Strawberry-fest 2013 continues. After my success with the strawberry freezer jam, I decided to try a cooked jam. This is still a refrigerator/freezer jam, but it uses no packets of fruit pectin. The fruit cooks on the stove, bubbling away for several minutes until the natural pectins do their pectin-y thing. This sort of jam uses half the sugar of the no-cook variety, but it won’t set up as firmly.
I used the strawberry jam recipe in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. She calls for balsamic vinegar–nothing much, just a teaspoon. I love balsamic vinegar, and I have lately discovered now ridiculously delicious it is on fruit. There is something about balsamic vinegar that really highlights and deepens the flavor of the strawberries. It does not make the jam taste like vinaigrette, it just adds a little gourmet depth.
Likewise, the lemon juice in this recipe not only contributes pectin to aid in setting, it also helps to brighten the strawberry flavor and keep the cooked jam fresh-tasting. It does not impart excessive tartness. It’s all about balance, and this jam has it: sweet, tart, and savory.
This recipe will fill about 4 8-ounce jars, but I just used a variety of mason jars and jelly jars. This jam lasts about a year in the freezer, or 3 weeks in the refrigerator, so I prefer the small 4oz jelly jars.
Here we go:
3 1/2 c. strawberries (washed, stems removed)
2 1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
First, pop a little saucer into the freezer. You’ll need the cold surface to test the jam for doneness later.
I put all of the ingredients into a small saucepan with high sides. I learned that the high sides are really, really important. Boiling fruit lava doubles as it bubbles.
Nigella says not to bother slicing up the berries, but I was a little skeptical. I simply halved the berries as a kind of compromise. At one point, I did smoosh the boiling berries with a potato masher because I was afraid they weren’t going to break down, but I think they would have broken down sufficiently if I had just let them alone.
I put the pan over a moderately low heat and brought it gradually to a boil. As it cooks, the sugar draws plenty of juicy liquid out of the berries. Eventually, the syrupy mass will come to a boil.
This took quite a while–at least 20 minutes–but it only needs to be stirred occasionally until it boils. As it cooked, I gradually increased the heat to medium, but it is wise not to rush the process. This is essentially a pot of boiling sugar, and there is a high danger of scorching. The last thing you want is jam that tastes like burnt caramel. So patience is well-advised here.
Once the fruit bubbles, it really bubbles. Mine doubled as it climbed up the sides of the pan. I let it boil for five minutes, stirring nearly constantly. Then, I started testing it for doneness. This involved putting a dollop of the jam on the frozen saucer. I let it sit for a few moments, then poked at it to see if it set up at all. This jam won’t set up firmly, more like a delightfully runny soft-set, but it should hold together pretty well on the plate when it’s done.
It took approximately 12 minutes of boiling for my jam to reach a point at which I felt relatively confident it was done. This is the tricky part of cooked jams. Judging doneness is important, because if you pull it too early, it won’t set up at all. If it cooks too long it will taste unpleasantly overdone.
To test doneness, I drew my finger through the jam. When the streak left by my finger did not fill in, I figured that the boiling sugar water had drawn the pectin out of the fruit and it had done its jammy thing.
I then let it sit in the pan off of the heat for 30 minutes. I poured it into jars, then lidded the jars and let it stand at room temperature overnight. The next day, I popped one in the fridge to eat now, and the rest in the freezer to eat later.
This wasn’t nearly as quick or easy as the no-cook freezer jam, but the flavor is really great and the cooked quality lends a more traditional strawberry jam affect. If I had to choose just one jam to make, I’m not sure which I would pick. I prefer the sweetness level here and the overall flavor–lemon juice and balsamic really elevate the gourmet level. But I like the firmer set, bright pink color, and fresh flavor of the freezer jam.
The lesson here: always pick way more berries than you think need so you can make both jams.