Even though we had a mild winter and the seasons seemed to blend together this year, I know that summer is approaching because strawberry season is upon us. Where I live, strawberries are the first fruit of the season and depending on my canning reserves, strawberry jam is the official herald of my canning season.
We have a small garden but we do not grow strawberries. We just don’t have the space for what they yield. The strawberries I processed came from a small “pick your own” farm about a 40-minute drive from my home. I had a game plan of what I intended to can and picked accordingly. With two pecks (around 25 pounds) of plump, ripe berries, I had a couple of days work ahead of me.
I knew I wanted to try a small batch of Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar and Cracked Black Pepper. I decided to try a soft set method without pectin. I mashed berries until I had two cups and allowed them to macerate with one cup of sugar for a few hours in the refrigerator. I then placed this mixture in a large skillet that was deep enough to allow the berries to boil without boiling over. I cooked the jam until it was reduced to half and thick, about 20 to 30 minutes. At that point, I added three tablespoons of a quality balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. I let that cook for about five minutes and then removed it from the heat. I poured the jam into prepped half pint jars and processed it in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. I ended up with two half pints (a cup total) and just enough left over for a few people to taste.
This jam is delicious. There is a pleasant, unidentifiable tartness from the balsamic that is finished with a slow burn from the pepper. It is a very soft set. The part jar I have in the refrigerator is the consistency of a loose fruit spread. That doesn’t bother me. I grew up in a household where soft set jams were used as a replacement for syrup on pancakes. This jam will be perfect ladled over a brie with a nice glass of red wine and a few crackers.
When I make this jam again, I will do a couple of things differently. After reading at least 20 different recipes, I compiled my own. I will double the amount of strawberries and sugar (four cups of mashed berries and two cups of sugar) as it’s a lot of work to only end up with a little over a cup of jam. I will only add one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar for each cup of prepped fruit instead of the 1 ½ ratio. I think less than that will not be enough and more than that makes the jam border of the edge of tartness that might be unpleasant for some. It’s fine for my taste as I drizzle balsamic over a salad or even vanilla ice cream but there’s some people, bless their hearts, that don’t appreciate the taste of it. I will also set my pepper grinder on its largest grind setting as I think it will help with appearance although when you add the balsamic, the jam goes from bright berry red to a deep purple in color. You can find the recipe here:
For the rest of the berries, I made four batches of plain Strawberry Jam and two batches of Strawberry Pepper Jam, the peppers consisting of jalapenos and a habanero. The only thing I switched up was the type of pectin I used. Normally, I use Sure-Jell, but over the years I had been reading about Pomona’s Pectin. It is a vegan, gluten free pectin that gels with low sugar or any type of sweetener. It has made a believer out of me! I had five cups of mashed berries and only used one cup of sugar and the jam set up as promised. I will say that it does not have the glossy consistency of traditional jam canned with Sure-Jell but being able to reduce the amount of sugar from seven cups to just one, I’ll take it and the strawberry flavor is off the charts.
I am not getting paid or compensated in any way from Pomona’s Pectin but I am attaching their link as I think it’s an excellent product, especially if you’re looking to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet or find alternatives to using sugar as a sweetener when canning.
The picture attached shows the fruits of my labor, except for the cat. Whenever our cat, Flash, sees a box, he’s in it. His motto? “If I fit, I sit.” And if it were up to him, his furry behind would still be planted in that box and I would have had to find an alternate container to pick in.