Thursday, February 9, 2017

Our Favorite Low-Sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam

            I created this simple recipe because I couldn’t find a recipe for strawberry jam that didn’t use a ton of sugar and because I didn’t want to use store-bought pectin.  We don’t like things too sweet in my house.  If jam is too sweet, it loses its fresh, clean fruit taste.  And I learned that the low-to-no-sugar pectin that I was using is created from corn.  And corn, in general, is a GMO-crop, unless it’s organic.  And then there is the question of the chemicals used to grow the corn.  So I decided to try to make my own low-sugar jam without pectin or a lot of sugar.


            And what I ended up with is a wonderful, fresh-tasting, thick strawberry sauce which works for many things:
            -  As a jam
            -  As a topping for ice cream (or mixed into homemade ice cream before churning) 
            -  On top of pancakes or waffles (with chocolate chips - yum!)
            -  Rolled up inside crepes (you can add sweetened, softened cream cheese, too) and then dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with chocolate syrup
            -  Mixed with softened cream cheese and then put on top of French toast.  Dust with powdered sugar. 
            -  As a mix-in for plain yogurt.  If it’s not sweet enough, just add a dash of maple syrup, too.  Add granola for a more filling snack or breakfast.
            -  It might even work to pour it into plastic popsicle molds to make homemade frozen fruit pops.  I got this idea when I saw my son eating frozen globs of it right from the jar.  (I haven't tried it yet, but I figured that about halfway through the cooking time, I could take some out and set it aside to cool in a covered bowl, mashing it up more if need be.  Then spoon it into the popsicle molds and freeze till solid.  Then run the mold under hot water to release the popsicle and . . . yum!)

            My 10-year-old son calls it “the best strawberry jam ever.”  And I don’t disagree.

            It is a simple recipe and a simple process, but it does take awhile to cook down.  So give yourself enough time.  I usually make a large batch of this in a giant stock pot.  It takes about 45 minutes of cooking and stirring, and it makes about 17 half-pint jars. 

            Because this has no pectin and very low sugar (sugar helps act as a preservative), this cannot be stored in the cabinet or in the fridge.  You have to store it in the freezer, in freezer-safe jars or containers.  
            When we take one out of the freezer and put it in the fridge, it’s thawed by the next day.  Even an hour on the counter thaws it enough to spoon some out.  And once it’s moved to the fridge, it lasts about 7-10 days for us.  If I don’t think we’ll use up a whole jar within a week, I simply spoon some out from a jar that’s still in the freezer.  A spoonful or two thaws really quickly, but it will be cold.

            This really is the best jam.  And every time you lick the spoon that you used to scoop it out and you get that burst of fresh strawberry flavor, you’ll agree that the effort and freezer-space is worth it.

            Disclaimer:  Since there is no preservative in this and it isn’t canned the normal way, I cannot guarantee the safety or storage life of it.  This is just what we do for my family, and it works for us.  Use this recipe at your own risk.  And when in doubt about the safety of eating it – if it looks weird or has any signs of mold or smells funny or tastes a little off – throw it out.  


The Best Strawberry Freezer Jam
            This is the large batch that I usually make.  (You could cut it in half and adjust as needed.)  Clean and sterilize 17 half-pint freezer-safe jars (and lids) and keep them warm so that hot jam isn’t added to a cold jar (potentially causing it to crack).  You can do this by running them through the dishwasher and then making the jam just as it’s finished and still hot.  But I simply keep the clean jars in my toaster oven and turn it on the “warm” setting (or a really low temperature like 170 degrees).  I leave them in there until the jam is ready.  If the kitchen is too cold, I might just take out and fill a few jars at a time.  But if they won’t get too cold too quickly, I take them all out when the jam is done cooking and turned off.

            26 cups strawberries  (I use two 4-pound bags of frozen organic strawberries from Costco that I have thawed ahead of time.)

            2-3 lemons or 3-4 limes (depending on size), squeeze them and use the juice (This makes it a little more acidic to help preserve it a little better.)

            4-5 apples (small to medium), peeled and grated  (I usually use organic Gala apples.  Try to get apples that are more on the tart side than sweet side and that are more firm than squishy.  Apples help add pectin to make it gel up more.)      

            3 ¾ cups sugar  (This comes out to about 3 ½ tablespoons of sugar per half-pint.  You can add more if you’d like.)   

            Either quarter the strawberries or mash them slightly in a large pot.  Add the lemon/lime juice, the grated apple, and the sugar.  (You can even add the apple peels if they are in large pieces.  The peels contain a lot of pectin.  And then just remove them about half-way through cooking.  Count how many pieces you add so you are sure that you took them all out.) 
            And now comes the long, boring part.  Cook on medium-low to medium for about 35-45 minutes, stirring continuously so that it doesn’t burn.  It will cook down.  Skim the foam off.  And mash the jam again at some point if it looks too chunky to you.  (If you added the apple peels, remove them before mashing!)  It will break down naturally as it cooks, so don't worry too much about the mashing. 
            Near the end of the cooking time, put your warm jars on a heat-proof surface or on a towel on your counter.  (A funnel is also really handy.  It will help keep the jam from spilling all over the sides of the jars.)
            Remember that this is more like a thick sauce than a firm, gelled-up jam.  (So it will be a little more runny when it’s put on toast.  But the taste and quality will make up for it.)  There is no added pectin and there is not a lot of sugar, which would have also contributed to the gelling.
            I know the jam is thick enough by doing this:  Dip a spoon into it, raise it up, and let the drops fall back into the pot.  When the last drops on the spoon are moving slower instead of dripping off quickly and when they hang on longer and meld together before dripping off, it’s ready.
            Ladle into the warm jars, leaving about ½-inch headspace.  Then set the lids on the jars slightly askew to vent it so that the steam gets out.  (If you don’t, a lot of water will condense in the jar and leave a layer of ice on top.  I even take the lids off once or twice to wipe off the water on the underside with a paper towel.) 
            Once they’re cooled, cap tightly and freeze.  I would keep mine for up to a year in the freezer and about a week once it’s moved to the fridge.  (But we go through 17 half-pint jars in about 4-5 months.)


Variation:  I have also made this recipe with mixed fruit.  It’s still good, but stronger tasting.  You can use the same measurements or do what I did: 
            Use two 10-cup bags of frozen organic mixed fruit from Costco (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), 2 lemons or 3 limes (juice), 3-4 grated apples, and 3 cups sugar.  Same process.  This makes about 12 half-pint jars.         

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