The last three weeks I have been moaning on and off about my struggle with making strawberry jam. How do I capture the essence of in season strawberries at the height of their flavour into a mason jar? It’s all too easy to overcook the berries in attempt to reach that elusive jiggly set when there is so little pectin in the fruit. I refuse to use commercial pectin and I don’t have any apple pectin stock in my pantry. Last night, I found my strawberry jam success with a little help from pectin-rich red currants.
Mixing low-pectin with pectin-rich fruit in jam making to achieve a desirable set is nothing new. The trick lies in choosing a combination that doesn’t outshine the main flavour in the preserve. This is why under-ripe apples are often used to make pectin stock because of their neutral flavour. I paired red currants with strawberries for its complementary berry tartness and also the bright red colour. My fourth batch of Minty Strawberry Jam remains predominately strawberry with a hint of mint, lemon, and kirsch in the background. The only telltale sign of red currants is the occasional seeds found in the jam. The set is so beautifully loose with all that bright summer strawberry flavour bursting from the whole berries. I’m so happy that I finally have a batch of strawberry jam to be proud of!
Although red currants are in season now in Ontario, it was not easy to track them down because they are not popular as fruit to eat out of hand. My quest for red currants last weekend took me all over downtown Toronto. I don’t do much downtown shopping in summer because I’m always racing out of town or training at the trails for inline speed skating. It was a rare treat that I got to enjoy the beautiful weather (read: muggy hot) strolling from store to store in leisure. I could not believe all the sale going on for summer collection in all my favourite stores. I did not even see the collection arriving and now they’re all priced to go. Did I already miss out on summer?!
As you can imagine, I got distracted from my red currants search. After all, there were shoes and clothes to check out! I went to my favourite shoe store in Toronto and found a pair of high heel sandals that manage the improbable feat of making my horrendous skater feet look sexy. Years of abusing my feet in those carbon fibre contraption means I gave up wearing sandals long ago. Too self-conscious of various weird lumps and bumps. When I tried on these Fluevog O’Hara, I knew they would be mine. Never mind that I have to figure out how to walk around in the 4 inch heels. They are just so pretty and the leather is incredibly soft.
Oh yes, red currants. I must not be the only jam maker with red currants on my mind last weekend. They were sold out in Whole Foods and down to the very last box at Pusateri’s! I snapped up a one pint container from the Bayview Village location and made strawberry jam success. If you want to track down some red currants yourself, there are still plenty at McEwan’s when I visited on Saturday.
Minty Strawberry Jam
makes 4 250mL jars plus a bit extra
- 2 1/2 lb strawberries
- 1 lb sugar
- 1 lemon
- 1 pint red currants, washed and picked over
- 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 large sprigs of mint
- 1 tbsp kirsch
- Wash and dry the strawberries. Hull and cut them to 1 inch pieces if they are too big. Weigh the prepared berries. The weight for the strawberry and sugar listed above is just a general guideline. I use 40% sugar by weight. So if you have 1000g of berries, use 400g of sugar.
- Sprinkle sugar over berries in a container with a lid. Add in lemon zest and all the lemon juice. Store in fridge overnight to macerate.
- The next day, prepare your canning jars by washing them in hot soapy water. Put jars in canning pot with boiling water and boil for 10 minutes to sanitize.
- Put a small white plate into the freezer.
- While that is happening, put all the contents of your macerated strawberries into a large heavy bottom pot. Bring to boil.
- Once it comes to a boil, use a strainer to remove strawberries into a bowl. Put currants and butter into the pot of syrup and cook at medium high heat until it reaches 215F and starts to thicken.
- Add in strawberries and mint. Continue to cook until jam reaches the gelling point. Depending on the desired consistency, that may be anywhere between 216 – 220F for about 15 to 20 minutes. To test the set, remove pot from heat. Take a little spoon of jam and drop it onto the cold plate. Put the plate back in the freezer for one minute. If the jam wrinkles a little when you nudge it, then it’s done. If not, cook for another 5 minutes and test again.
- Lift the hot jars from the water bath and put the lids into the water bath. Remove the mint sprig from jam and stir in kirsch. Fill the jars with jam and leave 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the opening with a lightly moisten paper towel to ensure a clean seal. Close each jar with lid and screw ring. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes.