One of the great things about the warmer months of the year is ripe berries. If you’ve tasted an imported blueberry bought in the dead of winter, you know those grassy tasting pellets don’t hold a candle to a plump one from Washington or Michigan in the right season. Similar things are true of strawberries, raspberries, and a whole bunch of other fruits.
Berries are a truly tasty and nutrient-filled delight. But because their awesomeness only shines for a few months, you’re left craving it the rest of the year (which is why there are expensive, mediocre berries from who-knows-where in your grocery store in January). One way to enjoy some of that delicious berry ripeness year-round is to can them–jam, preserves, etc., etc. You can also use other methods of preserving like dehydrating (which will be another post down the road).
Our favorite Saturday farmer’s market has been overflowing with juicy berries for a couple weeks, so we’re starting to get ‘em while they’re good and stored away in jars. Canning takes a little understanding, patience, and proper cleanliness. But the rewards are incredible and the risks of messing up are pretty low. When you pop open a jar in winter and have that summer berry taste on bread or ice cream, you’ll thank yourself that you planned ahead and put in a little bit of work to get it. Thank you, us from the past.
The batch we just made was strawberry jam. We got these somewhat pricey yet incredible organic Gaviota berries that were at their absolute peak ripeness. (These California berries are apparently so renowned they got their own New York Times feature last year).
We have a few jamming and canning books on our kitchen bookshelf, which have given us great results for other fruits and vegetables before. But this time we went looking for a recipe that was more minimalist. Less sugar and no added pectin (a setting agent that’s often added to hold things together). Many recipes have as much or more sugar as there is fruit. That’s good and sweet on the tongue, for sure. But we’re trying to be conscious about how much added sugar we eat.
We gave this one a try and got jam that tastes great and has just the right texture. Always nice when cooking goes well on the first try.
It’s all pretty simple from start to finish. The berries are rinsed and stemmed (“hulled”). Then mashed, combined with lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. You cook that all down until it sets. Then scoop the jam into your clean jars and run through the standard water bath process for canning.
Similar steps apply to other canned fruit goodness, so once you have the basics down there are lots of approachable possibilities before you. There are some important considerations of things like pH, though, to ensure what your preserving doesn’t get weird or spoiled. For example, most vegetables, some fruits, and things like seafood need to be pressure canned because they’re low-acid. So it’s a good idea to start with a trusty step-by-step for whatever fruit or vegetable you’re working with. Then you can modify ingredients and feel more comfortable as it becomes clearer what you need to do for this or that thing going into a jar.
We’ll definitely be canning more things this summer. For now, we’re gonna hide some of that strawberry jam so we don’t eat it all before the berries are out of season again.