With this post, you’re in for a treat. You see, strawberries have always been one of my favorite things. I have not been as successful with growing them as I certainly have been with eating them, and its one of the few tastes I never tire of. So allow me to share one of my favorite ways to preserve this luscious flavor for you in the form of strawberry vanilla jam, it doesn’t take too terribly many strawberries, and it does not require careful measuring of pectin or endless attention. You don’t even have to use a boiling water bath if you plan to give away the jam to those who will consume it within a month. Its that easy!
1.5 lbs of strawberries, about 2 pints (should equal around 4 cups once cored and chopped)
2 whole vanilla beans, split and scraped
2 cups sugar, divided
1 lemon, washed, zested, and juiced.
You will also need four half-pint glass canning jars with rings and new lids, or four plastic freezer jam containers if you do not plan to process your jam.
Assembling your supplies:
To get started, wash and rinse all your jars, rings, lids, utensils, and pans using hot soapy water and allow to dry. Even if your jars are coming clean out of the cupboard, I recommend not skipping this step. It allows you time to inspect the jars for cracks and nicks and rings for dents and rust. If any of these things are present do not use the equipment for canning your jam, as it could lead to loss of seal. Nobody wants to get sick. Ensure you have good clean kitchen towels, pot holders, ladles, and a functional jar lifter. Make sure you have what you need before you start cooking your berries, because once they’re done you will need to act fast.
Prepwork: the day before.
Gently roll those berries into a colander and rinse them with cold water. Core them, chop them, and put them into a large nonreactive bowl, preferably glass or plastic.
Add 1 cup of the sugar and your split and scraped vanilla beans. Please do not skip using fresh vanilla beans in this recipe: extract won’t cut it here. The alcohol in the extract just evaporates and the flavor is not as rich as it will be with the real thing.
If you’ve never worked with real vanilla beans, don’t be intimidated by the weird, greasy looking pods. You want to take a paring knife’s pointy tip and gently puncture through the skin of the bean, just the first layer, and slide the knife from end to end. Taking the point, slide this into the tip of the bean and gently flatten out the bean’s innards: that’s where the good stuff is. Your goal is to take that flat edge of your sharp knife and scrape all of that black goodness out of the center of that bean. See those flecks? Remind you of what you’ve seen speckling your vanilla ice cream? Exactly.
Now get as much of that out of there as you can and open the pods up and throw all of that into the berry mixture, mixing well. You’re going to let this mixture sit, if not overnight, for at least 3 hours until the berries release their juices. Cover those bad boys up, stick ’em in the fridge, and stir when you think about it. After a few hours you’ll have a rich, pink strawberry syrup and you may be tempted to stop right there. But if you let them go about 36 hours you’ll have thick red syrupy vanilla-drenched perfumed berries, and that’s what you want to preserve.
Making the Jam: Boiling Water Bath Method
For a fresh jam you’ll make this as instructed up to the point where you’re pouring it into jars, at that point it can be just cooled, capped, refrigerated, and used within a month. For pressure canning, check your altitude settings and add on any additional minutes, using 10 lbs of pressure for 10 minutes for half pint jars at sea level. This is a good recipe for a beginning canner, as it does not require special equipment beyond a large stockpot that will cover the jars while processing.
Fill that large stockpot with water and put your canning rack in the bottom. Add your clean jars and rings to this and bring to a simmer. Keep those clean lids nearby.
Get another large pot and add your strawberry mixture and that second cup of sugar. Remove those vanilla pods. Turn on the heat to medium-high. What you’re looking to do is cook some of that moisture out of your berry mixture and allow the temperature of your jam to reach 220 degrees F, which is the gel point. If your mixture doesn’t get to that temperature, it won’t “jam”. Even if it does get to that temperature, it won’t jam unless you reduce it a little, so go ahead and bring it to a boil while stirring occasionally. Use your thermometer (if you don’t have a candy thermometer, a meat thermometer will do) to ensure proper temperature of 220 degrees, then reduce heat and let it go at slightly below a simmer for about 15 minutes or until your jam is no longer runny. It should coat the back of a spoon or firm up when applied to a chilled plate. Remove the jam from heat at this point and stir in your lemon and lemon zest.
Filling the Jars: Using your jar lifter, remove your jars and rings from the simmering water, drain on a clean kitchen towel, and drop the lids in to heat while you’re preparing the jars. Ensure all water is removed from the inside of the hot jars and use the jar funnel and ladle to add hot jam to the jars, filling to 1/2″ from the top. Leaving this headspace will help reduce the risk of your jam expanding during the canning process, called “siphoning”. Using another clean kitchen towel, wipe the rims and threads of the jar, ensuring the area where the seal to be made is as clean and residue free as possible. Apply the heated lids to the jars, pressing firmly, and screw rings fingertip tight over the tops of the jars. Use jar lifter to place each one in your water bath, and add boiling water to cover tops of the jars by at least 1/2″. Bring temperature to boiling and process about 10 minutes. When complete, remove jars from the bath and place to dry on a kitchen towel or trivet. Within the hour you should hear the *ping!* of the jars sealing as they cool on the countertop.
These will keep for a year, maybe more, to top your fresh bread, your biscuits, your yogurt, your ice cream. A little touch of spring berry flavor no matter what time of year. Label and share the love.