reprieve from the heat over the weekend. The heat has been so intense the strawberries I picked a few weeks ago quickly turned moldy within a few days. I know, I know, I should have chopped them up and froze them as soon as I got home. I screwed up. I cheated and bought four quarts of fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market on Saturday. But hey, they’re still fresh, local, and organic so I’m only slightly lazy.

Strawberry season is coming to a close in southern New England but the berries were still perfectly sweet. I chopped up about 8 cups and added 6 cups of sugar to a large pot. (holy crap sugar!) This was my first attempt at jamming without pectin. I boiled the berries down till they reach a temperature of 220 degrees aka gel stage. While the berries were cooking I sterilized my jars and lids.

Buying the proper tools made a huge difference. No burning or balancing acts of hot glass jars. Above a shot of my tools and lids ready and waiting. The funnel made for a quick easy pour into the hot jars. I got twelve four ounce cans out of one batch. I decided to go with the smaller jars because I’m hoping to make raspberry and blueberry jam, pickles, and tomato sauce for family Christmas presents this year. Yes, mom you’ll have to wait till December to try my jam. I promise it will be worth the wait. The soft pink strawberry foam I skimmed off the top of the finished jam made for an excellent ice cream topping, total heaven.

p.s. I used this book and this book for reference when making my jam. Also, I tried the jam today after letting it set up for a few days, it’s unbelievable!

Related Posts:
Picking Strawberries
Getting Ready For Canning

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  1. Katie – I am also pretty nervous about sanitation when it comes to canning (though the women who taught me are definitely not), and botulism is extremely rare in pickles and jams/jellies because of the sugar and vinegar contents.


  2. i love the blog i too am into renovating old houses i should say was because after doing it 3 times in ireland and twice in france i have enough i now enjoy enjoy life part of the year on an island in western france making jam too :rhubarb apricots and strawberries i will pick blackberries at the end of the summer for jam too
    i love your part of the world and will follow the work


  3. i have always wanted to make my own… now i will thanks to your AMAZING POST… happy 4th to you… i love marblehead it will be so cute there i am sure… xx pam


  4. Inspiring post and great comments. It’s wild blueberry season here in Massachusetts (just found a few early ones yesterday in the woods) and I am absolutely motivated to make some homemade jam. Thanks!


  5. I have been making strawberry jam for a couple years ago (there is a fabulous picking farm near my parents’ house) and it wasn’t until this week that I broke down and bought the official tools of the trade. This was mostly inspired by your post! Thank you for your continued inspiration and for representing the north east! I am becoming a daily reader!


  6. miss kay elliot- I quite enjoy your blog. It makes me miss home. I enjoy your blog so much so, that I linked back to a couple of your patriotic pictures in anticipation of the 4th of July. Feel free to take a peek. xo wishing you happiness in your new england heart! x Emily


  7. I loved Natalyia’s comment. She sounds like the voice of experience to me – like having a grandma around who’ll tell you what the real deal is. It is true some foods need to be processed twice when home canned, but jam/jelly is not one of them. Also, the tip about measuring by weight, not volume, really makes sense.
    I, am old enough to remember when canning and preserving were mainstream in rural areas, and it did not take us aback to find a little mold on the surface of jams/jellies occasionally. I distinctly remember my home ec teacher telling us to just scrape it off the top. Botulism was the real concern, and more of an issue with veggies.
    Thanks, Katie, for making jam and writing about your experience. It was fun reading.


  8. Katy, you and your lucky family/friends will be so happy this winter when it is cold and dark, and you have yummy jam to spread on your toast to remind you of these long summer days!
    Have you ever tried freezer jam? I keep boxes of Sure Jell pectin and Pomona’s Universal pectin (the latter allows you to use a lot less sugar) in my cupboard, so if I am in a pinch and run out of time, I can make freezer jam instead — you can do a batch in about half an hour, b/c there is no cooking/sterilizing. Some people prefer freezer jam b/c the fruit is uncooked, so the end result yields a v. fresh flavor.
    I am loving Sherri Brooks Vinton’s new book “Put ‘Em Up” — check it out.
    Love your countertops.


  9. Wow, I’ve never made jam but ’tis the season I suppose! And your pictures are ever so tempting, how could I not pursue such an endeavor? Thanks for all the good ideas :)



  10. Hmm…I have made preserves for years, with my Mom and with my Grandmother. We always used the same method as Katy and always received great results. Last year I skipped the canning part (I didn’t boil the final product for the ten minutes, just lazy) and I had mold on the top of my jam. Now, I know its fine, but if I received that as a gift, it would have gone in the garbage. I wouldn’t have fed it to my kids. I’m with Katy, do all the steps, have a guaranteed product with no worries.
    We all have different methods of doing the same thing, tried and true works best for me.
    I’ve never had over done,sour jam. Its perfect and I can give it as a gift without worring about it.


  11. yeah, I understand safety concern and I suppose my comment sounds extremely unorthodox in our germophobic society conditioned by Lysol and Clorax commercials to be scared. But you do have to realize that when you boil something for two hours you will kill absolutely everything, that’s just plain old science. I might agree with you about taking the extra step of sterilizing the jars before canning if you are giving them to pregnant women, but you can still use those scary moldy berries. Boiling them after is excessive.
    I grew up eating “unsafe” preserves and have never known what food poisoning is. Nor did anyone in our family end up with any food borne illness. The French leave their cheese and butter out and shop for meet at stores that don’t sell packages of plastic wrapped steaks. This issue is not about safety, but about culture of food and germs, and an amazing number of baseless lawsuits (think hot spilled coffee and McDonalds)


  12. I have always heard you have to buy brand new canning jar tops (the metal kind) each time you put up preserves or you risk botulism. You can’t tell if a jar has botulism in it. It’s not like mold.


  13. Nataliya,

    I appreciate your very long comment. But certain things I did where for safety. Maybe it’s seems silly to not use moldy strawberries and boiling my jars again once they had been filled.

    But I want to make sure everything is clean as possible. The small risk is not worth the little effort it takes especially when I give as gifts to pregnant women and small children.


  14. I love the red canning tools!

    The best part of jam is having jam…and the best part of screwing up jam is pancakes and ice cream. Last year I made plum jam and the second batch didn’t set. I re-labeled it ‘Plum Syrup’ and it has been pancake Tuesday’s {and ice cream night’s} best friend ever since.


  15. Hi! I think people overcomplicate the process of making preserves. The “tools” photos made me giggle. Maybe my tips will be helpful. I make preserves every season: strawberries, cherries, peaches and so on according to my grandma’s recipe.

    1) Jars and Tools.
    First of all I find it to be a big waste of money to purchase canning jars. I reuse glass jars. Glass jars with metal lids can be saved after peanut butter, pickles, roasted peppers or any number of foods sold in glass jars. Just peel the labels off and clean them. Make sure that the lid does not smell like the food that was in the jar before (herring smell is not a good compliment for your strawberry preserves).
    Pointed ladle and a dark towel is all you need for the actual jarring.

    2) Your ingredients.
    In the olden days the whole making preserves process was the only way to save berries and fruits and enjoy the taste of summer in the winter cold (You already knew that). In addition is was the way to use up the part of the crop that was sub-standard. So what I’m trying to say is that Katy could have salvaged her half moldy berries. She needed to rinse them well and cut off the “bad” parts of the berries. Because you are cooking the berries you will kill all fungus, bacteria and insects. As far as the taste of the final product goes, let me tell you a dirty secret: It makes NO difference wether you are using the freshest stuff or not. Stop making things more complicated then they are.
    You can use any number of berries and fruits and for your preserves. You can mix and match them too. My favorite flavors are strawberries, cherries, rhubarb, apricot, and black currant. My grandmother even used to make zucchini+lemon preserves! I have also seen hot pepper jams down South, but I’m personally not into them. Anyhow, Get creative!

    3) Proportions
    There are two ways of doing the proportions: by volume and by weight. I was taught to do it by weight and I think it is a better way because the weight of one cup of berries can vary. So traditionally (according to grandma) you are supposed to use one part berries for 1.5 parts sugar. She always used one to one proportion instead and sometimes adjusted it accordingly if the berries were very sweet or very sour by about 10%. So for one pound of strawberries you will need one pound of sugar.

