Capture summer in a jar with this Homemade Strawberry Jam made from fresh, ripe strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice and no preservatives.
An annual ritual has begun here. It’s a ritual so old and deeply ingrained that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t do it. It began in my childhood and has continued right on through to today.
The ritual of preserving the harvest or, as it’s better known in the South, “puttin’ up.” This is the ritual of canning or freezing the abundance of fresh produce that comes our way at this time of year.
What in the World is “Puttin’ Up?”
This is a ritual I began learning at an early age. When I was a child we didn’t have access to anything and everything at the grocery store the way that we do today. If you wanted fresh peas in January, you had better freeze some in July. And freeze produce we did!
I have lots of memories of helping my mother “put up” during summer vacations. I can remember peas and butterbeans spread on newspapers on the floor in our den underneath the window air conditioner.
You had to keep them cool, you know, so they wouldn’t “go through a heat.” Let the peas and butterbeans get too warm and they’d sour before you finished shelling. Not good.
I Always Enjoyed Shelling Peas and Butterbeans
Shelling was my favorite puttin’ up activity. I think that’s because you could do it indoors under the air conditioner while watching television. I’ve never been much of an outdoorsy girl. Perspiration? Ewww. Which is why I never liked helping with the corn.
I remember sitting in our backyard at an old picnic table shucking corn. Corn was always ready for pulling during the hottest part of the summer and shucking it made a huge mess, so you had to do it outdoors. And Mama was very particular about the corn. You had to get every single silk out of that corn. It took a while.
And did I mention it was hot out there? Also, mosquitoes. It was enough to make you seriously consider the importance of freezing corn for the coming year.
Just Part of the Rhythm of Rural Life
Even though there were parts I didn’t like, I mostly enjoyed that time of year. It was just a part of the rhythm of life in a small, southern town during the 1960’s. And it didn’t matter whether your family was poor or well-off. Everyone “put up” for the winter. That was just the way it was and we didn’t question it.
And I find that I am, after all, grateful for the lessons I learned on those hot, humid summer days. The importance of preparing for the future, of putting something aside when you have extra for times that are leaner.
It May Be Quaint, But It’s a Great Skill to Have
Whenever I mention today that I still carry on the “puttin’ up” ritual, people look at me so strangely. Some have even said, “Oh, how quaint.” Or, “I didn’t know people did that any more.” I even had one person say to me, “Oh, you mean they still make canning jars?” I just laugh with them and go right on about canning.
Some years I do a lot more than others. Jams, preserves, pickles, relishes, salsas. Some years just a few pickles and jams. But, regardless, I almost always start the canning season with Homemade Strawberry Jam.
Good old-fashioned (quaint?) strawberry jam. One of the first recipes new canners often try because it’s so easy and the odds of messing it up are quite low.
Learn the Basics of Canning Before You Start – It’s Important
If you’ve never tried canning anything before, please (I’m begging you) educate yourself on the correct procedure before you start. It is imperative to properly sterilize your jars and to use an approved canning recipe.
And the technique is critical. Old techniques such as the inversion method (turning the jars upside down to seal rather than processing in a water bath) and melted paraffin seals are no longer used. They’re downright dangerous. And, just because “Mama always did it that way and we never got sick” is NOT justification for using incorrect and outdated canning techniques.
Know Your Sources
For a beginning canner, if you purchase nothing else, the best money you can invest is in getting a copy of the Ball Blue Book. It’s put out by the people who make Ball canning jars and is considered the “canning bible.” It’s cheap, easy to read, and simple to follow.
A couple of other good resources are the Ball web site (http://www.freshpreserving.com) and the experts-of-all-experts at the University of Georgia (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp). They know their stuff. They are home to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Trust them.
I have lots of canning and preserving books. And I use all of them. Really I do. I might even need one or two more. Maybe.
This recipe is from the book Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. It’s a great book with easy to follow recipes. And I like that the recipes are all, well, small batches. Since it’s just the two of us now we don’t really need 16 pints of Strawberry Jam to see us through the year. Just a few half-pints are fine.
How to Make Homemade Strawberry Jam
Let’s Go Step-by-Step
I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.
Hull and Halve the Strawberries
For this recipe, you’ll need 4 cups of halved fresh strawberries. I purchased two baskets to make sure I had enough and we had leftovers for several strawberry shortcakes.
Mix Berries with Sugar
Mix the berries with the sugar in a non-reactive pan (stainless or enamel). Cover the pan and let the berries stand for 8 hours. Stir the mixture occasionally just to distribute the sugar through the berries.
Boil the Berries and Sugar
After the 8 hours of standing time, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the lemon juice, return to boiling and allow to boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, add the butter and bring the mixture to a full boil over high heat.
The butter is simply to prevent the jam from foaming up so much. If you don’t want to add it, you can skip it but you’ll need to skim the foam from the jam while it’s boiling. Much simpler for me to just add that smidgen of butter.
Boil rapidly for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Process the Jam
Ladle into sterile jars. Wipe the jar rims with a damp paper towel. Apply caps and rings.
Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Remove the jars and place them on a kitchen towel until cooled completely (about 24 hours). Listen for the “music” of the lids pinging. Makes 3 half-pints.
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Homemade Strawberry Jam
- 4 cups firm strawberries halved or quartered (depending on size)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. butter optional
- Mix the berries with the sugar and let stand for 8 hours. Stir occasionally to distribute the sugar through the berries.
- Place the berry and sugar mixture in a medium non-reactive pan (stainless steel or enamel) and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Add the lemon juice, return to boiling and allow to boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, bring the mixture to a full boil over high heat, add butter (optional but recommended), and boil rapidly for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
- Ladle into sterile jars. Apply caps and rings and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
- Makes 3 half-pints.
Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.