Saturday, June 14, 2014



One of our MOST FAVORITE summertime, or nearly summertime picking strawberries and making strawberry jam and preserves.  Nothing tastes better than fresh, homemade strawberry jam.
We love the farm and all the beautiful berries. The trip out to the country is not too far, and the scenery is a nice change of pace.  The newly planted fields are a bright green and the sky is so blue in the early morning.
We try to go strawberry picking as close to the season's opening day as possible to maximize on the biggest berries.  The season usually lasts about two weeks depending on how many pickers are picking and what the weather is like.  If we get a stretch of warm, sunny weather the berries ripen a little faster and the the season is over a little sooner.
Our family thinks its important to taste-test the berries...preferably in the field, just as it's picked...Doesn't get much better than that!


The secret to blue ribbon strawberry jams and preserves?!? Well, it's not really a secret at all... It really comes down to using the very best berries available and following the directions on the Sure-Jell recipe booklet --exactly.  Exact measurements are a must for perfectly set jams and jellies.  That's it, so simple right?
The secret ingredient is: perfectly ripe strawberries and sugar... that's the magic. ...the real secret to great jams, jelly and preserves is in the measuring of the ingredients.  

For making jam or preserves I follow the exact directions on the Sure-Jell instruction booklet.  (It comes inside each and every little box of Sure-Jell.)  Measuring carefully AND having fresh sweet, ripe (not under-ripe and not over-ripe) berries (or ANY fruit for that matter) will reap the best, most delicious final product.

Sure-Jell is available in the baking or canning aisle of most grocery stores.  Sure-Jell is a natural fruit pectin that helps the jams jellies and preserves set up to the correct consistency.

Yes, there is an obscene amount of sugar in traditional jams and preserves.  Jams, jellies and preserves are meant to be sweet; it's a condiment, not a food group. Try not to be too upset by the volume of sugar in each batch.  For every 5 cups of crushed berries there is 7 cups of granulated sugar....  Just remember, you are eating ONLY a fraction of the total amount of sugar in each batch.  We use about a tablespoon or so of jam on an individual PB&J sandwich. By making your own jam, you control the quality of the berries and you'll know exactly what's in each jar, no worries about other chemicals, pesticides or additional preservatives.  
For sugar-free or jam with less sugar, Sure-Jell in the pink box can be used.  I cannot vouch for the pink box Sure-Jell or how it tastes, I've always made the traditional kind with sugar.  Visit for more product information.


Jams are crushed fruit and the juice that is extracted from the crushing... We use a potato masher for maximum crushing.  Jams contain both the crushed fruit and jelled juices.  The jam, once set is like a solid, but easily spreads with a knife.

Preserves are when the shape of the fruit is "preserved" in the canning process.  For this method I crush a few handfuls of berries to get some body and  some juice, the remaining berries are left whole and cook down, holding their original shape.  The whole berries soften, but for the most part they retain a lot of their original shape.

Jelly is made using only the juice of the fruit.  Once the fruit is crushed, cheesecloth is used to separate the fruit pulp from the juice.  Once pectin (Sure-Jell) is added to the fruit juice and heated, you'll end up with a jelly.  The hallmark of a jelly- is a clear, transparent jelled product without any cloudiness or fruit pulp.

For more information on canning techniques, proper storage and food safe practices, consult the Ball Blue Book for canning.  Available where canning jars are sold.


Over the years, I learned a thing or two about making strawberry jam, so here is a listing of a few helpful tips to make the experience go smoothly:

 Get to the fields early, the fruit will have rested overnight and be at it's freshest in the early morning.  The cool morning air makes the chore of picking a much more enjoyable task.

To the filed or berry patch, take hand wipes or a container of soapy water and a washcloth. All the taste testing and picking can make for a messy and sticky ride home if you are not prepared.

  In advance of berry picking day, get your jars cleaned and have enough new lids ready for when it's time to begin canning.  Counting the jars can help you decide how many berries to pick.  It's easy to get carried away in a field full or gorgeous strawberries!
 Based on the amount of jars you have, purchase enough sugar and pectin to get the job done.  there is nothing worse than needing to run to the store in the middle of canning.

Keep things organized, clean and have plenty of fresh clean towels or paper towels at the ready.  Hot jam can be a drippy mess, but if you are prepared in advance, you can manage even to biggest strawberry spill.

Measure exactly.

Don't fill the jars too full.  Filling the jars to the lowest ring at the mouth of the jar is far enough.  Consult the Ball Blue Book, for more details.

Have fun... you'll be enjoying your efforts all year long!

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