It’s late June here in Washington. Spring officially ends today, and the weather is turning hot and muggy. The mercury is expected to hit 100 tomorrow, a prelude to the dog days ahead. I spied my first lightning bug of the season weeks ago. The basil in the garden has outpaced last year’s crop, and there are already golf ball size tomatoes on the vines. Last week I put the garden lights up in the back yard and replaced the fuel tank on the grill in preparation for countless cookouts. Vacation plans include Germany and Italy, and in August, my sixth exchange student, Nikolas, will come to spend a year here.
Yes summer has begun, and there is much to look forward to. Yet it’s difficult not to lament the passing of strawberry season, an event that seems to grow shorter with each year. For those of you who get your berries year round from the local supermarket, it’s difficult to understand why a grown man in this day and age would even care about such a thing, but locavores know exactly what I’m talking about. The good news this year is that I have found a way to capture the goodness of local strawberries so that I can enjoy them for months to come.
My sister Jo Ann lives in North Carolina, one of the many self-proclaimed berry capitals of the U.S. Because she grows her own, she can attest first-hand to its validity. Last year she had more strawberries than she knew what to do with. So she made countless containers of strawberry freezer jam. On at least two visits here, she brought me several, and I can tell you without exaggeration or hyperbole, it was the best damn strawberry jam I had ever tasted. Bar none! And I’m not just saying that because she’s my sister. As it turns out freezer jam makes a superior product to conventional jam when made with seasonally fresh berries. Best of all, it’s extremely easy to make.
Rarely will you find a “quick and easy” recipe that produces something better than the “slow and laborious” approach, but that’s just the case with freezer jam. Conventional jam requires cooking fresh berries with sugar and a jelling agent such as pectin. The jam is then placed into sterilized jars, which are, in turn, sealed and placed into boiling water. After the jars have cooled, the jam can be stored in a cupboard for up to a year.
With freezer jam, there is no need to cook the berries or sterilize any jars. Which streamlines the entire process, and since the berries aren’t cooked, you get a fresher tasting jam with more strawberry flavor. Freezer jam also looks more appealing. Regular jam has a deep red color that approaches burgundy, whereas freezer jam has a brighter hue, closer to that of a fresh strawberry. If you’ve never had strawberry freezer jam, you’re in for a real treat. I guarantee you it will be better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.
There’s no secret to the recipe. You’ll find it in every package of Sure-Jell pectin mix. I like to use the lower-sugar variety, which uses 25% less sugar and tastes great. You only need a quart of fresh strawberries and about 6 8-ounce freezer-safe, air tight containers. Plastic or glass will do. The jam can be stored in the freezer for up to a year. When ready, simply thaw some in the refrigerator, where it will last for 3 weeks.
Jo Ann called this spring with news of another surplus of berries a good two weeks before we saw them here. It was all I could do not to jump into the car with the dog and head down there to help her pick them. Instead, I grabbed a couple of quarts at the farmers market, enough for two batches. Hopefully, that will carry me well into the fall. When that’s all gone, I’ll have to throw myself on my sister’s mercy.
Strawberry Freezer Jam
- 4 pints fresh strawberries
- 1-1.75 ounce box SURE-JELL For Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes Fruit Pectin
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
You will need several glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, enough to hold 6 cups of jam. I recommend 8-ounce containers, but certainly nothing more than 16 ounces. You’ll want to ensure that you can consume the thawed jam in three weeks. Wash, rinse and dry the containers and lids.
Discard the stems from the strawberry. In a large bowl, mash the berries with a potato masher or crush with clean hands. Measure exactly 4 cups of the mashed berries and set aside.
In a large sauce pan, add the sugar and stir in the pectin until thoroughly mixed. Stir in the water and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil for one minute and remove from heat.
Quickly stir the mashed fruit into the hot sugar-pectin mixture until thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into the container leaving a ½ inch of space to allow for expansion. Cover the containers with their lids and allow to set at room temperature for 24 hours.
Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Otherwise, store the jam in the freezer for up to one year. Thaw in the refrigerator.
Makes 6 cups
This is not a paid endorsement for SURE-JELL. I do not accept paid endorsements. There are numerous other brands of pectin, many that require reduced amounts of sugar. There are also recipes on the web that allow you to make your own pectin.