If you know me in real life, you’ve undoubtedly heard me rave about my wonderful in-laws. Many in-law relationships are civil at best, but my mother- and father-in-law are like second parents to me. I could say a lot about how great they are, but one example will probably suffice: I voluntarily (and happily) spend several weeks with them at their lake cottage each summer, after my husband has had to return to work. Anyway, we were fortunate enough to spend this Christmas with both my parents and my in-laws, and of course we were spoiled rotten with tons of presents, but one of the greatest gifts I received was my mother-in-law (MIL from here on out) teaching me how to make no-cook strawberry jam.
I’m not usually a jam person. I like it well enough if you put it in front of me, but, preferring to eat fruit in its whole form, I rarely seek out jam (aside from making the boys’ PB&Js with it). All that changed when I had my MIL’s homemade strawberry jam at the cottage this summer. It tasted so, so fresh — as if you just smushed some ripe, fresh strawberries, fresh from the garden, directly onto your bread, with a bit of sugar. I was so obsessed with the jam that I would sometimes turn down whatever my in-laws were making for lunch and instead make myself a PB&J, heavy emphasis on the J, instead. When you consider the fact that my in-laws also spoiled me with at least one or two glasses of wine with dinner each night, it’s no wonder I gained five pounds over the summer. 😉 I’d always thought of jam-making as a laborious process, with mysterious Ball jar components and boiling involved. MIL corrected me and said that actually, she’d made the jam through a no-cook process. I was intrigued, and she promised she’d teach me how to do it when we saw each other at Christmas.
MIL is a woman of her word — she showed up at our house with boxes of Sure-Jell pectin, a key ingredient in jam-making. I should pause here and say that MIL is some kind of renaissance woman. Before she retired, she was a high-flying, powerful, well-known business consultant, and yet she hand-made her sons’ Halloween costumes each year, churned out intricate needlepoint projects, baked awesome pumpkin bread, and, of course, made figure-ruining jam. OK, back to the jam. The great thing about this jam is that you don’t need to cook the fruit, and you don’t need special equipment (besides the pectin). It requires only about 30 minutes of active time (that’s including cleaning and mashing the berries), but it does call for precision. In MIL’s words, it’s part art and part science experiment. I would say it’s mostly science experiment — this is not the time for creativity! It is time for some trial-and-error, as you’ll see later. Without further ado, here are the ingredients and instructions you’ll need to make strawberry jam.
Homemade No-Cook Strawberry Jam
Ingredients/Supplies (For Approximately 3 Cups of Jam)
- One quart fresh strawberries (that’s two 16-oz clamshells)
- 4 cups sugar*
- 5 to 6 clean glass jars with lids, preferably around 6 ounces capacity**
- Up to 3/4 cup of water
- One package pectin, such as Sure-Jell***
- Measuring up (two-cup capacity ideal)
- Wooden spoon (to avoid potential chemical reaction between the fruit and metal utensils)
- Large bowl
*This amount of sugar is critical to the chemical reaction required for the jam to “set” (that is, be jam-like rather than liquid), and it’s also necessary to preserve the fruit. If you want to reduce the sugar, you’ll need to suss out the “lite” pectin that calls for little or no sugar in the jam recipe. In other words, if you’re going to use regular pectin, don’t cut down on the amount of sugar called for in the recipe; it won’t work. Besides, I’m of the mindset that if you’re going to make jam at home, you might as well go whole-hog (unless you can’t consume sugar for medical reasons). It’s worth the extra workout, believe me!
**Because there are no artificial preservatives in the jam, you don’t want to keep it in the fridge too long after it’s been opened (it can be frozen, unopened, for up to a year, though). So, better to keep the containers small to reduce waste. You can use any glass container; I washed out some old pickle, bouillon and jelly jars.
***You can order Sure-Jell online, or stock up at the grocery store during the spring and summer. You can find it in the baking aisle, or wherever boxed gelatin is sold.
Before you start, make sure you have half an hour of uninterrupted time, and that your jars (and lids) have been thoroughly washed and dried. Have the ingredients and supplies handy.
Rinse, hull and cut the strawberries into quarters. Place the quartered berries in a large bowl, then mash with a potato masher. If you don’t have a potato masher, you can use a food processor to finely chop the fruit. Do not puree the berries. You want the fruit to be mashed, but there should still be solid bits visible.
Once the berries are mashed, measure out exactlytwo cups of mashed berries into a bowl. Store the excess mashed berries for another use (I made smoothies for the boys with my overage). Don’t be tempted to use the excess mashed berries for the jam.
Then, measure four exact cups of sugar into the bowl with the berries. Use the flat edge of a knife to level out your measuring cup to ensure that precisely four cups of sugar end up in the bowl. With a wooden spoon, combine the sugar and berries. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, stirring well occasionally.
Now it’s time to talk about the water and pectin.You’ll need to boil the pectin in the water — this is where the trial-and-error comes in. Notice that the recipe calls for up to 3/4 cups of water. In order to guarantee that your jam sets, you need to vary the amount of water based on the humidity in your home. If you have low humidity, use the full 3/4 cup of water (be exact!). If you have greater humidity, reduce the amount of water. Obviously, the humidity level is going to be different depending on where you are, but for reference, my FIL looked up the humidity here in the South Bay, and it was 77% yesterday. So, instead of using 3/4 cup of water, my MIL opted to use 2/3 cup. After determining the amount of water to use, put the water into a small pot.
When you have three minutes or so left to go on the berries and sugar, put the pot of water on the stove to boil. Once the water starts boiling, stir in the pectin. At first, you’ll notice lumps of white pectin, but those will dissolve. Bring the pectin and water to a gentle, rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for no shorter than one but no longer than two minutes — we boiled it for 1 minute and 30 seconds. The goal is to have the end of the “waiting period” for the berries and sugar coincide with the end of pectin boiling.
When you’re done boiling the pectin, immediately pour the pectin and water mixture into the berries and sugar mixture. Then, stir well with a wooden spoon for three minutes. After three minutes, ladle the mixture into your clean jars.
Be sure to leave about an inch of room up at the top — the jam will expand when you store it in the freezer. Top the jars securely with lids, then let the jars sit on the countertop, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, you can refrigerate or freeze the jars. The jam will keep in the freezer for a year (thaw in the fridge when ready to use), or in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Be sure to exercise the same kind of caution you do with store-bought jam: Only use a clean spoon or knife to dip into the jar, and don’t get any other liquids into the jar.
I have a feeling my refrigerated jar isn’t going to last very long: I’ve already spread three pieces of toast with a thick layer of jam and inhaled them!
I hope you enjoy this jam — many thanks to my mother-in-law for showing me how to make it! Watch for peach and blueberry versions in the spring and summer. 🙂 Oh, and p.s., this would be excellent with the Finnish pancake I wrote about a few days ago.