Even as I picked, I found myself thinking ahead to the canning that would take place once the berries had been washed and cut. How I love to make strawberry jam in my own kitchen, cooking the sweet berries and lining up the hot jars. Perhaps more than that I love to open a jar in the middle of winter and to spread my homemade jam on a warm biscuit, an experience that immediately transports me back to the hot summer field that started it all.
Since we began our journey into whole foods however, we've been searching for ways to reduce (and eliminate!) our intake of refined sugar. For those who don't know, my homemade strawberry jam requires 7 cups of sugar per batch, which is the standard amount used in most recipes.
Not sure how much that really is?
I must also admit that since we've cut sugar largely from our diet, even my own jam, so lovingly prepared last summer, has begun to taste too sweet. Our palettes have become accustomed to natural sugars, and relatively few of them, so spreading the once perfectly proportioned jam onto biscuits isn't exactly the same pleasure it once had been.
So, as I am apt to do, I did a little research and discovered that honey can be substituted in canning at a one-to-one ratio with sugar. It was still a lot of sweet taste I reasoned, but certainly a better choice than adding white, refined sugar to my delicious berries- particularly because I use local, raw honey.
Then another unexpected development unfolded.
A friend, who has been making light work of canning at our house this year by splitting the labor with me and chatting to pass the time, discovered low sugar pectin. (For those new to canning, pectin is the ingredient which causes the jam to "gel".) Never having used either low sugar pectin, nor honey as a sugar substitute in jam, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try both new approaches at once. After all, I was trading a "7 cups of sugar recipe" for a "2 cups of raw honey" one- it seemed worth a little risk!
We made two batches of jam with the low-sugar honey recipe, and one standard. Both were totally successful and produced tasty results, so I intend to give the traditional jam as gifts to folks whom I know would prefer the "old-fashioned" approach, and to eat the honey-jam ourselves throughout the year. I'll have a few left over to give away as well, I expect.
Are you curious yet as to how we made the low sugar honey jam?
As mentioned above, we first had to pick the strawberries.
Before cooking can begin, one must assemble the necessary tools. Canning jam is hot and fast work, so it's best to put everything out beforehand.
*a large canner (an enamel stockpot with a round wire rack inside to set jars on)
mason jars (there are jars with a quilted appearance, which are traditionally used for jams, but I prefer to use some plain old half pint jars as well)
*bands and lids enough for the number of jars you have
*potato or berry masher
*a wide mouth funnel
*a jar lifter and metal tongs (some prefer a lid wand)
*a wooden spoon
*a chopstick to get bubbles out of the poured jam
*and I use the Ball dissolvable labels because when I wash the jars after the jam's gone they're a cinch to get clean.
Ingredients for Strawberry Honey Jam:
(From Ball Canning)
Makes 2 8 oz. jars of jam, so be sure to multiply the recipe depending upon your batch size
* 1 1/3 cup local, organic strawberries
* 1/3 cup water
*Low sugar pectin (I used Ball)
*1/2 cup honey
*1/4 tsp butter to prevent foaming, optional
Fill the canner half full with water and place the round wire rack into the water with the jars you intend to use, so the jars warm at the same speed the water does. Bring to a boil, and let the jars boil for several minutes to sterilize them. The exact amount of water you use at this point doesn't matter because you'll have a chance to add some or take some out when you put your jars in to can them.
Add a few cups of water to a separate pot and add lids to the water to keep them hot. (Boil first to sterilize.) You'll also want to keep a kettle of water boiling (or very hot) so you can add water to the canner later, as necessary, without impacting processing time.
I didn't think to take a picture of my "work station" until later in the process, but here it is: back burners have a small pot with lids in hot water and the kettle keeping water warm, and the front burners have the canner and the pot with my jam cooking. (At this point in the recipe you have to imagine the pot's still empty, though.)
Right. Back to the recipe.
Mash strawberries with a berry or potato masher. How "mashed" you make them will be a matter of personal preference. Since I like berry chunks in my jam, I don't mash them much.
Add water and slowly add pectin, bringing to a roiling boil and stirring constantly. ("Rolling boil" means that the mixture will boil continually even though you're stirring it.) If you're using butter to prevent foaming, add it now.
This picture is of mashed berries with water, pectin and butter added, before it comes to a rolling boil.
Carefully remove one hot jar from the canner with the jar lifter. Don't touch the glass- it will burn you! I like to put hot jars on an old towel because it helps to absorb some of the very, very hot water that will be on the jar, and it helps to prevent slips. To help you take jars out of the canner safely, set the wire rack onto the lid of the canner, as shown below. This will pull the jars up, partially out of the water. They will likely fall over when you move them, and that's fine (just don't let the water splash and burn you). Dump the boiling water back into the canner as you lift the jars from the water bath.
If there is foam along the top of the jam, use a spoon to remove it if you'd like. This step is optional, but it makes the jam look nicer and gives it a more uniform color in the jar. You likely won't have to worry about it if you've added the butter.
Using the ladle, funnel, a spoon, a measuring cup- whatever your preference is- fill the jars to the top, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
[A note about headspace: it's very important to leave the right amount because it's the space which allows foods to expand during processing time. If you leave too little your jars may explode or leak during processing. If you leave too much, you risk your food discoloring, or worse, spoiling. Always pay close attention to the exact amount of headspace your recipe calls for, and measure from the very top of the jar.]
*Now* this picture is in sequence. It's a peek at my work station, mid-way through the process. The filled jars in the picture are waiting to go into the canner. (See how I'm only filling and topping one jar at a time??)
You may notice that the vacuum seals have not yet been made. (You can tell a jar has been properly sealed if the small metal indentation on the lid is pressed down. You should not be able to push the center of the lid down with your finger. If you are able to do so, your jar hasn't sealed properly and you should put the jam into the refrigerator to consume right away.) Jars sometimes seal after they've been removed from the canner. If that's the case, you'll hear a sucking sound and then a pop. This is the most wonderful sound if you've just spent a couple hours in front of a hot stove. Your work has yielded successful results!
After the jars have cooled for thirty minutes to a hour, check the seals. If there are still jars which haven't sealed, you can try turning the jar upside down to cool. Sometimes this can force a seal. If it doesn't, remember to put your jam into the fridge or you won't be able to eat it at all.
Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday linky. Come check it out!