And so begins the season of abundance. This weekend, I drove out to Sauvie Island for my first of many trips to the U-pick farms to stock up on berries. My fiance and I have an annual tradition of picking berries, making our own jam and loading up the freezer to last us through the year (if we ration it just right). We will make 3-4 trips over the course of the summer, starting in June with strawberries, moving onto blueberries and raspberries in July and then wrapping up with marionberries and peaches in August. One particularly well-fated year of camping we even were able to add 15 pounds of huckleberries from the Indian Heaven Wilderness near Mt Adams to our quota.
There is nothing quite like jam made at home with berries that were plucked from the ground 5 hours ago. The taste can't compare to commercially produced products. They are so sweet that adding too much sugar would adulterate the flavor and cover up the natural sweetness.
This summer, I am getting married and we decided there would be no more perfect wedding favor than our homemade jam. To make 100 half-pint sized containers, I somehow erroneously thought we would need to pick 60 lbs of strawberries. Boy, was I wrong. We could have gotten by with a third of that amount. I chalk it up to the mental contortions of converting pounds of whole berries to cups of mushed berries, quadrupling recipes, and trying to remember how many cups are in a quart. But I can think of worse fates than having too many strawberries. In addition to 48 half pints for the wedding, we ended up with an additional 17 pints of jam for our own personal consumption, 7 gallons of frozen berries and a gallon of strawberry puree that we will save to make triple berry jam once the blueberries and raspberries are ready to pick in a couple of weeks. It only took us a mere 8 hours to process the 75 pounds that we picked in an hour and 20 minutes. Ah, but the work will be well worth it in March when we are still tasting summer on our morning toast and smoothies.
We picked 80% Shuksans and 20% Hoods. I opt for Pomona's Pectin when I make jam because the low sugar recipes set up well, even with half the normal amount found in some other recipes. Pomona's is available at New Season's for just over $4 a box that makes 2-4 recipes. The reason it works with low to no sugar is the use of calcium instead of sugar to activate the pectin. This means you can also substitute other sweeteners like honey, sucanat and xylitol - a bonus for those of us trying to cut sugar out of our diets.
Low Sugar Strawberry Jam
1 batch = 4 - 5 cups of jam
4 cups of mashed fruit
1/2 c honey or 3/4 c sugar
2 tsp Pomona's Universal Pectin
2 tsp calcium water
Prep your jam jars: Wash and rinse jars; let stand in hot water. Bring lids and rings to a boil; turn down heat; let stand in hot water while you prepare your jam.
Prep your fruit: Following the instructions from Pomona, make the calcium water by dissolving the smaller packet in the box with 1/2 cup water. I put this in an old jam jar to store in the fridge between jam making episodes.
Put the fruit into a large, heavy bottom pot. Add the calcium water.
In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup sugar or room-temperature honey with the pectin from the second, larger packet in the box. Mix well.
Bring fruit to a boil over medium-high heat; add the sugar-pectin mixture and stir vigorously for 2 minutes until pectin and sugar is dissolved. Return to the boil and remove from heat.
Pour into canning jars, leaving 1/4″ head space, and seal with lid and ring. Place jars in boiling water to cover for 10 minutes (this is what allows the jam to be shelf stable and not spoil - do not skimp on the time at this stage). The lids will make an audible pop when they cool, indicating that the seal has formed. Jam lasts about 3 weeks once opened and refrigerated.