On Saturday morning, I was up unusually early. I puttered around a bit, went for a run and then took the girls to the farmer's market. I went to get strawberries, more specifically strawberries for jam. I bought 6 quarts with the intention of making 5 batches of jam and having some left for nibbling.
I made freezer jam, just like I did last year. In my mind, I look forward to this day and I dread it all at the same time. I want to make the jam, but it is somewhat of a production. There is the gathering and washing of the jars, the trip to buy pectin and sugar and more often than not, another trip to the store when I run out of either jars or pectin or sugar. This year was different. I bought 5 boxes of pectin, 1 case of wide-mouth jars (which are my favorite, by the way) and a 10 lb. bag of sugar. I had just enough of everything.
Last year, I received lots of questions about freezer jam so I'm going to try to tell you what I do know from my experience. It doesn't make it right or wrong – it's just what I do.
1 quart of berries is about enough for 1 batch of jam. I say about enough because sometimes it's a little too much or sometimes a bit too little. I wash the berries, cut off the stems and slice them. I then mash them with a potato masher, leaving little some little chunks. I measure 2 cups of the mashed berries (and juice the mashing makes) for each batch.
Freezer jam uses a lot of sugar. I am okay with that. The recipe in the pectin box is 2 cups mashed berries to 4 cups of sugar. Yes, A LOT. But you have to use the right amount of berries and sugar or the pectin won't set up properly. There are
lower sugar pectins available, but I have never used them so I can't
speak to them. My mom has tried a low sugar one and did not like it.
I trust her judgment and continue to do what we have always done. I use Sure Jell pectin and I buy it at the grocery store.
A canning funnel is key. It cuts down on the mess in a big way which is good since it is a very sticky mess. You can normally find one in the grocery store with the canning supplies. If your grocery doesn't have the jars or the funnel, try a small, independently owned hardware store. You know, the mom and pop kind.
I use glass jars. I always have and my mom and grandma did too. Don't worry – they will do fine in the freezer as long as you leave about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch at the top of the jar for expansion. Glass jars break in the freezer when the contents expand and there isn't any room left. If you leave the space, you will be fine. According to the recipe, the jam lasts a few weeks in the refrigerator
or up to a year in the freezer. I've had jam for up to two years in my
freezer and it's been just as good. In fact, we will be finishing our 2008 supply before we crack open any of the 2009 jars.
It took me one and half hours to make the five batches – I normally have two different ones going at a time. There is some finicky timing, but this is what works best for me. I clean one quart of berries, mash, add the sugar and then start on a second quart. By the time I am finished cleaning, mashing and adding the sugar to the second quart, the first quart is ready for the pectin. Once that batch is jarred, the second batch is ready for the pectin. Once I have the second batch in jars, I start over with two more quarts of berries. Make sense?
The jam has to sit for 24 hours before it goes in the freezer. It's just about time for me to take care of that last step. And then I will take a break from jam for another year.
Or maybe just until the raspberries ripen.