As homeschoolers, we don’t really ever take a full summer off from school. It’s not that we’re crazy pedal-to-the-metal academic overachievers (quite the contrary), it’s really just easier for us to continue on with our little routine through the summer months. We do scale back quite a bit, especially now since the kids take some organized classes that ended earlier in the spring. The kids still work on their math several times a week, we do sporadic writing exercises, we watch a lot of TED Talks, and this year we’re watching more movie than before. So far so good – it’s been a nice change of pace.
But once June comes, one thing is for certain, we hit the pick-your-own farms in search of pounds and pounds (and pounds) of fresh fruit. It’s become tradition that we hit all the major crops – strawberries, blueberries, tart cherries (if we’re lucky – the season is frustratingly short, as little as one day long at some orchards), raspberries, peaches, and apples.
I won’t say that it’s become tradition for me to beg and bargain and connive with the kids to stay longer out in the fruit fields, but maybe it’s become tradition. (OK, guilty, of course it’s tradition. I can’t help myself.) They give it their best shot each year and each year I want more from them. More strawberries. More blueberries. More raspberries. 15 more minutes? 10 more minutes? 5 more minutes? Please?
(I realize I may have a problem but I’m not willing to face it quite yet.)
June in the DC suburbs is always hot and humid and buggy and picking fruit is sweaty, grubby work. It’s pretty miserable. But yet we persist each year in search of the spring harvest.
We managed to pick about 20 lbs of strawberries this week, that’s with two kids and me doing the grunt work. (Winnie stayed home with Oak and she helped by cleaning all the mason jars for me.) And what do we do with 20 lbs of strawberries?
We make jam, of course.
To say that I love making jam is an understatement. Every summer I make batches and batches and batches of it. I give a little bit of it away, but truthfully I’m a jam hoarder. I’d show you a picture of the inside of my freezer but I’m not ready to go public with my jam hoarding behaviors. So you’ll just have to imagine it.
Today I’m sharing with you my very favorite way to make jam. What I love about it is that you use the whole fruit (rather than straining the pulp out), you don’t have to cook the fruit (after picking fruit in the heat of the day the last thing I want to do is cook jam over a hot stove all evening), and you have the satisfying fun of crushing the whole fruit with a potato masher.
You do find crushing fruit with a potato masher satisfying, right? Or is that just me? (Wait, don’t answer that.)
And the benefit of using uncooked crushed fruit is that the jam tastes very fresh, even when it comes from the freezer many, many months later. It just tastes so fresh and delicious, unlike anything I’ve tasted that’s been cooked and preserved with heat.
The drawback to this method is that the jars need to be stored in the refrigerator (if you’re going to use it within the month) or the freezer for up to a year. I’ve even used my jam beyond a year (though I’m probably not supposed to admit that, but oh well).
The secret ingredient in this sticky, sweet-tart magic elixer of summer? It’s instant pectin, which I buy from the fruit markets where we pick our fruit. I’ve seen it in the grocery store too throughout the summer, so you might find it there as well. The brand I’ve seen is by Ball, and I’ve never had a batch not set. This stuff is magic.
If you love the idea of making jam and you’re not sure you can eat your way through a full batch, you can also use it for pancake and waffle topping. Just pull a jar from the freezer, run it under hot water to thaw it enough to slide it out of the jar, and heat it through on the stove or in the microwave. So fresh and delicious!
You might love it enough to beg your kids to pick fruit for “just 10 more minutes, then I promise we’ll leave.”
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Freshest, Tastiest Strawberry Jam Ever
(makes six 8 oz jars)
5 cups of crushed strawberries
2 cups of sugar
6 tablespoons of instant pectin (I use Ball brand in the green and white jar)
6 8 oz mason jars, with lids and rings
*** a quick note – this recipe can not be doubled – if you want to make more jam, make a second batch rather than doubling the ingredients – this comes directly from the directions on the jar of pectin
Wash your strawberries thoroughly under running water and let them drain.
Trim green stems and leaves off and toss berries into a large measuring cup or other flat-bottomed bowl.
Using a potato masher, crush the berries as much as you’d like. I usually make mine plenty pulverized and I try not to leave any berries uncrushed. You don’t have to totally liquefy it, just get everything nice and crushed.
Once your berries are crushed, measure out 5 cups. This will make one batch of jam.
In a large, clean bowl, mix 2 cups of sugar with 6 tablespoons of the instant pectin powder. Stir it together with a dry spoon until thoroughly mixed.
Add your 5 cups of crushed fruit to the sugar mixture and stir continuously for 3 minutes. Set a timer. (Trust me on this, 3 minutes is longer than you think when you’re just standing around stirring, so make it easier on yourself and set a timer and don’t stop stirring until the timer goes off. But on the flip side, at least you’re not standing over a hot stove and working with boiling water and hot jars - standing and stirring for 3 minutes is a piece of cake compared to that.)
Once the timer goes off, you can ladle the jam into your mason jars. If you’re going to store it in the freezer, leave about ½ “ of space at the top of the jars. Ladling the jam in is messy work, I’m just telling you now.
Place the lids and rings on the jars and gently tighten them. No need to make them crazy-tight.
Using a damp paper towel, wipe off the outside of all the jars and let them set for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes you can move them to the refrigerator or the freezer, depending on how soon you’ll use the jam. (Remember, this jam is not safe at room temperature beyond the 30 minute setting time. Store all of your jam in either the refrigerator or the freezer.)
Line up your beautiful jars of jammy goodness and enjoy!