Fruit Picking and Fresh Strawberry Jam

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We are fortunate enough to live in an area with many orchards and family farms where you can buy and even pick your own produce. It’s one of the things I absolutely love about our area and get so excited when spring and summer rolls around so I can stock up on all that yummy fruit. There’s something very satisfying about it and it’s a great way to support local farmers and families. Some of these orchards have been in business for over 75 years and you can see that all their family is a part of the business. My favorite fruits to pick are blueberries, tart cherries, honey crisp apples, and strawberries. This year I picked over forty pounds of strawberries. They joy of picking fresh produce kinda fades for me girls the longer we are out there in the sun with the bugs and the sticky weeds (because they don’t use any pesticides or weed killers). Their stained fingers and taste testing faces grow stickier and more red. Their tired little bodies start to emit constant whines and declarations that we have enough already! I always say, “Just five more minutes!” I like to fill that picking box to the brim! I will go down a row and then on my way to the weighing area, see another row with nice berries so I just grab a few more and add it to my heaping box. I may need a support group for my thing for picking fruit. Since I had plenty of ripe strawberries that needed to be used up quick, I made a few batches of strawberry jam and then froze a bunch of berries too. This was my first ever attempt at making jam of any kind and I would say it was a big success. Ok, master canners, please don’t laugh at me and my excitement over making basic strawberry jam. I know it’s not the most complicated thing to do, but I am pleased with it and want to share this experience especially with those who have never canned anything or made their own jam before.  Maybe I’ll give a little hope to you, if I can do it, I know that you can do it! I basically just followed a recipe I found online by the Pioneer Woman. I really like her and her recipes and her down to earth personality. Her cooking style is very similar to my own style and her blog success inspires me to keep at this. She started somewhere, right? My parents have actually been by her home in Oklahoma. They were out driving around on their way to my aunt and uncle’s house for a visit and they decided to try to find the Drummond Ranch. Well, they did find it. I guess it wasn’t too difficult since the small town that is close to the ranch only has a few roads heading from it. They followed one of the roads and found the ranch and saw the sign leading to their ranch. They refrained from driving up the driveway, though and just took a quick picture and went on their way. When my mom texted me the picture, I wondered if I would need to go bail them out of jail for trespassing in Oklahoma, but they behaved. 🙂

I’ve never canned anything in my life. I’ve had aspirations of canning all the veggies that come from my garden, but I’ve told you about that pathetic little garden so no stockpile of canned goods are coming from my yard any time soon. I consulted my canning advisor (AKA Mom) since she has a lot of experience with canning. When she and my dad were first married and they lived with my great-aunt Bee and uncle Carol. My mom would be awoken bright and early with the announcement of all the things they were going to can that day. Bee always had a big garden and was a resourceful woman who made the most of her summer produce to last all year, carefully preserved in jars. They canned green beans, tomatoes, applesauce, and made all kinds of jams and jellies. Although my mom’s hands hurt from all the peeling, chopping and preparing all summer long and she was probably missing her Texas beaches, she’s so thankful of all she learned from sweet aunt Bee.

My friend Steph told me about freezer jam and how simple it was to make. I was intrigued and liked the idea of keeping the strawberries fresh instead of cooking them. But our freezer is jam-packed already! Ha. It’s so full, there’s no way there’s room for jars of jam.  Our large chest freezer is so full that I have to put weights on the lid to keep it closed. So the idea of freezer jam was out for this year and I decided to go forth with the regular way of making jam.

Since I have never canned before, I didn’t have any canning supplies. I picked up a canning utensil kit which included the jar grippers, a magnet thing for picking up the lids, a stick for measuring the amount of headroom at the top of each jar, and a wide mouth funnel. I bought some pretty jam jars of course. I chose not to purchase a canning rack and thought, or hoped I would be ok without one. I also picked up some of the Sure-Jell powdered fruit pectin as the recipe called for. I didn’t change anything from the ingredients and basically followed the recipe to a ‘T’. I had no clue what I was doing, so I was not going to alter anything to screw it up. This jam is loaded up with sugar sweetness so if you are on a low sugar diet, you may want to look for an alternative recipe. You can see the recipe I used here and lots of great pictures and detail about the jam making process here on The Pioneer Woman’s blog.

