Strawberry, Balsamic & Black Pepper Jam

Well, strawberries are definitely in season right now, and they are growing in abundance … although not necessarily at our house.

Here is one of our little strawberry plants, which is set up out front:

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Not bad for its first year, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing any strawberries from our efforts anytime soon.

Which means that we’re enjoying the efforts of people who have had much better luck with their strawberries! And here is one of the best ways to enjoy them all year long: strawberry jam.

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Now, be forewarned: this is not your average strawberry jam.

It’s a far cry from store-bought jelly, and it’s nothing you would find in a Pop Tart. This is more of a black coffee and scones kind of strawberry jam. Or a prosecco and goat cheese crostini kind of strawberry jam.  It’s a little bit earthy, a little bit smoky, and a little bit spicy.  It’s fun to make, too. Here’s how you do it:

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STRAWBERRY, BALSAMIC & BLACK PEPPER JAM

2 lbs strawberries (about 4.5 cups), sliced

2 cups sugar

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

1 box of Pomona’s Universal Pectin, from which you will use: 2 teaspoons of pectin and 2 teaspoons of calcium water.

3 pans: 1 large stock pot for the water bath; 1 small saucepan for sanitizing the lids; and 1 large, wide pot for processing the jam (something non-reactive, like stainless steel or copper)

6-8 1/2 pint sized ball jars with lids (this is about how much this recipe makes)

Tongs

A round canning rack or a box of tin foil (more on that later)

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First, a brief word about the pectin: I love this stuff. It’s easy to use, it has no sugar, no preservatives, and it’s made from fruit peels. It’ll jam your jam in no time flat.

Now, if you know what you’re doing (I usually don’t) and you’re making jam using fruits with peels (not the case here), and you’re using the peels (not the case here), and — let me reiterate — you know what you’re doing, you may not need any pectin. Ever. But we tried making peach-berry jam last year without pectin and we ended up with what we lovingly called “peach-berry syrup.” Which was great on ice cream, but would not stick to toast. Of course, we removed all the skins from the peaches first because …um … we didn’t know what we were doing, and surely you would not do that.

But if you’re a little jam-shy (like me) and you want something you can measure, go with the pectin.  There are instructions inside on how to make the “calcium water,” which is easy peasy, and which helps to activate the pectin.  You make it in a 1/2 cup batch, which you can just keep in the fridge and spoon it out any time you need it.

So, the first step is to make the calcium water.  Once you’ve done that, the real jamming can begin…

… after you sanitize all of your jars and lids. This is the part of jamming I like the least (the prep work) but it goes quickly.  To sanitize the jars, just run them through the dishwasher (or you can clean them by hand if you like).  To sanitize the lids and rings, put them in a pot of water and boil them. See? Not so bad.

And NOW the real jamming can begin.

First, wash and slice your strawberries:

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Then place the strawberries in a large stainless steel pot along with the lemon juice, pepper, and 2 teaspoons of calcium water, and bring to a boil.  A normal stock pot would work fine, but ideally, you’re looking for a wide pot with the most surface area you can get.  This will give everything the chance to spread out and cook evenly.

Once the berries have come to a boil, skim off any foam you see (it’ll be sort of rust colored), discard it, and add the balsamic vinegar to the pot.  Then, in a large bowl, mix the sugar with 2 teaspoons of pectin, making sure it is well-combined. Slowly add the sugar/pectin mixture to the strawberries, stirring vigorously for 1-2 minutes.  Then bring the berries back to a boil and allow them to process.

Now, how long this takes will depend, and there’s no exact science to it.  You want it to thicken up enough that it coats the back of a spoon and sort of glazes it (as opposed to runs right off it), but don’t expect it to get to the consistency of jam — the pectin works the rest of its magic after the jam is in the jar and setting.  I’d say give it a good 3-5 minutes of boiling, and when it looks like it’s getting good and viscous, call it and shut off the heat.  Do a second round of skimming to remove any foam that came up during while the jam was boiling.

Now spoon the jam into the jars.  You want to leave about 1 inch of space, and wipe the rims of the jars clean with a paper towel to remove any jam (this will help to ensure a good seal):

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If you plan on eating these right away, just slap a lid and a ring on them, and put them in the fridge.  They should keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

But if you plan on keeping them for any longer than that (or if you want to give these as gifts, which is fun and will impress your friends), you need to can them.  This is much easier than it sounds.

Grab a stock pot large enough that you place the jars inside and cover them with completely with water (there should be about an inch or two of water above the jars), and fill it with enough water to do the job.  This is what we use:

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It’s a pressure canner, but we also use it for water bath canning.  If you’ve got a big spaghetti or lobster pot, that would do the trick.

Place your canning rack at the bottom, or make your own by rolling some tin foil into a long coil and place it at the bottom of the pot.  This is important because it keeps the jars from coming in direct contact with the bottom of the pot (which can shatter the jars) and it also allows the water to circulate around the jars.

Bring the water to a rolling boil.  Make sure the rings are screwed on around the lids, but not too tight, because you want to allow space for steam to escape.  Slowly place the jars into the pot, and boil for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes is up, carefully remove the jars with tongs and set them out someplace to cool.

Before too long, you should start to hear the distinctive “PING!” “PING!” sound of the lids sealing.  If this is your first time canning, this sound will bring a ridiculous amount of joy to your heart. If you’ve canned before, it will do the same thing.  Seriously, I want to break into high-fives every time I hear it.  Allow the jam to cool (this could take a couple of hours) and congratulate yourself. You’ve just trapped summer in a jar!

The jam will keep up to a year, or — if you want to “test it” before handing it out to your friends, which is very noble of you — it will certainly keep until the next morning 🙂