A little sweet, a little sour

I know, strawberry season is a distant memory at this point. But I hope you’ve got a few stashed away in the freezer because, on my third summer of making jam, I’ve finally figured out a basic strawberry jam that I really, really love.

Little jar of jamA few months ago, I saw a demo by Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars, the primary resource I’ve used to learn about canning. One of the best points she made was that when people want to learn to make preserves, the first things they try are strawberry jam and cucumber pickles–two of the hardest recipes to get right. I’m not a cucumber pickle fan (though I’m acquiring a taste for them), but I can attest that the strawberry jam I’ve made the past two years was more like strawberry sauce. Tasted good, but not quite what I wanted.

Another bowl o' berriesTurns out that since strawberries naturally are low in pectin, they either require more sugar or added pectin to get a real jammy texture. I don’t particularly like the idea of using essentially equal parts sugar and fruit, so I didn’t want to go that route. I don’t like dealing with pectin packets, but what about adding another fruit that’s really high in pectin? Here I took a cue from my favorite fall preserve, cranberry conserve, that sets amazingly well (in part because cranberries have a ton of pectin) and keeps its gorgeous red color. And how convenient, last fall I stuck a gallon bag of cranberries in the freezer.

Cooking
Molten strawberriesI’m not sure where I saw the initial idea to combine strawberries and cranberries, but let me tell you, while this takes a little forethought (either finding cranberries in summer or good strawberries in late fall), it is 100% worth it. The cranberries help set the texture of the jam, they contribute to the beautiful color, and they provide a little sour contrast to what can otherwise be a one-note preserve.

So while strawberry season may be over, I hope you’ll keep this in mind come fall when cranberries are everywhere. Use frozen strawberries to make this jam or freeze a few bags of cranberries  for next spring. (Tangent: this was the project I used to break in my new kitchen–can I just say how much I love having an island? Everyone should have one of these! This jam also made a great gift to introduce myself to my new neighbors. Tangent the second: a nice little profile from Paper/Plates on yours truly with some fun book and food questions.)

Thick and jammyJam and bread

Strawberry-Cranberry Jam
This works perfectly fine with fresh or frozen strawberries or cranberries, and can easily be halved. Makes about five 1/2 pint jars. 

6 cups quartered strawberries (about 2 pounds)
2 1/4 cups cranberries (about  1/2 pound)
1 3/4 cups sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 small pat of butter (optional)

If you plan to preserve this jam with a waterbath, prepare your pot of simmering water, jars, and lids. Here’s my basic setup.

In a large pot, combine cranberries, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. If the jam begins to foam too much, add a small sliver of butter. When the jam begins to thicken, (carefully!) scoop out 1 to 2 cups and puree with a stick blender (or use a regular blender with the top covered with a towel to contain splatters). Return the puree to the pot and continue to cook until the jam is thick and around 216 to 220 degrees. Taste the jam to see if it needs another little squeeze of lemon juice.

Funnel jam into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch space at the top of the jars. Clean edges of any errant jam drips, place lids on jars, and screw rings on finger-tight. Return the jars to the simmering water and bring to a boil. Process for 10 minutes, remove jars, and allow to cool.

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10 thoughts on “A little sweet, a little sour

  1. Beautiful pictures! One question – I roast strawberries for ice cream because it enhances the flavor. Would you recommend that for the jam?

    • Actually, that’s not a bad idea at all. It would cook out some of the water in the berries so the jam would probably come together faster once it’s on the stove.

    • Short answer: yes.

      Long answer: Based on other recipes I’ve seen and trust (including one of my favorite low sugar jam references), the proportions by weight are still well in the range of a safe preserve. Marisa at Food in Jars gives a great explanation that one of the roles of sugar is to help the set–with the cranberries contributing to the set here, you don’t need as much help in that regard. You could probably use less sugar and be safe, but then the cranberries start to take over the flavor and it’s too tart. In terms of sugar’s role for preservation, the proportions by weight are still in line with safe preserves.

  2. Hi Christina!
    Oh what a clever idea using cranberries and strawberries! I’ve never canned anything or made a jar of jam in my life, but I think by the end of summer I certainly will. Thanks for the information about it. I do like cucumber pickles so I’d like to make them, but I also like other pickled things that I want to try making, too! For some reason I was always under the impression that the process was quite simple… I never thought of it has hard, lol! It will probably take me a bit of practice.

    You have a great blog :) Beautiful photography, as well. I’m glad to have discovered it!

    • Thanks so much for the wonderful compliments Amber, I’m glad you found your way here too!

      On the pickles, as I’ve been learning and trying more preserved things over the past 2 years, I learned I like most things pickled (fennel is one of my favorites, I have to share that at some point), I even like pickle relish, but I’m still slow on the pickle bandwagon with cucumber slices or spears. And I’m glad you see the process as simple, because it is! It intimidated me at first (I think people get worked up about the safety aspect, which is pretty easily addressed), but once you figure out the basics, it’s a breeze and so much fun.

  3. Yummmmn!!! Beautiful pictures and great description. Sounds like one of those jars I’d like to try. Did you ever think of strawberries with rhubarb? Makes a great pie, might be a good jam also. Not sure if rhubarb has pectin.

  4. I’ll send some your way :-) Strawberry-rhubarb is a combination I hear about all the time, but I’ve never actually tried it, pie or otherwise. But I have a bunch of both in the freezer, I should give it a try,

  5. I wonder about using dried cranberries? They would be more available and they would help thicken faster as they plump up.

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