orange breakfast muffins with strawberry jam, the thought of braving homemade preserves occurred to me. Last week the strawberries were too abundant and inexpensive to not follow through with the idea. Plus, Mother's Day was coming up, and I knew (that if successful!) it would make a beautiful and unique gift. And it did. The jars were a hit at brunch last Sunday, as well as in our own house. I certainly can't claim all the credit - Dan came home from work last Thursday evening and was up for last minute weeknight preserving. Lucky wife, indeed. After I prepared the strawberry concoction, he jumped right in and helped with the tough part: processing.
Homemade preserves were a lot easier to pull off than I thought they would be. I chose to use unsweetened pectin instead of lemon juice or gelatin, and was very pleased with the results. The preserves definitely turned out a bit runnier than store-bought, and I had the option of adding more pectin, but didn't really think it was necessary. The runnier consistency feels more natural to me, and makes for the added benefit of slightly easier spreading. I more than halved the sugar that was called for in the recipe, and substituted agave nectar as well as evaporated cane juice sugar for the granulated sugar. The strawberries are currently at their peak and very sweet on their own, so 7 cups of sugar to me seemed not only over the top and completely undesirable, but also somewhat criminal. You can any sweetener you like - honey, fruit juice, etc. Play with the amounts and find the ratio that works for you.
Dan processed the jars by placing them in briskly boiling water in a large stockpot for five to seven minutes. We don't have a canner, so lifting the jars out of the boiling water was tricky. Definitely use extreme caution when you're doing this part. Tongs made for jars would have made for a much easier (and safer) method. Because we are now preserving enthusiasts, I've added them to my shopping list!
4 pints ripe strawberries (about 4 cups crushed)
2 cups evaporated cane sugar
1 cup agave nectar
1 3oz pouch of unsweetened fruit pectin
Wash the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse. Place them on a rack in the sink and pour boiling water in and over each jar. Drain. Alternatively, you can sterilize the jars by running them through the dishwasher. Transfer the clean jars to a cookie tray and place them in a 200-degree F oven.
Prepare the lids by placing them in a saucepan of gently boiling water for five to ten minutes. If you plan on processing your jam (sealing the jars to ensure freshness and a longer shelf-life), be sure you are using new lids. If you don't process, your jam should last a little over a month in the refrigerator. If you do process the jars, they will last for 18 months unopened and unrefrigerated.
Wash and hull the strawberries. Mash them in a bowl, or use a food processor to pulse, but be sure not to overdo it - you want your jam to have pieces of fruit in it.
Place the strawberries into a 6- or 8-qt. pot. Stir the sugar and agave into the fruit and mix well. Bring the pot to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Don't skimp on the size of the pot - the strawberry mixture will GROW when you add the pectin and the mixture is boiling.
Add the fruit pectin and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
Remove the jam from the heat and skim off and discard any foam using a metal spoon. Ladle the jam into a liquid measuring cup and fill the hot jars immediately to within 1/8 inch of the tops.
Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth.
Remove the jar lids from boiling water using tongs and place them on a paper towel. Wipe them dry. Place the lids on the jars and screw them on tightly.
If you don't plan on processing and will be enjoying your jam within a few weeks, you can skip the next part. If you do want to process, proceed with the following step.
If you don't have a canner (like us), bring a very large pot of water to a boil. Be sure the pot is deep enough so that the jars will have at least an inch or two of water covering them when placed inside. Process the jars for 5-7 minutes and then leave undisturbed for 12-24 hours. The lids will have curved down if properly sealed. If you find that one of your jars did not seal, you can reprocess right away, but not after 24 hours have passed.
Makes six 8oz. jars of preserves.
Adapted from ehow.com.