How not to make strawberry jam

Picture of a jar and a half of strawberry jam on my windowsill for my post on how not to make strawberry jam

Hard won strawberry jam

After we went a bit crazy at the pick-your-own farm, I decided to make strawberry jam.

I can follow a recipe, I thought. It only needs three ingredients. I’ve even got some jam sugar and a special pan gathering dust at the back of the cupboard. How hard can this be?

Hahahahahaha. Ahahahahahaha.

I should have known, really.

My mother made a couple of batches of strawberry jam once. One set so hard you could hardly stick a knife in it. The other was so runny, you had to concentrate hard on keeping your toast horizontal, or it slipped off into your lap. After that, she decided it wasn’t worth the swearing, and went back to making marmalade.

So here’s what happened when I attempted strawberry jam – top tips on what not to do, from the conserve-making coal face.

First attempt at strawberry jam

It’s fair to say my efforts to make strawberry jam did not go entirely well.

The recipe I googled suggested prepping the strawberries, chucking in half the sugar, and leaving them in the fridge overnight.

Picture of strawberries soaking in a blue bowl of jam sugar for my post on how not to make strawberry jam

Note: whole strawberries #bad

Trouble is, I only noticed the bit about “cut strawberries in half” after I’d put them in the pan, added the rest of the sugar and got it boiling. That’s the point I started sharing my dubious progress on Twitter.

Also? Choose your clothing carefully for jam making. Perhaps consider an actual apron.

I was so worried the jam wouldn’t set, I kept boiling it and boiling it, hoping it would hit the mythical 220 degrees C setting point on the jam thermometer. This was a) boring and b) rather concerning when my lovely bright red jam turned a nasty dark red shade.


Plus the subsequent charred smell didn’t bode well, and turned into a massive pain during washing up.


To check if jam is ready to set, you’re meant to put a small amount on a cool saucer. If it wrinkles when you push it with a finger tip, it’s good to go. I kept putting spoonful after spoonful on my rapidly warming saucer to no avail.

Finally, I gave  up on the gloopy dark red mess and tried to force it into clean jam jars. Actually, there was no problem getting it to set – quite the reverse. The stuff is now so hard you can hardly stick a spoon in. You might as well trying spreading strawberry chewing gum on your toast. Yes, I’d boiled it so much, I made red-coloured concrete.

Picture of jam burnt onto the bottom of my pan from my post on how not to make strawberry jam

Burnt pan. Joyful.

Second attempt at strawberry jam

Undaunted, a few days later, I braced myself for a second attempt at strawberry jam. Only in rather smaller quantities, as we didn’t have many strawberries left.

Picture of strawberries in a jam pan with sugar, lemon, thermometer and jars

Poised for action

Ingredients

I ended up using:

  • 600g strawberries
  • 300g jam sugar (see top tips)
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Method

This time, I cut the strawberries in half before soaking them in sugar for a few hours. Bung them in a big pan with the juice of a lemon and bring to the boil.

I’d discovered different recipes suggested boiling the jam for anywhere between 5 minutes to 30 minutes. The WI recipe suggested 15 to 18 minutes, and that’s what worked for me. Because second time round, I put the jam on a saucer back into the fridge for a minute before testing for wrinkles, and discovered the setting point much sooner.

Once it hit setting point, I let it rest for 10 minutes or so, then poured the jam into sterilised jam jars (ie fresh out of the dishwasher).

Net result: one and a half jars of strawberry jam that is actually spreadable and tastes great.

Picture of two pieces of strawberry jam on toast on a patterned plate for my post about how not to make strawberry jam

Shock horror jam that spreads

Cost

£2.85 for strawberries, 35p for sugar, 30p for a lemon so £3.50. It made a jar and a half of jam, so £2.33 per jar.

I actually bought the jam sugar when it was on offer at Aldi, and got 2kg for £3.30 but currently 1kg seems to cost £2 to £2.20 depending on the supermarket, which would make it more expensive. Ordinary granulated sugar is definitely cheaper, at around 69p for 1kg, and upping the sugar content would make the jam cheaper still per jar.

However, making a bunch of jars of strawberry concrete is definitely not money saving at all.

So if you have to buy the strawberries, then making your own strawberry jam is not a budget option compared to buying an ordinary jar. Suppose it might just be cheaper if you’re addicted to Bonne Maman. Next year I’m just going to have to grow my own!

Picture of my hat and a punnet of strawberries at the pick your own farm for my post on how not to make strawberry jam

Save with home grown strawberries

Top tips on how to make strawberry jam

Here are my top tips, so you can avoid my disasters:

