Strawberry season comes earlier in Louisiana than the rest of the country. Just when it nears the end and I'm finally in step with spring, I end up scrambling to pick the last of the harvest. Which is exactly what a friend and I did a few weeks ago, batching those berries into countless jars of jam (and if you're going to make 6 batches of jam after a day of picking, I highly suggest the company of a good friend).
I love this particular recipe from the cookbook, Dam Good Sweet. It's the second year I've used it, and I find it more complex than your basic strawberry jam. There's just enough citrus to brighten up the flavor and not so much sugar that it's cloyingly sweet.
I have more than one friend who simply eats it with a spoon, like candy. But my favorite way to enjoy it is with goat cheese and Triscuits (after a side-by-side comparison, I like the Reduced Fat version best with this). It's a heavenly snack, even better when shared with friends.
PONCHATOULA STRAWBERRY JAM
Adapted from (and courtesy of) DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style [Taunton Press, 2009] [cookbook by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel]
2 1/2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 1/4 cups sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons pectin
Place a small ceramic or glass plate in the freezer. Place the strawberries in a large pot and, if desired, mash the berries a bit with a potato masher. Add 3 cups of the sugar and the lemon zest to the strawberries and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, folding the strawberries and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a simmer, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the pectin with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Add the pectin mixture to the strawberries and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 220ºF, another 30 to 35 minutes (note that the jam will stay at around 217ºF for what seems like an eternity - be patient, the temperature will rise, so stick with it), skimming the foam from the top and stirring every so often. Take the plate out of the freezer and spoon a small dollop of jam onto it. The jam should set up semi-stiff, and when you run your finger through it, the trail should not run back together immediately. If it does, keep cooking. If it doesn't, turn off the heat and let the jam sit for 10 minutes. (This helps ensure that your berries don't float to the top of the jam jar.)
Fill a large stockpot or canning pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the jars, lids, and bands, and simmer for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the jars, bands, and lids to a clean kitchen towel. Once cool enough to handle (but still warm) fill the jars nearly full with strawberry jam, leaving a 1/2-inch space at the top. Screw the lids on.
Add more water to the pot if necessary and bring to a boil. Place a canning rack in the pot and set the filled jars into the rack. Boil the jars for 10 minutes (the filled jars should be completely covered by the boiling water). Using tongs, remove the jars and place on the kitchen towel. If refrigerating, be sure to cool the filled jars for a few hours first. Unopened, the jam will keep in a cool, dark place for a few months. After opening, try to eat the jam within a week or two.
Makes five 8-ounce jars
Even when using small strawberries, I prefer that they be mashed into smaller pieces. But if you like to keep the fruit whole in your jam, simply quarter the large berries and leave small and medium berries whole. The whole berries will stay suspended in the jam and disintegrate into a schmear when you spread it.
The cooking temperature in the original recipe specifies 220ºF to 222ºF. However, I start checking it at 218ºF. I found some of my batches were ready at 219ºF, but most often, 220ºF was perfect. Anything beyond that was overcooked. (For tips on canning 101, I find this post to be helpful.)
You may not want to put the effort into homemade jam. But you can still experiment with store bought - try mixing in finely grated lemon zest to taste. My favorite tool for grating citrus is my Microplane Zester.
Thank you to chef David Guas for sharing this recipe.