Juicy red and dead-ripe strawberries are always coveted—in southeast Ohio, where I live, the start of the local harvest in May is one of the first signals of an amazing summer ahead. People don their sunscreen and head out to u-pick farms for the annual ritual of picking enough of the precious, ephemeral fruit to freeze and preserve. Once you’ve eaten enough berries right there in the field to give yourself an ulcer, you drive home with your quarry and invest some steamy, satisfying hours in the kitchen making and canning strawberry jam to cherish and share.
The Best Strawberries for This Jam
Though I envisioned this recipe for those glorious days when you come home from the u-pick farm with a flat of dead-ripe strawberries, don’t feel limited to making this in the thick of strawberry season.
- Grocery store berries will work fine.
- Frozen strawberries should be okay in this recipe. Let them thaw most of the way first.
How to Make Strawberry Jam Without Adding Pectin
Pectin is a big deal when it comes to jam. It’s a soluble fiber found in nearly all plants, and it’s what makes jam set. An undercooked jam or a jam without sufficient pectin will be loose and runny.
All fruits have naturally occurring pectin. Some have more than others; strawberries are somewhere in the middle. The riper the fruit, the lower the pectin.
You can buy powdered or liquid pectin to add to your jam to make it set. Jams with added pectin cook a lot faster, too. I make nearly all my jams without added pectin because…I’m a snob. Seriously! There’s nothing wrong with added pectin; I just prefer the silkier mouthfeel and glossier look of jams made without it. Seasoned preservers have tricks up their sleeves for success without pectin products. Here, you’ll get to learn a few of my tricks.
For the Best Strawberry Jam, Keep the White Parts of the Strawberries
Those white parts at the tips and stem ends of strawberries that you might leave behind when you’re eating them by hand? Don’t trim those off. These white parts are higher in pectin, and good for getting our jam to set.
Best Tool for Stemming Berries
The best tool for stemming berries are those cheap, broad, short metal tweezers. You can often find them in grocery stores with the cooking equipment, and sometimes displayed right by the strawberries in the produce section (they cost more online than they do in the store). Buy a few and recruit help in stemming your berries. Young kids love doing it. Pluck out the stem, leaving as much of the berries themselves intact as you can.
Toss the Fruit With Sugar and Refrigerate Overnight
My best tip for making jam? Toss the fruit with the sugar and refrigerate it overnight, or even up to 3 days. I learned this technique from a few jam recipes by Cheryl Day, who sells preserves at her Savannah, Georgia bakery, Back in the Day Bakery.
Initially I scoffed at this extra step, but it’ll make things go smoother for you. Macerating the fruit draws out the liquid and dissolves the sugar, so the moisture evaporates faster once you get around to cooking it. The wins? A lot less initial stirring, a quicker cook time, and a purer, fruitier flavor. I also like how resting the fruit overnight breaks the work into two parts.
This overnight maceration is not required, but you’ll need to reduce the heat to medium and stir the berries constantly during the first 10 minutes of cooking if you skip it.
Do You Need to Use So Much Sugar for Jam?
Folks new to jamming often have a visceral reaction to the heaps of sugar necessary for traditional preserves. Yes, it’s a lot. It’s what you need for canned jam that’ll keep on a shelf for ages.
The sugar is a natural deterrent against bacterial growth. It also makes a thicker, glossier jam. If you happen to find a jam recipe with a lot less sugar, keep in mind it might not be safe for canning, and if it is, it often has a shorter shelf life than traditional preserves.
Other sweeteners (such as honey) won’t work in this recipe. I opt for the high sugar route and eat strawberry jam only on occasion. When I do, I don’t hold back. You do you.
The Pot Matters for Making Jam
The wider your pot, the better off you’ll be. A wide pot means your jam has more surface area as it cooks down, so the liquid evaporates off quicker. This means less pot-minding for you, and a brighter-tasting jam.
I make all my jams in a 5.5-quart enamelware pot. You can use any heavy-bottomed pot with a non-reactive interior, such as stainless steel or enamel.
Equipment You’ll Need for Canning Strawberry Jam
Making jam is one beast; canning it is another. Fortunately, we cover the basics here.
Here’s what you’ll need to prepare this recipe for canning in a water bath.
- 6 half-pint canning jars
- 6 clean new lids and screw-on metal bands
- Jar lifters (a.k.a canning tongs)
- A canning funnel
- A stockpot to use for your water bath
- A rack that fits in the water bath
You can get canning kits that include most of these things for $17 to $75. Here’s one I recommend. If you don’t want to make that commitment, see if you can borrow canning equipment from a friend.
Your Jam Didn’t Set? No Biggie!
It happens. Jam takes practice. If your jam doesn’t set, pass it off as strawberry sauce. Use it to sweeten smoothies and cocktails. Dribble it generously over hot biscuits and just be okay with it being messy.
Keep in mind that jam sets more as it cools, and firms even more in the fridge. When it’s warm, it’ll still be a bit runny. When in doubt, I prefer to err on the side of less cooking than more. Jam that’s overcooked is as thick as spackle and hard to spread nicely over toast.
Too Much Work? Try Easy Strawberry Jam Alternatives
More Jam and Jelly Recipes for Water Bath Canning
Strawberry Jam for Canning
Adding the squeezed-out lemon halves helps the jam set faster and taste brighter. You can use bottled lemon juice and not add the lemon halves, but your jam will have a duller flavor.
