I’ve always been a by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of home cook. When I’m not working and thus don’t have to write down or follow a recipe I am happy not to. Last weekend, I set out to make strawberry jam. I knew just what I wanted…the purity of fruit without too much sugar; a spoonable preserve with a fresh, not-too-cooked flavor. I usually try to do as little as possible to jam and use as little sugar as I can get away with. These goals can conflict because long cooking and more sugar both help to thicken the jam, as does pectin. A lot of people don’t like to use pectin because it is considered an unnatural additive and it can over-jell the fruit and make the jam grainy. For this reason, I generally don’t use pectin. But I also don’t like to cook the jam too long because it loses its fresh flavor, and I like to cut the sugar considerably from the usual recipes. Some recipes call for more sugar than fruit, which is just wrong.
I have good luck with low sugar, no pectin plum and blackberry jam because those are higher pectin fruits. I’d never made strawberry jam, so , for the first time, I decided to experiment with adding pectin so I could use less sugar and not cook the crap out of the perfect fruit I’d procured. There was part of a box in the house from someone’s previous experiment–not really enough. So I did what I always do: looked at a bunch of different recipes and figured out a haphazard ratio and tried it out.
Here’s the ratio we ended up with, though we made twice this amount. This is where having a good friend comes in handy.
5 cups strawberries
2 1/3 cups sugar
Barely a teaspoon of pectin
old vanilla bean that I pulled out of my vanilla sugar
We hulled the berries, and smashed them up with a pastry blender, stirred in the sugar and vanilla bean and then cooked them until foam started rising to the surface. We skimmed it off and continued cooking maybe 10 more minutes and then filled the jars and processed the jam.
What we got was a bright flavored, jewel-like strawberry jam, somewhat loose and spoonable into yogurt, while a little drippy on toast–just the way I like it.
PS: 1 flat of strawberries yielded a lot of jam. something like 22 pints! Yowza.