In search of jam …

Since Kyle and I got married, we have been on something of a quest for the perfect jam. “Perfect” Jam means different things to different people (To Kyle: strawberry. To me: organic. Local. Low sugar. Fair trade. Deeply flavored. Pretty to look at. The list could go on).  We eventually found a local jam company that I adore and Kyle finds disturbingly expensive  ( for some spectacularly simple and elegant, deeply delicious “endangered fruit” jams that just might change your life, or bankrupt you, depending on how you see it … ). Our unspoken compromise on the jam front is that I regularly buy a jar of Blenheim Apricot or Tart Cherry Grapefruit at the San Mateo Farmer’s Market, after which Kyle grimaces, frowns at the change I get back, and then willfully ignores the jam while smearing store-bought, sugar-filled strawberry preserves on his toast. Not that I’m complaining, because it means I get all the yummy jam … But Jacob likes to have what Daddy has for breakfast, and I don’t like Jacob having all that sugar,  and Kyle definitely doesn’t like paying for Jacob to have assertive, perfectly tart cherries balanced with just a hint of tangy citrus … well anyway. After trying every single strawberry jam in our grocery store and finding that none of them met everyone’s requirements, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Only I don’t know a thing about canning.

And I have never had a successful relationship with adding pectin to things.

So I needed a recipe simple enough that I didn’t feel the need to preserve hundreds of jars to make up for losing days of my life over steaming hot pots of fruit. It needed to have no added pectin. Oh, and very little added sugar would be great.  I scoured my cookbooks, the internet, and my kitchen-minded friends … and eventually cobbled together this extraordinarily simple recipe, which makes a beautiful, tart-sweet jam that will keep in your fridge for a week or two with no hot water bath, burned fingers, or official preservation measures of any sort. I make it at night after the kiddos are in bed, since it is a big HOT pot – hence the poorly lit photos (am I kidding myself that it is sort of a film noir of jam?) …

Pectin-Free Low-Sugar Non-Preserved Strawberry Jam

3 Pint Baskets Fresh Strawberries
Juice from 1 or 2 Meyer Lemons
1/2 – 3/4 Cup Sugar (or more or less to taste)
1 clean quart-sized canning jar, with lid


Before you begin, put a plate in the freezer. You will need this to test your jam.  It is not as scary as it sounds.

Strawberries are not quite here yet in all their glory – the February berries at our Farmer’s Market are organic, three baskets for $9, and have been grown outside … but you can see the white areas, and they are not bursting with flavor and juice as they will be come summertime. But, since we are in California, they are there – and they will do. I used three pint baskets, rinsed in the colander and allowed to drain a bit.

Hull the berries with a baby spoon, then put them in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the juice from one or two Meyer lemons, and about 1/2 cup sugar. Mash the berries with a fork – they don’t need to be totally mashed down to a pulp, but each berry should be mashed at least once or twice.

Put the pot over low heat, and stir until you are getting a lot of juice and the sugar seems mostly dissolved. Then, raise the heat to medium-high and let everything come to a boil. This will roil and foam, and start to look rather scary, but that is what you want! Keep an eye on it and keep stirring every minute or so. Here are photos over the course of about ten minutes:

And then after about ten minutes it will start to look like this – darker red, fewer bubbles, thicker consistency:

At that point, it is time to test it. Go get that plate from the freezer, and put a dollop of jam onto it. Put it back in the freezer for about thirty seconds, maybe a little longer. Get it out and run your finger through it. Does the line hold, like this?

Hooray! You just made jam! (If it doesn’t hold, cook a minute more and test it again. Eventually the line will hold – it shouldn’t take much longer than 13-14 minutes total). Let your delicious jam cool a moment so you don’t burn yourself, then carefully pour it into your clean (dishwasher sterilized is great) quart-size jar. It will not quite fill it up – that is OK. You have lots of jam! Admire for a moment how pretty and deep red it looks in the glass. Then put the lid on (while it is still warm) and put it in the fridge. It will keep for a week or two – your family will be delighted with it, you will sneak peeks of it to see how lovely it looks sitting all casual and homemade in your fridge – and, perhaps best of all, you can use some of it tomorrow night when you try your hand at Low-Sugar, Whole Grain “Parp Tots”