Strawberry Jam

My grandmother always had jelly on the dinner table. For special occasions she served it in a gold-trimmed, ruffled-edged porcelain dish with a flat-bowled silver jelly spoon. We had soft Parker House rolls to butter and embellish with quivering slices of black raspberry jelly.

Summertime saw jelly bags hanging from cupboard doorknobs and dripping dark purple juice. Wide pots boiled that juice with sugar to a shimmering set. Ladled into squat jars, topped with melted paraffin and capped with brass-colored lids, the jelly awaited its summons from darkened basement shelves.

Now fruit is scarcer, time is shorter and jam is my choice of preserve. It takes less sugar, less time and uses the entire fruit. The simple, quick process makes me wonder why anyone is content with saccharine-tasting commercial jams gooey with high fructose corn syrup and stiffened with pectin. A couple boxes of berries, several soft peaches or the golden plums from your farmers’ market will give you a jam to make the smallest breakfast seem like a memorable feast. The basic procedure for strawberry jam will work for most fruits. Tarter fruits with higher natural pectin content, such as plums, apples, blackberries or raspberries, don’t need the lemon juice.

Strawberry Jam

1 lb. fresh (or frozen) strawberries

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

12 oz. sugar  (1 ¾ cups)

Cap and slice the berries into a medium, heavy stainless steel or enameled iron pot. Mash with a potato masher, add lemon juice, cover and cook gently until the berries soften and pulp. Stir in the sugar and boil quickly, stirring often for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile heat two or three clean jam jars and their twist-on or cap lids in a pan of simmering water.

With a little experience you will know what the jam looks like when it is ready. Lift the stirring spoon from the mixture and let the contents fall gently back into the pot. When the jam slides off the spoon in a sheet rather than dripping off in separate drops, it is ready. You can also test it by spooning a few drops onto an ice-cold saucer to check thickness when pushed with a finger. Boil the jam a few minutes longer if necessary. If the jam foams as it boils, stir in a sliver of unsalted butter to disperse foam before jarring.

Cool the jam a few minutes before ladling into hot jars leaving a half-inch for the vacuum seal. Wipe the top of the jar with a clean cloth or paper towel and twist on the hot lids or caps.

This hot-pack seal should keep the jam for several weeks. For longer storage, it’s advisable to simmer the jam jars in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes.

      Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at Amazon.com    http://amzn.to/9lOnZv

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