Friday, June 16, 2017

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Remember how I recently shared with you all my favorite recipe for The Best Angel Biscuits? And how I told you to serve them with jam? And then I left you hanging with NOT A JAM RECIPE TO BE HAD?! My apologies. My son literally shattered the very last jar of homemade freezer jam we had in our possession WHILE I was away writing that post. And so I was left with nothing to photograph. And I had to wait for the berries to do their thing and ripen. Which is why, had you been out in the strawberry U-fields of the Pacific Northwest on opening day last Sunday, you would have found the Crozier family, picking desperately with visions of blog posts dancing in our little heads. We are that dedicated to you, Readers.

I would like to say that it was wholly for you, Dear Readers, that we got down to jam-making business with such promptness. Or could it have merely been the fact that WE WERE OUT OF HOMEMADE FREEZER JAM that we ran to the fields with such desperation? We picked those berries like maniacs, drooling as we imagined jam-adorned toast once again, peanut butter and jellies, and a freezer shelf restocked with jammy goodness.

Two things: I hate packing lunches. Hate it, hate it, HATE IT. It is pretty much the worst, isn't it? I have one kid that likes red Baby Bell cheeses on Tuesdays but only the blue ones on Wednesdays. Then the other one won't eat cheese. Except for on the random days that she does. But she likes yogurt which is awesome (hallelujah a protein source!) but only at breakfast (darn!) The other one likes what we refer to as "ice cream yogurt" (Trader Joe's Honey Greek yogurt - it's divine and high enough in everything to be considered dessert) but of course only when it's scooped directly from the tub onto her plate. Should it present in her lunch in a Tupperware or some other ungodly vessel, she will not touch it. Will. Not. It simply cannot taste the same when unlabeled. Obviously. Both the girls like apple slices (hooray!!!!!!).....on some days, except for the days when they don't, like every third Friday or some other random pattern I have yet to figure out (shoot! we almost had a winner there...) One likes carrots with ranch, the other simply can't do either because of her loose tooth. Heaven forbid they ever both like the same thing at the same time! Please tell me you get it.

Now I know what some of you are thinking (and believe me, I've thought it too!) - why don't I just have the kids pack their own lunches? One thing at a time, my friends - this is what I'm learning. I'm trying to give myself the grace to let this one go, at least for the time being. We have bigger fish we are frying right now and sometimes one can only tackle one challenge at a time. Maybe you too have found this? Too many changes attempted all at once and none of them last. But gosh darn it, self-packing of lunches will hopefully make it on the docket for next school year!!

Anyhow, here we are, with 5 lunch-making days of school left in the year, and we've finally found a lunch rhythm that is working! One daughter will happily eat peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat and the other, meat and cheese on dry bread. So you can imagine why the shattering of our last jar of jam on day 187 of school sent us straight to the berry fields to replenish our supply. We aren't about to mess with the good thing we had going.

Why didn't I just buy a jar of jam? You are wondering this, I know. It seems like a fairly reasonable solution. But, this leads me to thing number two that I shall mention: store-bought jam sucks. In my ever-so-humble opinion. Pardon my French, but when you've grown up on the good stuff, no other attempt at a substitute will ever suffice. And this is my story.

Graham is now a believer in homemade jam. Early on in our dating relationship, I think it was our very first Valentine's Day together, I put together a classy little "sunrise" picnic breakfast for the two of us. I showed up at his place at the crack of dawn with a basket full of heart-shaped scones, hot chocolate, strawberries, butter, and a jar of my mom's homemade freezer jam that she'd sent along to keep me company at college. I drove Graham and our breakfast up Queen Anne Hill to a special lookout where we were to eat and watch the sunrise.

There was only one minor detail that I overlooked that perfect morning: this was Seattle, the city of clouds and gray. The sun never did rise (or at least not that we noticed) but otherwise the morning went off without a hitch. And that was the morning Graham was introduced to this thing called homemade freezer jam.