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Strawberry Jam

Ingredients:

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5 cups hulled mashed strawberries
7 cups sugar
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 49g package powdered fruit pectin. I used Sure Jell Brand because my momma told me to. It came in a two pack so that means, you might as well plan on making another batch of this amazing jam in the near future, right??

1/2 TBS butter – optional

Equipment needed:

I bought the Ball canning utensil set.

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The only thing I think is crucial in that kit is the wide mouth funnel. The jar gripper can easily be replaced by rubber gripped tongs if you already have them. The gripper thing works much better if you are using it the correct way. During the first batch, I wondered why anyone would want to use the gripper thing. I felt like I was going to drop the jars at any moment and didn’t like it one bit. Hello, I was using it backwards. The green handled part goes around the jar, not the other way around. Maybe I should take the time to read the directions a little better 🙂 The little magnet thing is kinda fun, but not a necessity. The measuring tool to check the headroom on each jar is ok, but an eyeball works just as well. I decided not to purchase a canning rack and it worked fine without it for the jam. I just had to find the right pot to fit as many jars as possible and still have the jars be submergible.

Directions:

First, wash your jars, tongs or jar gripper, and funnel.

In a large pot, gently set the jars and pour water in and around them. Keep the jars on a warm simmer. This is to temper them so they don’t crack or break when you add the hot jam to them.

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Put the center lids in a saucepan of water and simmer on low heat.

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Cut a lemon in half and juice it. This should be around 4 TBS of lemon juice. If needed, use the remaining half of the lemon to achieve 4 TBS of lemon juice. Set this aside.

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Measure out 7 Cups of Sugar in a bowl and set this aside. The sugar needs to be added all at once so pre measuring and having the sugar ready to go is important.

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Wash and stem your strawberries. You can use a knife or the spoon method to stem the berries. The spoon method is great if you have little helpers in the kitchen helping to make the jam. 

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Toss the stemmed strawberries in a large bowl.It was really late when I made this last “blog worthy” batch of jam. I was getting a little slap happy and couldn’t help but giggle as I stemmed the berries and said “Off with their heads!” In true Queen of Hearts form. Alice In Wonderland is one of my favorite Disney movies. Yes, I know it’s a musical and I know I said I don’t normally like musicals, but I just love that crazy movie. If I ever go to Oxford, England, I will make sure to go to Alice’s Shop. My best friend spent a few months in England during college and brought me back the most precious teacup and saucer and a cool t-shirt from that store. Here’s my little pile of strawberry heads that I tossed to my little backyard critters over the fence.

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The Pioneer Woman used a potato masher on a baking sheet to mash the berries. I don’t own a potato masher – oh the shock!! So I used a large metal bowl and a pastry cutter. It worked well. You could also use a food processor or a blender, but be careful because it may puree the berries too much. Mash your berries using the potato masher, pastry cutter, or you could even do a little Lucy method and plop them into a big tub and let your feet do the mashing! Just kidding!

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I like mine to have a few remaining chunks. Mash yours berries to your preference.

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Once you think you have 5 C of mashed berries, transfer them to a large pot for the cooking process. Use a measuring cup to scoop out the berries to measure as you go. Wash, stem, and mash some more if you don’t quite have 5 Cups.

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In the large pot, add in the 4 TBS of fresh lemon juice to the mashed berries. There is no heat turned on yet.

Stir in the fruit pectin (Sure Jell) until it’s dissolved.

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Now the Pioneer Woman said to add a little pat and a half or so of butter to this and stir it in. She said this helps to prevent foam. I did it with all three of my batches and still had some foam. Since I’m a newbie, I don’t know if it really decreased the foam or not. I’m not going to question the Pioneer Woman who has been making jam for a long time so I added the butter like she said. My jam tasted great, and a little butter can’t hurt 🙂

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Once the butter is stirred in, go ahead and Turn on the Heat!

Bring this to a rolling boil.

Add in the 7 Cups of sugar all at once and stir it in.

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Crank up the heat and stir until it becomes a violent boil. That means that the boiling cannot be slowed by stirring. Once it hits that violent boiling stage, keep it boiling like that for around a minute or two.

