I’ve been bitten by the canning bug.
I used to think that canning had to be a full-day affair, with pounds of fruit and showers of sugar and a clatter of specialized equipment.But lately many of my favorite food blogs have been singing the praises of small-batch canning: a pint or two at a time, perfect for using up the odd pound of fruit or experimenting with new flavor combinations. Small batches of jam also generally set beautifully without added pectin, and pectin was one of the things that put me off canning the most.
I rarely eat jam, usually just a spoonful at a time, swirled into yogurt; I have no great interest in putting up a whole larder of preserves for the winter. So a pint of jam at a time is plenty for me. And now that I’ve started, I’m totally hooked.
Part of this process has been educating myself thoroughly on the basics of canning and safety. Unlike many of the cooking projects I’m familiar with, canning requires a fair amount of precision and attention to detail. I’ve found the blog Food in Jars to be a great jumping-off point for recipe inspiration, and the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation website has been a lifesaver when it comes to food safety. The New York Times has thorough instructions for canning in a water bath, which I pretty much have memorized by now. I’m very new to this, so I’m sticking to tested recipes, keeping the proportions of fruit and sugar the same, and only ever adding more acid, not less. (I’ve found that I often want more lemon juice than a recipe calls for, to cut the sticky sweetness of the jam itself.)
This particular strawberry jam recipe struck my fancy because it uses honey instead of sugar as a sweetener. As it turns out, strawberries and honey are a wonderful, slightly unexpected combination: cook them down together, and you get something rich and treacly and intense, yet with all the comforting familiarity of old-fashioned strawberry jam. I was originally going to add thyme, as per the source recipe, but the thyme in my fridge was old and furry, so I decided to skip it. The jam on its own is delightful, and I could imagine it providing an agreeable backdrop for any number of herbs. And as fabulous as it is now, in the height of summer-fruit season, I’m especially looking forward to smearing it on soda bread in the fall.
Strawberry Honey Jam (makes about 1 pint)
Adapted slightly from The Kitchn
1 1/2 lb (about 2 pints) small ripe strawberries, hulled and chopped
1 cup (12 oz) honey
2 tbsp lemon juice (about one medium lemon’s worth)
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme, tarragon, mint, or basil (optional)
Special equipment: two half-pint canning jars OR four 4 oz canning jars, instant-read thermometer (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine chopped strawberries, honey, lemon juice, and chopped herbs (if using). Stir to combine, and let sit for 10 minutes.
When the honey has dissolved and the strawberries have started to release their juice, transfer the mixture to a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pot or skillet. Bring to a rapid boil over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 8-12 minutes, or until the jam is thick and sticky (if you have an instant-read thermometer, the jam reaches its set point at 220º F). To test the jam visually for doneness, drag a flexible heatproof spatula or wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot; the line made through the jam should stay clear for several seconds.
Canning instructions: While the jam cooks, sterilize jars, lids, and rings. Transfer the hot jam to the hot jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe rims, and apply lids and rings. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Sealed, cooled jars will keep for up to a year in a cool, dark place; once a jar is opened, keep it in the fridge and use within 3-4 weeks. (If you’re new to canning, there are detailed instructions here.)
Refrigerator/freezer instructions: Let the jam cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to clean jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, close the jars tightly, and let cool completely on the counter. Store the jam in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Thaw freezer jam overnight in the refrigerator before using; once a jar is opened, refrigerate it and use it within 3-4 weeks.