I’ve been fascinated with preserving food since I was a kid. My Mom and my Aunt Brenda would take all of us cousins to pick strawberries and we would pick and eat strawberries in the hot sun for hours, then Mom would make jelly all day. She also made homemade bread and let us eat the foam (we called it scum) from the jelly. I’m telling you, strawberry scum is pretty good on homemade bread. So good, in fact, that I can’t make strawberry preserves without wanting homemade bread. And that’s how I ended up making baguettes with my preserves. Making memories, that’s what it’s all about.
These are local strawberries, perfect in every way. Sid picked them up for me at Green Valley, a local wholesaler. Juicy, perfectly ripe and red all of the way through, no white or hard spots and the complete opposite of market strawberries that spoil before they are completely ripe; I was very lucky to get them.
If you are just starting to can or preserve food, jams and jellies are a great place to start. They are pretty easy and don’t take as much time as low acid foods. Since they are naturally high in the acids that keep canned food safe, you can use a large pot as a hot water bath or a canner. If you aren’t comfortable with processing this jam recipe, you can make the jam following the recipe, then just freeze it, too. It’ll last a very long time (probably a year) in your freezer. There are special jam/jelly jars for freezing, sold online and at some markets.
There are hundreds of books and recipes for canning out there. There are hundreds of websites (Ball- Home Canning – linked) too. Here are a couple of my favorites.
The Better Homes and Gardens Magazine has preserving techniques of all kinds, with a section on each type of preservation: drying or dehydrating, pickling, freezing, hot water bath canning, fermenting (one of the most interesting to me!), condiments, butters, syrups, cocktails, and purees, chutneys, marmalades and pie fillings. I would love to try them all.
Canning is not cheap. Jars and lids, the pectin (liquid or powder) is expensive, not to mention the fruit or veggies and sugar. With the cost effectiveness of large industry and farming, most of the food on market shelves can be purchased for less money than what you’ll have invested in your home preservation hobby. But, in all honesty, I’ve never had a jar of jam from the market that tastes half as good as the strawberry lemon preserves that came from my own kitchen yesterday.
Some expense can be saved by buying used jars at estate auctions, yard sales and flea markets, just make sure you check each jar for chips or cracks. Watch for them and snap them up! A dozen pint jars runs about $10 at the market, these smaller half pints are about $7.50 – I found them at the Dollar General.
To start making your own jam, equipment-wise you will need: a very large pot with a lid and a canning rack, a large pot and a small saucepan, a funnel, a ladle, a couple clean dry dish towels, paper towels, a jar lifter, lid lifter, a very large measuring cup (about 8 cups) and about 7 – 8 half pint jars with lids. The seals have to be new, the rings do not. I also used an immersion blender, but a handheld potato masher will also work.
For this jam recipe, you will need: one box of fruit pectin (pay attention to the recipes, some call for liquid pectin while others call for the powder), about 10 cups of strawberries, sugar, butter and a lemon.
Confession time: I have a thing for Mason jars. I inherited it from my Mom’s mom – Grandma Clark. I like old, new, big, small and blue, Mason jar lights, Mason jar decor and Mason jar desserts and baking (including banana bread!) and, well, I’ve never met a jar I don’t like. Follow my Canning and Mason Jar board on Pinterest for updates on my Mason Jar addiction.
Plus, the personal pride that comes from making and preserving food, especially food from your own garden is like none other. I’m proud of those jars and the history behind them. And all that work. One more thing: keep your littles out of the kitchen when canning, you’ll be pouring, splashing and sterilizing and everything is HOT.
For the long cold winter months that lie ahead. A little taste of summer.
For the long cold winter months that lie ahead: Strawberry Lemon Preserves. This recipe is a combination of two great ones.
Run the Mason jars through the sanitize cycle in the dishwasher. Leave them in the dishwasher; they need to be very hot.
Fill a very large pot with a lid about half full of water and put it on the stove. Bring to a boil.
Place the lids (seals) and bands in a small saucepan and put them on a back burner on low heat, to soften the rubber seals.
Wash and cap 9 - 10 cups of strawberries. Dice a lemon very fine and set aside.
Place half of the strawberries in the bottom of another large pot and mash. Add the rest of the strawberries and continue to mash. Measure the strawberry puree to be certain there is 5 cups. Add the pectin and lemon and bring to a full rolling boil. Stir frequently. Add the sugar all at once.
Prepare the jars by removing from the dishwasher and line them up on a clean dishtowel. You may have to dunk them in the hot water if they cool.
Return the preserves to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, for one minute.
Quickly skim any foam from the top. Turn off the heat and place the funnel in a Mason jar. Ladle the hot preserves into the Mason jar, leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top. Remove the funnel and wipe the edge of the jar with a paper towel. Screw on the bands by holding the hot jar with a dishtowel to keep from burning your hands.
Use the lid lifter to pull a seal from the small saucepan and top the jar. Screw the band on and place the jar in the jar rack. Repeat about 6 more times. Lower the filled jar rack into the hot water bath very carefully and arrange the jars, using the jar lifter, so they are not touching each other or the sides of the pot. Make sure the water is deep enough to cover the lids by one inch. Put the lid on the pot and process for 5 minutes once the water returns to boiling.
Remove the jars from the canner using the jar lifter to a dishtowel. Make sure the jars are not in a draft or sitting near an open window. Do not retighten the bands. Before long, you will hear the ting* of the lids sealing. Check the buttons in the center of the lids after an hour. Sealed jars go to the pantry, jars that did not seal should be opened and eaten right away. Bands can be removed and recycled if the jars will not be jostled or moved.