  • Don’t just read one recipe. If I’d looked at several, I’d have realised there are different views on how long to boil the jam, and been less likely to create sugared concrete.
  • Keep costs down by making jam when strawberries are in season and therefore cheaper, rather than roughly the price of gold at say Christmas time.
  • Don’t assume strawberries from a pick-your-own farm are cheaper than on offer at supermarkets. But if you do pick your own, don’t double check prices afterwards, it’s only depressing.
  • Using ordinary granulated sugar is definitely cheaper than jam sugar, but there’s less guarantee it will set.
  • Cut the strawberries in half BEFORE they end up in a vat of superheated sugar syrup.
  • Consider how sweet you want it. Most recipes seem to suggest using the same weight of sugar and strawberries (eg 1kg strawberries and 1 kg sugar). On my second attempt, I used half as much sugar, and prefer the less sweet taste.
  • Adding the juice from a lemon helps the jam set and improves the taste too.
  • You don’t have to buy up fancy jam jars – just use jars from food you’ve already eaten.
  • Sterlise jam jars just before you use them by putting them through the dishwasher.
  • If you’re only making a few jars of jam, which will be eaten quickly, you don’t have to invest in those waxed paper circles to go on top.
  • Don’t like big lumps of strawberries in your jam? Use a potato masher to squish them while they’re boiling away in the pan.
  • Don’t faff around with a single saucer to test the setting point. Put a bunch of saucers or small plates in the freezer so you can test with a new one each time.
  • Once you’ve put a small bit of jam on the saucer (think between 5p to 10p size) put it back in the fridge for a minute before pushing it with your finger to test for wrinkles. Otherwise, you’ll only burn your finger tip or reckon it’s not ready when it actually is.
  • Take the jam off the heat while testing the setting point, even if you think it’s too early. I’m convinced the jam is just waiting for you to turn your back before burning onto the bottom of the pan.
  • If it does burn onto the bottom of the pan, resign yourself to a lot of elbow grease to get it off again.
  • Leave the strawberry jam to rest for about 10 minutes before pouring into jars. This helps avoid all chunks of strawberry dropping to the bottom of the jars. It also helps with my next tip.
  • Do not pour super hot jam into cold glass jars. They could crack (voice of bitter experience).
  • A jam funnel really is useful for getting jam into jars, rather than all over the outside of them.

 

Now – over to you. What are your top tips for making strawberry jam? I’m keen to make more once I’ve recovered from these attempts, so do share in the comments!

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Pinterest size image of a couple of jars of home made strawberry jam for my post on how not to make strawberry jam

12 Comments

  1. Siebrie
    July 23, 2018 / 5:08 pm

    Runny strawberry jam = yummy strawberry sauce!

    • July 23, 2018 / 7:04 pm

      That’s such a good point Siebrie, I shouldn’t have worried so much about making it set! Maybe I can use the strawberry concrete I produced first time round as decorative bricks…

  2. July 24, 2018 / 7:10 am

    Oh no! I’m glad it worked second time round. I was so worried about my first batch of jam setting I decided to make plum and apple because they’re both high in pectin. It practically bounced if you dropped it!
    I never manage to find the setting point with a thermometer but mine is very old and I don’t know how accurate it is. I put a couple of small plates in the freezer and bring out another one when the first has warmed up.
    I balance the cost of strawberry jam by also making several jams from cheap or free fruit- plum, damson, greengage, blackberry, apple- and by bulking out some of the strawberries with currants etc from the garden to make a summer fruit jam. It’s just as tasty and also sets better as the other fruits contain pectin, which also means you can use ordinary granulated sugar (I don’t bother with preserving sugar. I make mostly for my family and they’re not too bothered about how clear it is 😉 )

    • Faith
      Author
      July 24, 2018 / 7:19 am

      Your fruit combinations sound delicious Hazel. Thanks for the suggestions about how to increase the pectin content. Once my current jam sugar runs out, I’m keen to try using granulated sugar too, as it’s so much cheaper and I’d normally have some stuck in the cupboard anyway.

  3. Martine
    July 24, 2018 / 8:55 am

    I can thoroughly recommend Lakelands thermometer spoon. After many attempts at jam making and cleaning many burnt pots I asked for the thermometer spoon for my Christmas last year and what a difference a spoon makes! You just stir away until the temp reaches 105c then pour what looks like far too runny jam into pots and a few hours later, perfect jam! My go to recipe is now this one: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/1426/strawberry-jam.aspx its seriously easy.

    • Faith
      Author
      July 24, 2018 / 9:25 am

      Thanks so much for the recommendations, I’ll definitely check out that thermometer spoon. Do love Lakeland!

  4. Mari Järve
    July 25, 2018 / 2:41 pm

    You learn to make jam from experience – speaking from MY experience 🙂 Making preserves is still very common here in Estonia, and my mother taught me how to do it, but I’ve still had my share of small disasters.
    One tip: even if the jam is still hot when you pour it in the jar (and it should be for the lid to seal hermetically), you can avoid the danger of cracking the jar by first pouring a little bit on the bottom, then swishing it around carefully to cover the sides of the jar, warming them up, and then filling the jar. If the jam is still hot when poured in the jar, the jar is properly full (i.e. no more space left at the top than about 1 cm), and the lid is closed tightly, a hermetic seal will form once the jar cools down – you’ll often hear a ‘click’ as the vacuum pulls the middle of the lid downward, and even if you don’t hear that, you can later feel by touch that the lid is concave. I always try to seal all my jars hermetically as then they don’t need to be refrigerated, but this is the thing I most often mess up – I don’t manage to shut the lid tightly enough, or some jar ends up only half full, and then those I have to chuck in the fridge.
    Hope this helps a bit 🙂 Best of luck with jam-making!

    • Faith
      Author
      July 26, 2018 / 9:20 am

      Thanks for the encouragement! I’m determined to try again, and will definitely have a go at your top tip with the hermetically sealed lids.

  5. Michelle Cooper
    July 30, 2018 / 5:59 am

    Should you have a “next time” with food burning onto the bottom of a pan cover the burnt area with a little water and a decent covering of baking soda and leave it to soak. Makes cleaning the pan much easier. Strawberry jam is my favourite

    • August 8, 2018 / 7:52 am

      Top tip, many thanks Michelle. I must remember to use baking soda next time – and buy it in larger quantities than I have for baking.

  6. Eloise at thisissixty.blog
    August 7, 2018 / 10:12 pm

    I tried raspberry jam years and years ago ….thirty plus. It was ok if a bit runny but cost so much more than buying even the best conserve. I never bothered again. Well done for persisting.

    • Faith
      Author
      August 8, 2018 / 7:55 am

      Yes our usual strawberry jam is all of 82p a pot, so I can’t justify making my own on frugal grounds! Live in hope I’ll grow enough strawberries to make some from our own garden though.

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