Jammin’ With Strawberries

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Strawberries with jam on spoonYou know you are getting close to summer when everywhere you turn there are strawberries. They are at the grocery stores, roadside stands, or farmer’s markets. You can even find places to “pick your own”.

One of the favorite things to make is Strawberry Jam. So, what goes into making the perfect gelled strawberry jam? It is a combination of fruit, pectin, sugar, and acid.

You will want to start with the freshest strawberries. There can be a few underripe and in some cases you want a mixture of underripe and ripe. You just don’t want to hold onto your strawberries for too long.

To get the perfect gel, the most important part is pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in fruits but for many recipes you may need to add more pectin, by using either a liquid or powder commercial product. You will want to follow the directions for the specific pectin that you are using. They will have recipes included that you can choose from. Underripe fruits have more pectin than ripe fruits. If you are not using a commercial pectin, it is a good rule to use ¼ underripe and ¾ ripe fruit.

To get the perfect gel you also will need sugar and acid. Both of these have specific roles in making a high-quality jam or jelly. The tested recipes from either the pectin products or the research at the National Center for Home Food Preservation will have done the trial and error to come up with the best combination of fruit, pectin, sugar, and acid level to get a good gelled end product.

If you are planning to process your jam to keep on the shelf, you will want to make sure to follow the recipe precisely. Changes in sugar, fruit, or added pectin could result in a product that will not be at the correct consistency and acid level for the recommended boiling water bath processing and you could be at risk of spoilage or unsafe final product.

If you want to adjust the sugar levels to make lower sugar jams or fruit spreads, it is advised that you use a tested recipe either with the commercial pectin product or from a reliable source, like the National Center for Home Food Preservation. There are recipes for making lower sugar or no sugar freezer jams which in place of processing in a boiling water bath, you store these jams in the freezer or refrigerator. There are tested recipes that are lower sugar and will give the combinations of fruit, the specific low sugar commercial pectin, and specific amounts of sugar that will still result in a good gel and are safe to process for storing outside refrigeration.

There are also some recipes that are no sugar or use a non-sugar sweetener. These recipes usually will include gelatin which aids in getting a gel that is acceptable for those no-sugar jams or other spreads. These are also ones that must be stored under refrigeration instead of processing to keep on the shelf.

For tested recipes or information on making safe jams and other fruit spreads please contact our office, email Cathy Hohenstein at cathy_hohenstein@ncsu.edu, or visit the Safe Plates Food Preservation site at NC State University.