Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fabulous Low Sugar Strawberry Jam

Fabulous Low Sugar Strawberry Jam

Okay, I'm going to give you my recipe first- so you can make sure you have all the ingredients on hand before you get started...because theres nothing worse than getting started and having to stop and go to the store!  Then I have outlined the entire process below with pictures so you can see HOW to can the jam :)  Freezer jam is good and all, but if you have limited freezer space and you don't like your jam super sweet (freezer jam is like candy...but I don't want my kids eating candy for lunch ya know?) then this is the recipe for you! This is a combination of several other recipes, the instructions on the pectin jar and just me trying different things until I discovered what works best.  I feel confident that its pretty perfect...however you may find you want to tweak something a bit -and that won't bother me at all ;) In fact if you DO discover something else that works- feel free to post about it below so others can learn from your successes!

10 cups strawberries (about 5 of the clamshells you buy at the store or about 5 lbs)
3 1/2 cups of sugar
8 Tbsp of low/no sugar needed pectin
4-5 pint jars, lids, and rings
A pot big enough to set your jars inside and have about an inch of water covering them
A jar lifter, and lid lifter are nice...tongs will work but these are cheap and work great!

you can also make 1/2 the recipe and it works just fine.  
*caution* do not double the recipe or the jam won't set up.  I don't know why (and honestly I have never tried it) but it says it all over the pectin bottles so I figure its good info.

Okay!  Here we go :)  Welcome to my crazy adventures in Strawberry Jam!

You start with berries!  You don't need this many obviously...but we got them for 25cents a lb so I got as many as I could carry!  You can find good deals at your local farmers market, or just watch the grocery store ads.  Here in AZ the cheapest they have been this year is 1.27 a lb.  If you live in a more moderate climate you can probably find a pick-your-own place or a co-op and save some bucks too.  I buy my strawberries at a discount produce place so I have to use them within about 24 hours of buying them or they go bad!  Look for berries that are pinky red- not orangey- you can still use orangey berries, but you will probably need to add more sugar.
 First you will need to wash and cap the berries.  I try to be all economical and cut as little off as possible- but my husband capped these for me (yes you heard me right...and I didn't even have to ask him, he just DID it!!!) and he just used a knife to slice the top off...I think I've decided I like his way better because its so much faster!  Seriously, is my time worth 1/2 ounce more strawberry in the end? NO!
Its probably a good idea to sterilize your jars at this point.  You can just load them into the dishwasher on a hot wash, or you can do them a few at a time by placing them in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes.  I usually do them all at once and then they are ready to go when my jam gets done.
Here's the berries all capped and put neatly back in their containers for easy washing :) 
 I just run water over them and then let it drain out while I shake them :)  ALWAYS WASH YOUR BERRIES.  Just only wash the 5 lbs you are actually going to can right that moment.  The moisture will start breaking them down if you wash them all and then let them sit.  Ideally this would be done in a perfectly clean sink...but I have 4 children, so my sink is never clean.
 Now its off to the Ninja Prep!  You can buy a fancy food processor (I have one in my closet and its really nice) but this is so much easier and works great, plus they are only 40 bucks...seriously I should be getting paid for this ad, but I'm not.  LOVE my Ninja Prep :) But you just need to chop the berries, or smash them to a pulp.
Anyway throw the berries in and pulse them till they are chopped.  See, its easy enough my 7 year old can do it on his way out the door to would be nice if I had asked him to do it first, but again- I'm not working in an ideal situation.  He pulverized them and smiled the whole way through it.
 Here's my first 5 cups! So exciting!!!
 This consistency is what I usually do for the first 1/2 since I can't fit 10 cups of berries in my Ninja at once. Its has only tiny little chunks in it- its mostly pureed.
 Then for the second half I usually make it a lot lumpier-- I made the picture black and white so you could see the texture better- but it looks kind of gross. Sorry.  The texture is totally up to you though. We like some chunks in our jam, but we like more puree than chunk. So that's why I do it half and half like this.

