Strawberry Jammy Sauce or Saucy Jam?

For the first time in my gardening life I had enough fruit from my own yard to make jam.  For anyone who has dreams of living off the fruit of the land, this is a beautiful and triumphant moment.  Although, I suppose it’s a little less triumphant when I report that the bed of everbearing strawberries, from which this incredible bounty grew from, did not produce consistently good tasting berries the way my June bearing patches did.  We couldn’t stop eating the ones that came from the June bearing patch but these ones… eh.  So making jam was less about using up the crazy excesses of my bountiful yard as it was about finding a way to make them taste better.

I will take this moment to dispel an insidious myth that everything you grow yourself tastes better.  Not true.  This deserves an entire post on it’s own.  I’ve grown carrots that were, indeed, better than any carrot I’ve ever bought.  I’ve also grown carrots that were woody, bitter, and stupid.  In that order.  There are so many factors that go into what makes a vegetable good: variety planted, soil quality, frequency of watering, heat available to plant, etc.  It’s really annoying when everyone out there claims that everything home grown is better.  It annoys me, but apparently not everyone else.  It also may indicate that they have magic soil and mine is just ordinary.

Back to the jammy strawberry sauce.  Or saucy strawberry jam.  Whatever.

You are always going to get the best preserves from using the freshest and best tasting fruit.  Truly.  But the magical thing about jam is that if you have a somewhat watery flavored fruit, cooking it down a little with a lot of sugar can result in a more intensified flavor so that a mediocre strawberry will make a good flavored jam (and an ambrosial flavored strawberry will make something you want to describe in some stupid poetical way that will make everyone around you want to hit you).   I chose to use a recipe from Hilaire Walden’s book “Perfect Preserves” which is full of dreamy recipes for what promise, right on the cover, to be perfect preserves.

I think if you’re not me making perfect strawberry jam might be a cinch.  But I AM me.  I am an excellent food preserver.  My pickles are renowned (and not just limited to my close small family circle either, at least two friends have raved as well!), my blackberry jam has given much pleasure, my pickled cauliflower is shiny, my canned peaches coveted.  I’m not bragging, I’ve just practiced a lot.  Except with pectin.  Pectin and I have yet to come to an understanding.

I’ve used several varieties and several recipes and sometimes it works out well and I can’t understand how come people make such a big fuss about it (mostly me), and then other times I follow the exact same instructions and it doesn’t set.  I used timers and everything.  I am not a sloppy preserver.  You already know the end to this story because I gave it away in the title of this post.

My strawberry “jam” didn’t set much.  It’s definitely thicker than sauce, but likewise it’s thinner than what I like to experience in a jam.  It’s not Hilaire’s fault.  I know the fault must lie in my own methods, or in the natural pectin levels of the fruit I was using being perhaps unusually absent.

It doesn’t actually matter because it tastes SO good!  No watery flavor at all, nice and rich and exactly what my idea of perfect strawberry jam tastes like.  There is a quality some strawberry jams can get that’s almost – I’m not even sure if this would be the right word- metallic.  This doesn’t have that unhappy quality.  It’s sweet without shriveling your teeth up.

So I’m happy.

Which I better be because I took 6 1/2 pounds of berries and turned it into 15 half pint jars of strawberry jam.  I’m not done with pectin yet.  I think we’re going to come to an understanding soon.

9 thoughts on “Strawberry Jammy Sauce or Saucy Jam?

  1. Diane

    YUM!

    I am in the middle of planning to plant strawberries next year in raised beds. Do you have any tips or receommendations?

    I am trying to come up with a plan for crop rotation every 3-4 years by staggering three raised beds of strawberries/companion plants, annual vegetables, and planting cover crops. I hope to have two more raised beds for tomatoes/companion plants, and a sixth bed for herbs.

  2. angelina Post author

    Crop rotation with strawberries is the best thing- your plan is already quite good! The only thing I would add is that strawberries really like to be mulched. You don’t have to do it, they’ll still do well if they are in good soil and get the water they need but mulching really helps protect their shallow roots stay comfortable. I have strawberries planted in two different places and one of them is on its third year right now so I’ll be ripping them out when they’re done producing (which will be very soon!)- they are planted around the base of some peach trees (which are in raised beds due to some serious clay soil issues) and they’ve done very well there.

    Another thing to be sure you consider is whether to plant everbearing or June bearing. There are lots of arguments to go either way, and of course you can do both- but just know which ones are which so you know what to expect. If canning is a big goal you will probably want to focus on June bearing. If fresh eating over an extended period is your main goal then everbearing is a better choice. I’ve found I like the flavor of the June bearing varieties better but this is such a personal thing and there are lots of varying opinions on it.

    I’m excited for your strawberry adventure! I was never able to do well with them in CA but here in the Pacific Northwest I’ve done really well. My husband isn’t a huge fruit fan- but these are his favorite so if I put a big bowl of them on the counter he’ll actually snack on them. That makes me really happy. My extreme picky eater son will only eat strawberries in a smoothie that’s like a milkshake or strawberry flavoring. So with my last big bowl I’m going to make him a strawberry syrup to use for Italian sodas.

  3. Diane

    Thanks so much for the info. I plan on going with everbearing since the goals if for fresh eating over the longest period – either Tristar or Tribute. Yes, mulching is important and will be using straw for that.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful response.

  4. Dayna

    Angelina, have you ever tried using Pomona’s pectin for jam? It’s available at Harvest Fresh (only local source) and allows you to use very little sugar, while still bringing out the flavor of the berries. It’s incredible stuff…and it lasts for years, unlike the other commercial pectins.

  5. angelina Post author

    I have never tried it but now I want to! I don’t love low sugar jams but if it sets them reliably and well then it’s worth trying! Thanks for the tip!

  6. angelina Post author

    Also- Dayna- I stopped following your blog in 2010 because you weren’t blogging much so I’m glad you commented because I hadn’t checked in a long time and you’ve been blogging regularly again! I’m so pleased- I’m now interested in trying your fruit fly trap and that garlic press.

  7. Jana

    The thing I find comforting about jam-making is that even if it doesn’t set, it just means you have a new supply of fabulous pancake topping. Or ice cream topping, for that matter. Mmmm. Raspberry jammy sauce.

  8. angelina Post author

    That’s one of my husband’s favorite ways to eat jam! I’m not a big pancake eater but I do enjoy jam on mine once in a while. I just made a batch of blackberry jam this week and it is too stiff. Oy. I’m going to do another one and check the gelling point earlier. It tastes great though so I’m not complaining but I do have an ambition to truly master jam making.

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