All across the country (well, maybe just all across Instagram), I've seen kids in strawberry fields, filling giant baskets and buckets full of strawberries. I took Mac and Mim strawberry picking at our favorite local orchard Eckert's Farms the first possible weekend we could back in May and we came home with more strawberries than we could eat in a year. So...what's a girl to do with two tons of strawberries? Make strawberry margaritas!!! Well, yes...and also make jam! (Although, I highly recommend making both.)
What you may not know about me is that I grew up in the country, in a very small town, basically in the middle of nowhere with strong roots to Southern traditions. My grandparents (and parents) always had a big garden and if there were more veggies than we could eat at any given time (which was always), canning them was the answer. My Grandma Opal used to raise us on jars of canned green beans, beets and tomatoes from her garden. I've watched my parents implement this tradition and I get so excited to bring home jars of pickled beets, okra and cucumbers from my dad's garden any time we visit.
While canning and making jam may sound like things from a bygone era, I've noticed there's been a revival lately of these old-fashioned techniques and a new passion for home-made home-grown products. Making your own jam/preserves and pickling veggies no longer sound outdated and old-fashioned, they're now hipster and super trendy instead! And while I am anything but hip and trendy, I do love the idea of making food with items you grew yourself or picked with your family because there's such an amazing connection with knowing what's in your food and where it comes from. These are things I think are important for kids to know too.
If you've never canned or made jam before, it probably sounds intimidating, but both are surprisingly easy! Making jam doesn't take all day slaving away over your stove and only requires a few ingredients. Canning hot liquids like jam is also really easy to do with the hot seal method (described below) and doesn't require fancy equipment. Everything you need can be found at your local grocery store, including canning jars! And you've got me to walk you through the process...I'm Sara and I'll be your tour guide! This is the modern mama's guide to canning!
The only products you really need for canning are the jars, lids and rings. For jam or preserves, I personally love using these small 4 ounce Ball quilted crystal jars. These are such a cute size for gifting and come in a box of 12 for about $9 (includes the jar, lid, rings and labels). There are also a few tools that are helpful, but not necessary for canning, including a canning funnel, a magnetic lid wand and liquid fruit pectin. A wide-mouth canning funnel is the perfect size for the mouth of canning jars and a magnetic lid wand is nice to have so you don’t burn your fingers, but neither or necessary. Liquid fruit pectin is a kind of preserved apple syrup, which helps set up jams and jellies. This is sold in your local grocery store and comes in a box with two 3-ounce pouches for about $5. It's helpful for jams made from fruits (like strawberries) that are naturally low in pectin, but not necessary and if not used, you’ll just have runnier preserves (they'll still taste great).
Before you put anything into your jars, you need to sterilize them. Years ago, when my parents canned fruits and vegetables from our garden, they would boil the jars in a giant pressure cooker on the stove, then carefully remove them with tongs, trying not to spill boiling water all over the place. These days, most of us have a giant sterilizing machine in our kitchen — the dishwasher. All you really need to do to sterilize your jars is run them through the dishwasher on high heat. Viola!
If you don’t have a dishwasher or just want to do it the old-fashioned way — break out your biggest stock pot and submerge the jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. Either way you do it, place the clean jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel until you’re ready to use them. This should be done the day you will be canning and no earlier. Lids should be boiled in a small sauce pan on the stove top for 4 minutes, right before canning begins.
You’re going to be shocked how easy it is to make preserves. Once you have your fresh strawberries cleaned and hulled, throw them in a bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and zest. It might sound like a lot of sugar, but the sugar is the preservative and helps thicken the juices. Let the mixture sit covered with a kitchen towel for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. The longer the mixture sits, the more the strawberries will break down, so if you like super chunky preserves, stay on the shorter end. Transfer the mixture to a large stockpot, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil rapidly for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the liquid pectin, then boil for an additional minute. Skim off the foam, if desired.
Getting a proper seal on your jars is the most important and trickiest part of canning. While our parents may have used a hot water bath or pressure cooker method for sealing jam, us modern mamas have a new and improved (and super easy) technique called the hot seal method. This method works best on jams, jellies and other high acidic items that have been cooked. While your preserves are still hot, fill the sterilized jars with the preserves, leaving about ½ inch from the top with the mixture. Take a damp paper towel and wipe all the way around the rim of the jar, making sure there is nothing on there to prevent a proper seal or allow bacteria to grow. Place a sterilized lid on top of the jar and tighten with a ring. Flip the jar upside down and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. The heat of the mixture will suction the lid right to the jar and you’ll start hearing the lids pop seal themselves. Turn the jars over and check the seals. If the small circle in the middle of the lid isn’t depressed, push it down to seal. If it doesn’t seal within a few hours, put in the fridge and eat right away. Otherwise, sealed preserves can last 18 months to 2 years unrefrigerated (the more sugar you use, the longer the shelf life). Once opened, the preserves should be refrigerated and should last about a month.
And that's it! You've just made preserves and canned! It may sound intimidating and overwhelming the first time you do it, but trust me, it's easy and gets easier every time. Farm to table, just like that. And your kids are going to love them! The preserves can be used on biscuits or toast, served over ice cream or waffles, mixed into yogurt or on a cracker with cream cheese. The possibilities are endless. Plus, think of how impressed all your friends and neighbors are when you hand them a jar of your very own homemade preserves! They make great gifts and are perfect for teachers gifts, hostess gifts, holiday gifts, party favors, or for welcoming a new neighbor.
If you want a free printable lid label, head over to Savvy Sassy Moms for ones I designed (sized perfectly for the small 4 oz. jars).
Have you ever made jam or canned?