Dump it all together into a big pot and put it on your stove and turn the burner on a medium high heat.  Heres where I kind of differ from other recipes.  I like to get the strawberries hot BEFORE adding the pectin- Jam sticks ferociously to the bottom of the pan and it burns very quickly! Literally in seconds.  Its the pectin that sticks the worst so I don't want it in the berries any sooner than necessary.
 After you turn your burner on, you will need to start stirring pretty quickly, however in the meantime get your pectin mix all ready to go.  Here is the Pectin that I use.  It works great in strawberry jam.  I can't vouch for its effectiveness in other types of jam because I haven't tried it.  But my strawberry jam tastes really good and I love that I can use less sugar.
First 8 Tablespoons of pectin go into your bowl,
Then you measure out 1/2 cup of sugar, dump it in the pectin and mix the two together well.  I also like to pre-measure out my sugar as well, so get another bowl for the 3 cups of sugar you will mix in later.  Trust me, your hands get busy stirring
 Now you start stirring- remember you haven't put the pectin/sugar mix in yet, because you are waiting till the berries are hot!
And stir and stir and stir
 After about 2-3 minutes your jam will be hot enough that you can stick your finger in it, but not cool enough that you don't want to yank it back out right away ;)  What temperature is that exactly?  Hot, but not boiling!
Dump that pectin/sugar mix into your jam
 And STIR LIKE A CRAZY PERSON!!!  Don't stop whatever you do!
 After 5-6 minutes your jam will start bubbling- you want it at a rolling boil that you can't stir back down.
 Then you dump in your other 3 cups of sugar and STIR STIR STIR!
 Once your jam is bubbling again at that rolling boil you will set your timer for 1 minute and stir ferociously!
 See that beautiful bubbling frothy mixture :) Thats what you want!
 When your timer stops, immediately remove your jam from the heat.  I used a cooling rack to set it on, because I had one handy, but it doesn't really what you use!  Now you get to do the spoon trick.
I wish I had taken a picture of this...but I missed it somehow.  Anyways you are going to get a glass of ice water and put a spoon in it.  Then you dip the cold spoon into the jam- and dunk it in the ice water.  If it gels up on your spoon then its good!  If it stays runny, you may need more pectin (but if you follow my recipe you should be fine).  I just tip my spoon upside down, and if it stays then I know I am good and I eat the jam right off the spoon.  Just Desserts...
 Next you need to de-foam your jam.  There is probably a fancy name for this, but I don't know we'll stick with de-foaming!  Basically stir the jam up and then just use a spoon (probably a clean one since you licked the test spoon, I know you did) to scrape off the foam that collects on the top of the Jam.  DON'T throw it away, it makes great pancake topping, or PB&J's.  I just put it in a tupperware and pop it in the fridge.  The texture is all wrong for Jam but it still tastes great!
 Now, get your jars and your funnel ready, if you don't have one of me- they make the job much less messy!
 And simply scoop up the jam into your jars- easy peasy!
 Don't they look so pretty!  You're halfway there!
 Next you need to clean the rims of the jars.  I purposefully put a glob of jam on the side of the jar in this picture for illustration purposes...but even if you don't see any jam-- WIPE THEM ANYWAY!  Even the slightest bit of jam or strawberry seed can keep you from getting a good seal on your lids.
 So just use a hot washcloth and wipe all the rims.
 Now they are all full and ready for lids.  Yes, I got ALL those jars out of one batch of jam.
 Now you boil your lids (or place them in really really hot water) for about a minute.  I like to boil mine, just to be sure they are nice and soft so they will seal well.
 What will I do while I wait for the lids to boil?  Play with the baby :)  If you don't have one you are welcome to come play with mine- but your jam might never get done!
 Okay, lids are boiled, now I use my handy lid lifter (with a lovely magnet) to lift the lids from the boiling water and place them on my jars.
 Ta Da!
 Then you put the rings on and tighten them "fingertip tight" that's what my Mom calls it anyway.  What it means is that you tighten them so that you could easily loosen it with a quick twist of your finger but it's tight enough it won't fall off.
 Now you get your water boiling!  I have a canner, and my husband has a wonderful outdoor cookstove so we do our canning out there now since its AZ and 90 degrees outside already.  I don't want to heat the house up anymore than normal!  You can however do the same thing with a big pot on the stove in your house.  That's how I did it before I got the canner.  I just bought a big "lobster pot" at walmart for like 8 dollars- you just need to make sure it has something in the bottom to keep your jars from resting on the bottom of the pot.  If you can't find a "stock pot" or lobster pot- just use extra rings and lay them on the bottom of your pot before you put your jars in.  That way water can circulate under and over your jars.  You just need to get your water boiling now.  Its a good idea to turn it on in advance and let it heat while you are filling and wiping your jars and putting the lids on.  I, of course, forgot to do that.
 So I'll go feed my kids breakfast while I wait.   Ideally my kitchen would be clean for this picture and my children dressed with their hair all fixed, etc etc.  But alas, I am making jam and I'm not a great multi-tasker.
Okay its all ready now! I've got my jam all ready to go in and my water is bubbling nicely!
 Use the jar lifters to pick up your jam (don't drop it...its a beast to clean up- especially off of me I know)
 And place the jam in the water.  Notice how when I put the first jar in, the water level is below the neck.  That's okay, as you place the other jars in the level will rise.
 See, they are all nicely covered.  Okay, you can't really see but there is about an inch of water over the jars.
 Put a lid on it.  IF you have a canner, don't tighten the lid on like you would for pressure canning- just set it on top.  Set a timer for 10 minutes from the time the water starts boiling again if it stops when you put the jars in- or from when you put the jars in if it kept boiling.  Depends really on how hot your jam is when you put it in,  And now, I can rest and enjoy the view...
 Or actually, I have dirty pots to clean and spatulas, etc.  Trust me- that goo is nasty once its dried up- so wash it while you are waiting and its fresh!  You also want to start with a clean pot if you are making more than one batch of jam- so that you don't mix the old cooked pectin with the new fresh stuff and end up with nastiness.

 Once your 10 minutes is up, use the jar lifter to pull them back out.
 See that water sitting on top, DON'T TIP THE JARS TO DUMP IT OFF!!!!  Your jars have not sealed yet and this will slosh jam in between your seal and the rim of your jar!!!
 Look, it evaporates before your eyes!  You can also grab a dish towel and just lightly brush the tops of the jars if you are worried about it.
 Look- 2 minutes have elapsed and no water at all!
 Do you see those bubbles that collected at the top?  It makes for ugly jam down the road when it starts to darken...and it has a weird texture when you eat it.  If you don't defoam really REALLY well- you get this stuff.
 Once your jars have sealed, but before they are totally cool you can tip them and jiggle them to mix those bubbles back in.
 Just tip and shake and it'll improve the texture a lot :)  You only need to worry about this if you had foamy stuff at the top of your jar after canning.
 Ta Da!  This was a LOT OF WORK.  But trust me, this jam is so yummy you won't want to give any of it away!!!  I did the half-pints to give as gifts and I seriously want to keep them all.
Now we are still eating jam I made a year ago and it still tastes fine.  Last year I didn't add any "preservative" This year, just for experimentations sake I did add lemon juice, just about 2 TBSPs to one of my batches, and fruit fresh in the same amount to another of my batches- just to test out whether it really helps improve the color and texture over time.  I'll get back to you on that after some actual time has elapsed :)

Happy Canning!!!

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