    4) Cooking it.

    a) Put berries (washed, cut bigger ones in halves or quarters. Small ones can be left whole) in the pot. Put sugar in the pot. Let it sit for an hour or so. This way berries will release the juice. I have occasionally skipped this step. Make sure not to overfill the pot. I usually fill my pot a little over half way. You need all that extra space for when the sugar mixture starts boiling.

    b) Turn your burner on HIGH and hang out near the pot till it starts boiling. Don’t worry, you will not burn the berries. The heat will make them release all their juice and the sugar will melt too. Stir them a couple of times. It’s important to keep a watchful eye on your preserves at this point because they can boil over and make a huge mess in your kitchen (it happened to me once and I’ve learned my lesson). Is is most true when it comes to strawberries because the berries themselves seem to have a lot of air. While you are waiting for them to boil, give your preserves an occasional stir. Once your mixture is boiling, lower the burner to LOW or just slightly above the low setting and keep stirring for a few minutes. Stirring will help release all the air bubbles from your mixture. At this point you will also be skimming the foam. After a few minutes you can leave your preserves to cook. Just come by every 10-15 minutes to check on them, give them an occasional stir and skim the foam if necessary. Cook uncovered the entire time.

    c) I cook my preserves for about 2 hours. I have never used a thermometer when making them. You will notice that the color of your mixture will change from bright happy pink to the deep brownish pink/red. The volume will also reduce a little bit. Even when they are done, preserves will be very liquid. They will not thicken until you let them cool.

    d) Turn the burner off, cover with lid and let them cool. There is no need to jar them hot. Preserves behave very differently from pickles (which need to be done all hot). Once your preserves cool to room temperature you will see if they are the right viscosity. If they are too liquid for your taste you can cook them a little longer. If you have messed up and overcooked them (your jam turned into the texture of tar) just save the preserves and mix them into your next batch (which will hopefully not be overcooked). Jarring hot preserves is dangerous because you are dealing with piping hot sugar and does not let you check your final product. And it is not necessary for preventing any spoiling. Sugar is a preservative, plus the heat of cooking has killed every living organism in your pot.

    5) Jarring it.
    Theoretically you are supposed to sterilize the jars and lids by pouring boiling water into them. Practically – skip this step, and here is why. The whole sterilization step was invented when people lived in a dirtier world. Our surroundings today are much cleaner (so clean actually that our immune systems have nothing to attack but our own bodies causing allergies, asthma, IBD and so on). So right before jarring, clean your jars with soap in your dishwasher or by hand. Let them air dry. Grab a ladle and pour! Close the lids tightly and store at room temperature for as long as you want. I have never sterilized my recycled jars and never had any spoilage problems.

    6) I have never experienced this problem with my own preserves, but I remember this happening when I was a child. You can pop a jar open and find mold on top of the jar. Do not freak out. It could have happened because the jar was not sealed. Food mold (no matter what color) will not penetrate into your preserves, it is only on top. You can just take it off with a spoon and just safely eat the rest of the preserves (make sure to remove all of it so it does not grow again). If you are paranoid about food safety, just reheat the content of the jar to boiling, let cool and put it back into a clean jar. Also your preserves will never go sour unless you didn’t cook them enough. Even sour preserves can be salvaged by cooking them again.

    I hope this is helpful. Questions? ngcinfo (at) ngcreations (dot) com


  16. Yup, that’s all you need. Some berries call for lemon but not necessary for strawberry. I think the key to making jam without pectin is making sure the jam has made it to the the “gel stage”.

    The mixture has to reach 220-222 degrees. The last ten degrees transformed the mixture into a jelly. And then it takes about 24-48 hours to set up in the jars.

    Or try this method from Ball:

    Dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling soft spread. Lift the spoon and hold it horizontally with edge down so that the syrup runs off the edge. As the mixture cooks, the drops will become heavier and will drop off the spoon separately but two at a time. When the two drops join together and “sheet” off the spoon, the gel stage has been reached.

    Chill two or three small saucers in the freezer. Place a teaspoonful of soft spread on the chilled saucer and place in the freezer for 1 minute. Remove the saucer from the freezer and push the edge of the spread with your finger. A mixture that has reached the gel stage will be set, and the surface will wrinkle when the edge is pushed. Note: To prevent overcooking or scorching, remove the soft spread from the heat before performing this test.

    Strawberries are not high in natural pectin, so do not expect this jam to be highly gelled.


  17. Yumm, looks so good on that vanilla ice cream! I made some strawberry jam last weekend (it’s my favorite!), however, my space wasn’t nearly as photographic!


  18. Hi Katy, is that all you used starwberries and sugar? I attempted to make strawberry jam without pectin a few weeks ago, it didn’t work. I did add lemon juice and zest too. We ate it with crepes and ice cream. Tasted great, but it was a far cry from jam. Any tips?