Everyone should know how to make jam. Even if you don’t bother canning it for storage on the shelf, but just make up a jar or two to keep in the refrigerator. Making jam is one of those things that might seem daunting, all that cooking to just the right thickness, dealing with pectin, chopping up a bushel basket of fruit, packing it all into jars. Seems like too much trouble, right? Enter small-batch jams….
Small-batch jams avoid all that labor of peeling and chopping bushels of fruit, cooking in huge kettles, sterilizing jars, canning, spilling jam everywhere, and so on. Instead, they make just a bit of jam; in the case of this recipe about a pint, an amount that you can just pack into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator, and be able to use up quickly. Now, the question might be, why go through the trouble, when you can pick up a jar of jam at the store? Of course, the answer is in the title. When have you ever seen Strawberry Vanilla Jam at the store? Never. See, you can scratch up your own flavors. Cool, right?
We slightly modified this recipe from Urban Preserving– basically added just a dot of butter to help with the foaming — but it seemed like just the combination of flavors that we were looking for, and it seemed easy.
You probably could use frozen strawberries for this, but that sort of defeats the point of making fresh jam, doesn’t it? If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can add about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract once the jam reaches 220°F instead. The tiny bit of butter is there to help control foaming. You can add it anytime after the jam starts boiling. Since you’re using the zest, we recommend finding an organic lemon, or at least wash it very well with soap and water to remove any residual pesticides and wax.
Procedure in detail:
Macerate strawberries. Once you’ve chopped up the 1 1/2 pounds (1 quart) of strawberries, place them in a large saucepan, say, about 3 to 4 quarts in size, add the vanilla beans and the scrapings, and 1 cup of sugar. Stir to coat all the berries with sugar. Now, go on your merry way for at least three hours. Longer, say, overnight, is okay, too. If you want, you can give everything a stir when you think of it.
Zest and juice. Okay, you’re about ready to cook your jam, but, before you do, zest and juice a lemon. We strained the lemon juice into a small bowl, then added the zest to that, knowing that both went into the pan at the same time.
Cook jam. Place the macerated berries over medium heat, add the remaining cup of sugar, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the piece of butter to help keep down the foaming, and continue to cook, stirring moderately often, especially near the end, until the temperature reaches 218°F. This can take, at least in our case, about 90 minutes.
Add zest and juice. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. It may spatter a bit, so be careful. The temperature will drop, but it’ll quickly recover. Continue cooking the jam until the temperature reaches 220°F, about 10 minutes more. Your jam is done.
Pack. Remove from heat and pack into clean jars. Place a lid on top, and let cool. Place in the refrigerator and use at will. We packed the vanilla beans right along with the jam, but you can take them out, if you wish.
That’s all there is to making strawberry jam. No need for pectin. No need to deal with a bushel basket of fruit. Just about 2 hours of cooking on the stove, and you have fresh, home-scratched strawberry vanilla jam. We first tried ours on that all-American lunch staple: peanut butter and jam sandwiches. It seems a bit sweeter than commercial strawberry jams, perhaps because of the addition of the vanilla, but it makes a lovely sandwich. Four stars on the worth-it scale, because of the rather lengthy cooking time. Oh, yes – we might have cooked our jam a bit too long, and let it get a degree too hot, because the top layer in the jar came out quite stiff, something between jam and fruit leather, but it tastes wonderful, all the same. Just be sure not to cook your jam too long!