Simple Strawberry Jam, European style ~ this easy small batch strawberry jam is made the traditional way they’ve been making jam in Europe for centuries.
This recipe and method comes to me from my friend Elisa. Elisa is from the Brie region of France and her family home dates from something crazy like the 1500s. Her summer job, while she was growing up, was making jams and jellies from the fruit in the family orchards. I know. How cool is that. She still goes back every summer season to help out with the huge task. Being a sly food blogger I immediately pumped her for all the information I could get on her authentic French method for making jam.
I spotted these strawberries at Sunday’s farmer’s market and they caught my eye because of their deep red color and small size. I’m going to start off super simple and just make a straightforward strawberry jam using Elisa’s suggestions. This is jam at its simplest.
Elisa sent me a detailed list of the jam and jelly making tips and secrets she’s learned from her grandmother, the women in her village, and her own experimentation over the years. According to Elisa, for the most basic of all jams you technically need only 4 things: fruit, sugar, clean jars, and a scale. The scale is essential because you need equal amounts, by weight, of the fruit and sugar. There are lots of variations and subtle changes you can make, including using special sugars with added pectin, and different combinations of fruit and flavorings, but I’m starting out with the easiest.
Notes: I’m pleased to say everything went smoothly. I was especially impressed with how the simple procedure of flipping over the hot jars of jam did indeed create a seal…the tops on my jars were all concave. The jam seemed a little loose at first, but by the next morning it was just perfect.
It puzzled me that this jam was so simple to make, and bypassed all that rigamarole with the boiling jars, sterilized tongs, etc, etc. I wrote to Elisa to ask her about this, and here’s what she said:
I’ve never heard of anyone, either in Belgium or in France, boiling the jars after filling them. Sometimes they do it before filling them – but just as a way of cleaning them well. But most people nowadays just put them in the dishwasher. To make sure, I checked more than a dozen websites on jam making in French, and none of them mentioned boiling the jars. However, they all said to turn the jars upside down when the jam is cooling down. This creates a vacuum that allows for the conservation of the jam and prevents contamination from bacteria or molds. You know, like when you open a jar for the first time, it makes this popping sound when the vacuum is filled with air? … and the extremely high sugar content stops the proliferation of bacteria (this is why historically sugar is used for food preservation – just like salt or vinegar). AND, my biggest argument: people in France and Belgium have been doing it like this forever and we’re perfectly fine :-)
So there you have it, straight from an expert, the European method of making jam is a lot simpler and, as Elisa says, they’ve been doing it forever. That said, I think I’ll be using it for small batches that I intend to keep in the refrigerator and eat relatively soon. But maybe that’s just the ugly American in me talking ;)
The scones are my LIGHT AND AIRY OAT SCONES, the perfect foil for strawberry jam. Since my berries were so small, I left them whole, and didn’t mash the fruit too much during the cooking, so I got nice big chunks of strawberry in my jam.
- 3 pints fresh ripe strawberries, rinsed and trimmed
- An equal amount of sugar, by weight
- juice of 1 lemon (this was a last minute addition after I tasted the cooking jam and it was very sweet)
- 5 or 6 clean 1/2 pint jars (I found mine on the top shelf of the baking aisle in my supermarket)
- Cut your berries in half or quarters if they are large, or leave them whole if they are small. Weigh the prepared fruit and put it in a large kettle or soup pot. My three pints of trimmed berries weighed almost 2 pounds.
- Weigh out an equal amount of regular sugar and pour over the berries. Stir the sugar and strawberries together, mashing some of the berries to release the juice. Cover and set aside for several hours to allow the juices to start flowing. Refrigerate in very warm weather.
- Bring the pot to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for about 20 minutes, and then test the jam by spooning a small amount onto a very cold plate. If the jam gels it is ready, if it remains liquid, keep boiling, up to about 30 minutes. Mine took the full 30 minutes. If you are in doubt, keep boiling.
- Ladle the hot jam (be very careful, it's super hot) into the jars, filling them almost full. Put the lids on and immediately turn the jars upside down. According to Elisa, this will effectively sterilize the contents.
- When the jam has cooled, turn the jars upright and store in the refrigerator.