May 10, 2011

Strawberry Jam

Ah, strawberry picking Saturday. My Pie Lab foodie field trip buddies Hannah, Natalie, and I left behind our our city commutes and computer screens to crouch down in a field to pick uber-juicy bright red strawberries. We ate some, threw some in a basket, and covered our hands in strawberry "blood." How pastoral we like to be…for an hour or so.

Very cute little girls in the field inspired my picking team to chat about how our children would pick berries and enjoy it and not just ask to go get some from the grocery store.
Our bounty was four gynormous baskets of berries. Natalie tried to convince me one basket was more than enough to make jam and tarts and everything. I assured her I could easily share the wealth of two baskets in the few days they were ripe. Between jam and feeding people for my brother's graduation festivities, they were gone in three days flat, and the joy of berries untainted by any food process was spread to many.
Then again, one whole basket went into this pot with some sugar to become the kind of jam whose sweetness is so fresh it transports you back to that Alabama field (ok, maybe I'm getting overly dramatic); homemade jam is a class of its own though. The other basket I couldn't bring myself to cook or cover up in a baked good at all; I served them fresh. They didn't even need whipped cream.
What I learned about jam making:
1. The actual jam creation isn't that hard. You just stir together berries and sugar and let it cook down into a sticky, delicious mess for a good while.

2. Canning is more complicated. I followed instructions but failed to seal and process them correctly. Oh, well, six lucky people got a half pint of jam that had to be eaten in a month. What a hardship.

I chose this particular jam recipe for its simplicity. No pectin, no chance of fake junk. Just cooking strawberries and their natural pectin with sugar and lemon juice. The lemon added a slight flavor twist (I added more than called for) and acidity, which you've got to have for jam.

Even if you don't pick you own, you can buy an afforable pint of strawberries ($1.99 at my grocery store last I saw) while they're still at the peak of their season and cook them down into a jar of jam to treat someone or even just yourself.

Simple Strawberry Jam
Adapted from Cooking Light

4 cups halved strawberries
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 1 hour or until thick, stirring occasionally. Skim any foam off the top as it cooks. Remove from heat, and stir in lemon juice. Cool to room temperature.

Mad Notes: 12 cups of berries and 4 cups sugar gave me 6 half pints of jam. I cooked mine closer to two hours because there was so much and I wanted to make sure, sure, sure it was thick enough.

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