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Turn off the heat! You will see the foam appear. Have no fear! Just use a spoon to skim off as much foam as you can without taking too much of that sweet jam with it.

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Now you are ready to fill your jars with that amazing jam!

Take only one jar out of the simmering water using tongs or your jar gripper. Pour out the water from the jar back into the pot with the jars.

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Place the funnel on the jar and carefully scoop jam into the jar. Try to be consistent with the amount of strawberry chunks and liquid in each jar.

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Fill the jar until just 1/4 of an inch remains at the top of the jar for head space.

Before moving this jar, go ahead and take out your second jar from the simmering water and set it up to be filled. This helps you put the sticky jammy funnel directly onto the next jar, rather than on your countertop.

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You may want to use a dish towel to help you move the filled jar to a different area for the next step.

My fingers are pretty much immune to heat thanks to my high school days flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Remember the “Two finger method” when grilling those patties and transferring them to the holding trays.

Eyeball or use the cool measuring tool to make sure you only have 1/4 inch of head space in the jar.

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Use a butter knife to carefully go around the inside of the jar. This helps to prevent air bubbles.

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Wipe the rim of the jar to make sure there is no jam residue that could affect the sealing process.

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Using the little magnet thing or just some handy tongs, remove one of the center lids from your simmering water and place it on the jar.

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Screw on the outside ring on the jar lid. Tighten just until snug, but do not over tighten.

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Repeat this process until you run out of jam. If your last jar is not filled all the way, it’s ok. You’ll just have to put that jar in the fridge right away after the sealing process since it won’t be sealed tight.

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Aren’t they pretty! Now for the sealing process!

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You should still have your big pot of simmering water that your jars started in. Carefully place each jar back into the water. You may need to use an empty jar as a place holder to help keep the jars upright (unless you follow the rules and have a canning rack).

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The jars need to be submerged in the water. I had to ladle out some water until the level was correct, otherwise mine would have overflowed.

Cover the pot with the lid and bring this to a boil.

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It needs to be a hard boil with the jars being submerged the entire time. Once it’s at a hard boil, continue to boil for around 10-13 minutes. I went for 13. During the boiling, I could already hear some of the lids sealing.

After boiling for 10-13 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid and let the jars sit there in their little hot tub for another 5 minutes.

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After the 5 minute rest,carefully remove the jars from the water and set them on a towel on a counter.  You can gently wipe the jars off, but do not disturb the lids or seals. Some seals may still take a little longer to seal so don’t be alarmed if some are still popped up and not fully sealed yet. Let the jars sit like this for 12-24 hours. Then, check those seals. Remove the screw lid and gently try to pry up the center lid, but don’t actually pry it up. It should not come up easily. Make sure the center lid is popped down or sealed all the way. Any jars that did not fully seal can still be enjoyed, they just need to be refrigerated.

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All but one of my jars sealed while in the boiling water. I was trying to get a picture of it still unsealed with the center raised up and just before I snapped the picture, the jar sealed and the center went down. It was funny. Those pops are pretty exciting for a newbie canner! At 11:30 at night when I am tired and my kitchen looks like a strawberry exploded, I can’t help but laugh at myself. I kept picturing one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes where Kramer is making sausages in Jerry’s apartment, stringing them all over, grinding up meat and it’s all a mess. But, countertops are made to be scrubbed and this jam is worth it! With every batch I made, I became better at the process and had my own rhythm on keeping the kitchen cleaner as I went along.

Here’s a picture of all of the batches I made. I used a larger jar for the first few batches and smaller jars for the last batch.

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Let me tell you, I know this is my first time making jam, but this stuff is really amazing! Those Smucker’s boys have nothing on this stuff! We are on our second jar and can’t wait to enjoy a little jam with our breakfast or on our PBJ’s. Now if only we had a printer so I could make some cool labels . . .

A big thank you to the Pioneer Woman for this wonderful recipe and her detailed blog posts with great hand holding instructions to help newbie canners get in there and make some jam!

I can’t wait until blueberry picking season begins in a few weeks so I can make some blueberry jam!

Enjoy!


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