Sunday, July 31, 2016

Small batch Strawberry Jam and Strawberries in Syrup

It's a very lacklustre sort of day here -- overcast and a bit cool, but still rather muggy, perfect for staying and putting up the strawberries from the farmer's market. Yesterday, I got the strawberries prepared, macerating them in sugar overnight in the refrigerator in two batches --  a small 1-quart batch to be made into jam and a larger 5-quart batch to be preserved in a very light sugar syrup.

Starting with the jam, since it is such a small batch, I figured why waste energy heating up my big water bath canner when a large soup pot would do.

So, placing a round cake rack on the bottom of a soup pot, adding a good splash of white vinegar to keep the pot and the jars clean, adding four of my little round jam jars and their rings, I fill the pot with water and start it heating. Click here for some basics of water bath canning. Or consult a trusted canning guide like those from Ball or Bernardin.

Meanwhile, since this is such a small batch, I will be using the juice and zest of a lemon to provide some pectin, rather than commercial pectin.  In addition, I will add some saved lemon seeds tied up in a small square of cheesecloth to provide an additional pectin boost.

The smaller batch of macerated strawberries are placed in another large pot with an additional 1 cup of sugar (they were macerated in 1 cup of sugar, so this makes a total of 2 cups) and brought to the boil.

As the temperature approaches 220F, the lemon juice, zest and seeds are added. The picture above shows the temperature at 221F, so I was a bit late in adding the lemon. No problem.

After adding the lemon, I turned the heat down to medium-low and let the jam simmer for another 5 minutes before removing the lemon seeds in their cheesecloth.  By this time the jars and rings had been boiling for well over 10 minutes and were therefore sterilised, so I removed them from the canner and I ladled the jam into 3 of them.

Two full jars and another one just over half-filled. The fourth jar was not needed. I put the three jars back in the canner, waited for it to come back up to a full boil and then counted 10 minutes to process. Happily, all three jars pinged to say they had successfully sealed.  I will use up the partially filled jar as soon as possible because, although it sealed successfully and is therefore shelf-stable, with the large amount of open space inside, the quality of the jam will deteriorate quicker than the full jars. Recipe here adapted from Food In Jars.

On to the strawberries in syrup.

Since this is a larger batch, I switched to my large blue enamel canner and got 7 pint jars and their rings heating.

Meanwhile, the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving describes a "very light syrup" for 7 pint jars as 5 cups of water to 1/2 cup of sugar, which "approximates natural sugar level in most fruits; adds the fewest calories". Since the strawberries had been macerating in 2 cups of sugar, I decided to drain them first and see how much juice I had.

Three cups as it turns out.  With 2 cups of sugar, this is definitely a medium syrup edging toward heavy.

So, to balance, I am diluting the juice with an additional 2 cups of water.  Five cups of juice to 2 cups of sugar still puts it in the medium range and as much as I would prefer a very light syrup, a medium syrup will have to do.

The syrup is brought to a full boil and then the drained strawberries are added to it.  Once the berries and syrup are back up to a boil, I turned down the heat to low and simmered the berries for few minutes longer.

By this time, the jars had been boiling for well over 10 minutes, so were sterilised and ready to go. I removed them to a folded tea towel, took the strawberries off the heat and proceeded to fill the jars. After wiping the rims of the jars, centering the lids, applying the rings and tightening them only to fingertip-tight, I placed the jars back in the canner, waited for it to return to boiling and then counted 20 minutes processing time.

This is known as the "hot pack" method where the food to be canned (usually fruit, including tomatoes) is heated together with the canning liquid to boiling and then ladled into hot jars. This is the preferred method for fruit since fruit is very porous and contains a lot of air which should be removed to prevent discolouration and keep flavour at its peak for as long as possible.

"Raw (or cold) pack" refers to packing raw food into hot, sterilised jars, then filling the jars with boiling canning liquid. The raw pack method is especially suited for making pickles.

Like tomatoes, you can see that the strawberries have congregated at the tops of the jars leaving clear juice at the bottom. Once the jars have cooled, a gentle shake should re-incorporate the fruit with the juice. You can also see that, despite the hot-pack method, the strawberries have lost a lot of their colour as it has been leached out into the juice. This in no way affects the flavour.

The result:  6 pints of strawberries in syrup
                   3 jars of strawberry jam

In another of those rare occurrences for me, the jar of strawberries front and centre in the picture above did not seal, so I will be having them over yogourt for breakfast in the next few days. Yay!

Update: August, 5, 2016 -- I have been having that unsealed jar of strawberries over yogourt for breakfast the past couple of mornings and I have noticed that over time, some of the colour seems to return to the strawberries so they are not quite so pale and anemic looking as they appear in the picture above. Regardless, they are still mighty tasty and will be a real treat to have in the middle of winter!

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