Ugly Berry Vanilla Jam
I came, I saw, I picked, I drank, I canned…I rock.
I used to think that there was no better smell than the beautiful aroma of garlic, gently sautéing in a hot tub of butter. I was wrong, friends. So very, very wrong. No, the most amazing scent is that of strawberries you picked on your own, simmering gently on the stove, with just a touch of vanilla.
I used to think there was no better sound than the sizzle of a steak hitting a perfectly heated grill. I was wrong. So very, very wrong. No, the most amazing sound is the satisfying little pop of canning jar lids after processing.
My day rocked. I woke up bright and early, picked up a couple friends, and headed out to the Strawberry Jubilee at Great Country Farms. Driving in, I was slightly apprehensive as I saw the crowded parking field and line stretching from the main store and down into the lot.
“Hey look, a space!” I said to my friends, and quickly guided my SUV onto the grass next to the a red sedan.
Then felt my car sink six inches.
Yeah. Apparently there had been a huge rainstorm the night before, and that particular space was a lot less…solid…than I expected it to be. The sheer weight of my beautiful, slightly banged up baby was just too much for the terrain. I threw the car into reverse and tried to back out into another spot, but my wheels just spun. So I tried to go forward. More spinning. A nice gentleman came over and helped us push it. The car moved back slightly, which didn’t really help because it meant my wheels were still spinning, just in a different groove.
It was hopeless. The car was stuck, and the line was getting longer. So what is there to do, but pick strawberries?
Luckily for us, the long line was for the NON members. We got to breeze through, and slid in right before they closed the fields for picking. The farm was absolutely mobbed—it’s a beautiful Saturday during a holiday weekend. Of course it was mobbed!
My friends and I spent the better part of two hours digging through the fields for those beautiful red buttons of freshness. The plants were pretty well picked over from the massive amounts of people in search of strawberries that morning, but I still came home with twelve pounds of the little suckers.
Oh that’s right. Twelve pounds. To be honest, three pounds are going to my friend/soprano buddy Helen, and another unknown poundage to Heather. The rest…oh, the rest are mine.
It should be noted that I call this ‘ugly berry’ jam because most of the berries were just butt ugly. Most pickers were looking for that perfectly formed strawberry to either serve to guests or enjoy themselves. I knew mine would be blended into a jam, so I didn’t particularly care what they looked like. Plus, Ugly Berry Jam just sounds cool.
Ugly Berry Vanilla Jam
6 cups strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
4 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
I was SO excited to make the jam today. Seriously. I’ve been planning this strawberry picking trip for a week now. Every day at work, I’d talk about the volumes of berries I was going to come home with, how I was going to turn them into delicious jam, and then can that jam. The canning was the most exciting part—I’ve never canned anything on my own before, and I was psyched to learn how to do it in my little itty bitty kitchenette.
Canning is going to be an important part of my summer. Big time. With all these veggies coming on a weekly basis, I know a lot of it is going to get canned or frozen.
Yesterday at work, I chatted with Heather.
“I can’t wait to can this jam! I’ll give you some,” I offered. The two of us trade food at lunch like we’re 3rd graders.
“Awesome! How are you going to make it?” she asked.
“I’m going to…oh.” It suddenly struck me that I had a recipe developed after surveying several online versions. I had the plan to get the strawberries. I had done some googling and had a general idea of how to process the jam. But I didn’t actually have the things to process them.
Canning involves some equipment that I just don’t have lying around. I needed a huge, deep pot to boil the canning jars during processing, and a rack to keep them off the pot bottom. I needed the actual canning jars, and their associated lids and rims. Then there’s a special set of tongs to lift the cans from the water. And a wide mouthed funnel.
Hello, Walmart! A quick trip to the mega superstore realized all my canning dreams. Seriously, they had everything. I got the pot, the rack, and a Ball canning starter kit. The kit came with the tongs, funnel, a magnet to lift the lids from scalding water, and headspace measure.
Back to the jam.
First, I had to make sure the jars were clean and sterile. The last thing I want is for friends and family to die of botulism and other icky friends. There are two trusted methods to sterilize the jars—boil them or run them through the dishwasher.
Due to space and time, I decided to run them through the machine rather than boil. Part of me wanted to boil them, and pretend I was a frontier woman putting up stores of fruit for her family to eat over the winter. But then I realized practical is always better than over romanticized nostalgia : ) I kept the door shut even after the cycle finished, just so all the heat would stay inside and keep the jars hot. I didn’t want to risk a broken jar when the hot jam hit the cool glass!
While the jars were sanitizing, I hulled and sliced the 6 cups of strawberries, and began heating them in a large pot over medium heat. Most recipes suggested using a potato masher to begin breaking down the berries. I don’t have a potato masher, so I used my stick blender.
Stick blenders are awesome.
I let the strawberries warm for about ten minutes before adding the sugar. (Eventually I want to mess around with the recipe to sub in agave nectar, but I figure, baby steps. Baby steps.) The mixture is going to get really thick, really fast, so make sure to stir well—and quickly—to avoid lumps of sugar floating around in the jammy goodness. I brought the jam to a boil, then reduced the heat slightly before letting it burble away for the next 15-ish minutes.
At this point, I began sterilizing the jar lids and rings by bringing them to a boil in a small saucepot on the back of the stove. I probably could have run them through the dishwasher too, but one of the main reasons for boiling them is to soften the rubber lining on the lid.
Finally, the jam was finished boiling. The studio smelled amazing—personally, I hoped the aroma snuck out into the hall and invaded Ghetto Neighbor’s apartment, fully overwhelming his pot scented atmosphere with the joy and happiness of homemade jam. I hope the little pothead got major munchies.
Quickly, I lifted the jars from the dishwasher and set them on my now dishtowel-lined countertop. I placed the wide mouthed funnel over one of the jars, and using a ladle, filled the jars with the jam, leaving about ¼ inch headroom. The canning start kit came with a magnetic stick thingy to lift the jar lids and rounds from the boiling water, which saved my life because those suckers were hot. I dried them (carefully) with the edge of the towel and popped them on top of the jars.
The jars went into a boiling water bath for ten minutes. I have decided I’m now on the hunt for a new canning rack. At
Walmart, I had bought this huge pot with a specially fitted rack with handles that let you lift the whole thing out at one time. I was pretty psyched because then I could have a pot JUST for canning. I didn’t know where I was going to put it, but I bought it anyway.
Then got it home. I filled it with water and placed it on the stove…only to discover the damn thing didn’t fit on the unit. Nope. Not at all. It was way too big. I tried to strategerize it so the pot fit over two burners, which worked better, but it took FOREVER to bring to a boil. But, despite its best efforts, the water submitted to physics and boiled.
I lifted the jars from the water (those tongs are AMAZING) and let them sit on the dishtowel. Now here’s the important part—listen for the pop. When the jam has processed correctly, the lid will suck down and make this satisfying, tinny sound letting you know that all is well in the jam world. If you don’t hear the pop after ten minutes, put the offending jar back in the water to repeat the process. If you don’t hear the pop again, throw out the jam (but keep the jar!) because there’s no hope for it.
I ended up making two batches of the jam. The first batch brought me 6 half pint jars, and the second brought me five. I still have tons of strawberries left, so I’m sure I’ll be making even more in the near future!