If you live above 1,000 feet in elevation, refer to this post for making adjustments to your processing time.
4 pounds (1.81kg) ripe whole strawberries (about 16 cups whole berries)
3 1/2 cups (712g) sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
Stem the strawberries:
Rinse the strawberries and trim off any mushy parts. Then stem the berries, being careful to remove just the green leaves and stems but not the tops of the berries themselves. The pale tops of the berries are high in pectin and will help your jam set.
Crush the berries with the sugar:
In a non-reactive (stainless steel or enamel) pot that can hold at least 5 quarts (larger is better), combine the berries, sugar, and lemon juice. Toss to combine. Crush with a potato masher until you have some juicy smashed berries, while others remain whole. You may need to put some muscle into it. It’s cathartic!
Refrigerate the pot overnight or up to 3 days:
Cover the pot with the crushed strawberries and sugar and refrigerate it for at least 8 hours, and up to 3 days. Don’t skip this step if you are smart! Breaking things up into a few days leads to better jam and lets you clean up in steps, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Prepare the water bath and jars:
When it’s time to cook the jam, first get your canning equipment ready. Sterilize 6 half-pint jars using your preferred technique (I usually sterilize mine right in the water bath).
Set up a water bath canner and bring the water to a boil. Have your tools ready on the counter near the canner: a ladle, a sturdy cooking spoon, a canning funnel, canning tongs, a clean and sturdy cloth towel, and two clean paper towels or cloth towels.
Put a plate (preferably white or light-colored for better contrast) in the freezer for the plate test you’ll do later on to help determine if your jam is set.
Start cooking the jam:
Bring the pot from the fridge. Uncover, give it a good stir, and set it on a burner over medium-high heat. It’ll probably be really soupy, that’s okay. Because it’s cold, it’ll take up to 10 minutes for it to come to a boil. No need to stir yet.
If you skipped the overnight rest and are starting with freshly crushed berries, start on medium heat and stir them constantly. Expect a longer cooking time.
Continue cooking and stirring for 30-60 minutes, maybe even longer:
As the jam cooks, it will slowly transform. Give it a stir every few minutes and pay attention to how it looks and sounds.
Early in the cooking, the strawberries will keep their shape and the liquid in the pot will be quite watery. Foamy scum will rise in the center and/or sides of the pot. You can ignore it for now.
As the jam continues cooking, adjust the heat so it maintains a boil that’s lively, but not out of control. The bubbles will eventually get bigger and thicker. They’ll make sticky popping sounds, and the pot will resemble jammy lava rather than soupy berries. The strawberries will fall apart. Instead of falling from the spoon in watery drips, the jam should roll off the spoon in sticky blorps that cling a bit. When these things happen, you may be nearly done; it’s time for a plate test. If not, keep on cooking.
It can take between 30 and 60 minutes for the jam to reach the point when it gels, or turns jammy. Be patient. My jams usually take a little longer than 60 minutes to get there.
Do a plate test:
When you suspect the jam is set, get your chilled plate from the freezer. Put a dollop of jam on the plate and let it sit for 1-2 minutes.
If the dollop runs and spreads out thinly, the jam isn’t not ready. Keep on simmering. If the dollop mounds up a bit and wrinkles slightly when you touch it with your fingertip, it’s ready to can.
You can use a thermometer to help tell when your jam is ready. Generally, jams will hit 220°F when they are at the gelling point. However, many thermometers (especially instant-read ones) can’t be submerged in the jam deeply enough for an accurate reading. I find my jams achieve a just-right consistency when I pay attention to visual and audio cues rather than a thermometer.
Fill the jars:
Reduce the heat to the lowest setting possible. Skim off the last of the foamy scum from the ridge of the pot.
Ladle the hot jam into the hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace (that’s the gap between the top of the jam and the rim of the jar). If there’s any jam on the rims of the jars, wipe them off first with a clean damp towel, and then a clean dry towel.
Place the lids on the jars, then screw the bands on so they’re just fingertip-tight. Any jar that’s only halfway filled you can skip processing in the water bath; just use it first.
Process the jars in the water bath:
Using jar lifters, lower the jars into the water bath. Make sure the water is at least 1 inch over the tops of the jars. If not, add more water.
Once the water reaches a full rolling boil, set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer is up, use the jar lifters to pluck the jars from the water bath and set them on a towel on the counter.
Check for the seal:
As the jars cool, the tops should seal. Sometimes this happens right away, with an audible pop. Sometimes they make no sound at all and take up to 15 minutes, or even a few hours. You can tell a jar is sealed when you tap firmly on the lid and hear a dull thump. Lids that aren’t sealed will make a metallic ping.
You can return any jars that aren’t sealed within 12 hours back to the water bath and process in boiling water for another 10 minutes. If a jar refuses to seal, just let it cool and refrigerate it like you would any other open jar of jam.
Label, date, and store:
Let the sealed jars cool completely. Don’t you feel proud of yourself now? Label and date your splendid jam for posterity!
Sealed jars will keep for at least several years, but are best consumed within 1 year.
Refrigerate or freeze any unsealed jars.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||2%|
|Total Sugars 10g|
|Vitamin C 14mg||68%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|