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.