When I was growing up, we'd go berry picking during the summer months, come home and mix up a batch or two of jam and ladle it into little glass jars. We'd make labels out of masking tape, stating the jam type and year, and affix them to the lids before placing them in the freezer. Sometimes the labels would come off when the jars were eventually emptied and washed. And, sometimes they wouldn't. It didn't much matter. We would reuse the jars from year to year and slap a new label over the old one if it was out-of-date. I actually never paid very close attention to those labels until that Valentine's picnic of 2005.

We'd reached the lookout and were settling in to begin our breakfast. I removed a warm scone from the red kitchen towel I'd wrapped it in, sliced it open and handed it to Graham. When I pulled out the jar of jam, Graham's eyes lit up eagerly...until they landed on the date.

"1998!?" he exclaimed. "Wow! This stuff is vintage!"

I had no idea to what he was referring to at first until I too, spotted the lid.

Embarrassed, I explained to him our elementary labeling process and how I was sure it wasn't really seven years old. Of course, he wasn't one to let a teasing opportunity pass and I have yet to hear the end of it. For the record, he LOVED the stuff but to this day, we refer to any and all homemade jars as "Vintage Freezer Jam."

My first attempt at using one of Sure Jell pectin's reduced-sugar recipes turned my favorite blackberry freezer jam into what I would describe as fermented-tasting blackberry soup. I was sorely disappointed and understandably a bit skeptical toward the idea of sacrificing any of my precious U-picked fresh strawberries toward a reduced-sugar jam recipe if I wasn't absolutely sure it was going to turn out. But I didn't want to write off the reduced-sugar strawberry version without first trying it.

Now, before you get your panties all in a wad about the amount of sugar in this recipe, let me be clear that this is by no means what I would refer to as a "low sugar" recipe. It is certainly reduced in sugar when compared to the original Sure Jell freezer jam recipe that I grew up on (which contained 2 cups of sugar for every 1 cup of berries!) but there is still a lot of sugar in here. If you really do want a lower sugar version, I'd recommend you look elsewhere rather than attempting to tweak this one (see below). For me, however, there is a certain flavor profile I'm looking for in my jam (to match my childhood) and I'm OK with some sugar in moderation. I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that, upon making this recipe, not only did it set well, but it tasted JUST LIKE the full sugar version to me. I feel better about it because it has less sugar than it's original counterpart but still plenty enough to make it DELICIOUS. Win win!

The thing to remember when making homemade jam is that measurements are very important. If you try and alter a jam recipe (such as reducing the sugar), it won't gel properly and you'll likely end up with more of a runny syrup. I have no idea what went wrong with my blackberry jam disaster a few years ago but I can safely say that this strawberry version works! I've made it three times already this week and each batch has turned out perfectly.

And on an even more important note, our family is school-lunch-operational again. Hallelujah!

"Vintage" Strawberry Freezer Jam
(Adapted from Reduced-Sugar Sure Jell Box) 

4 cups crushed strawberries (from about 8 cups fresh berries)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 package Sure Jell Fruit Pectin For Use in Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes (pink box)
1 cup water

Rinse and hull strawberries. In a large, wide-bottomed bowl or stockpot, crush berries until you have 4 cups exactly of mashed berries. You can leave the berries slightly chunkier if you prefer some larger lumps of fruit in your jam or mash them more finely for smoother jam (but do not blend!)

In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together sugar and 1 package of reduced-sugar Sure Jell fruit pectin. Once combined, whisk in 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat. Mix in crushed berries until well combined. Ladle jam into clean jars of desired size and screw on lids. Wipe the jar exterior with a wet washcloth to remove any sticky spots and let jars sit on counter at room temperature for 24 hours to allow jam to set. Label with year and jam type and freeze.

When ready to serve, thaw jam in refrigerator or, if you are impatient like me, using the defrost setting of the microwave.

Makes ~7 cups (56 ounces)

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posted by kelsie