Herewith begins my contribution to the Tigress Can Jam! If you’ve missed it, the canjam is a yearlong canning challenge. Each month, canjammers will be asked to create a water-bath friendly recipe based on a seasonal ingredient. Tigress started us off gently, with citrus. I assumed—rightly as it turns out!—that this would turn into a giant marmalade fest, so I was looking for something just a little bit off-center. I found my inspiration in the freezer: a bag of sugared strawberries I put away last May. Technically, I guess that means I’m in violation of the seasonality rule, but given that these were local berries that I picked and stored myself, I hope you’ll agree that it’s in the spirit of the game.
I *love* the way this turned out. I started with a recipe in the Ball Blue Book, but reduced the sugar (I wanted it tarter), added more lemons, kept the peels, and eliminated the pectin…which makes it not really a Blue Book recipe at all. It’s more in the spirit of the tangerine marmalade I made last month, but with lemons and strawberries instead. Now, if you do the Twitter Thing, you’ll know that sugar has recently been a subject of much controversy. I tell you, people: yes, you can reduce the sugar in a marmalade. The safety question in water-bath canning is about acid. Lemons and strawberries have plenty of acid. As both the National Center for Home Food Preservation and the Ball Corporation’s Fresh Preserving Guide make clear, it is not a safety issue to reduce the amount of sugar in fruit preserves. Now, this is not to say that sugar isn’t a preservative—it is, my friends, it is!—but preservation is fundamentally a different question than safety. Sugar preserves taste and helps you get to the gelling point faster. It also prevents mold, which is why jams and preserves that are high in sugar will last longer once you’ve opened them. Sometimes low-sugar preserves aren’t as pretty as high-sugar preserves, and they often have a softer set. Some people, such as the USDA, say that you need to process low-sugar foods longer than high-sugar foods. (But keep in mind that the French don’t process their canned jams at all, and they’re still here.) In this case, though, there’s so much pectin in the lemons that I achieved an excellent set, without pectin and with less sugar than the recipe called for. And since the product is mostly lemons, it’s plenty acidic.
Tweaking canning recipes is a topic that gets plenty of food educators exercised. Those who object are, quite rightly, concerned about your safety. There is a growing consensus among some in the “new” canning community, however, that some of these rules are a tad too rigid. The spirit of the canjam is to improvise within the limits of safety. Part of the challenge of this exercise is to figure out what you can change (spices, fruit combinations, sweeteners) and what you can’t. If you change the recipe, there is, in fact, a chance that something will go wrong. Maybe your jam won’t set. Maybe it will grow mold in 3 months. But you know what? If you see mold, throw it out. Live and learn. And if you’re worried about botulism, don’t, so long as you’re working in a high-acid (i.e., fruit-filled) environment. My personal opinion is that the USDA rules should be taken as a guideline, not as hard and fast rules. Keep in mind that the USDA also recommends that you not eat raw fish or raw eggs, and that meat should be cooked through. Nevertheless, for the record, when you change a recipe, you are doing so at your own risk.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business!
Strawberry Lemon Marmalade
1 qt frozen strawberries, in sugar
4 medium lemons, chopped
3 c. sugar
about 3 c. water
1) Wash your lemons. Slice them as thinly as possible, then chop them into pieces. Put them into your jam pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool. Put a lid on the pan and walk away. Meanwhile, take your berries out of the freezer.
2) The next day, mash the berries and their juices (I use a potato masher). Toss them into the pot along with the sugar. Bring to a boil. Boil it until you’re just at the gelling point. Be careful: there at the end, it gets quite thick rather quickly, and my last jar is a bit thicker than I might like. There’s *lots* of pectin in the pith.
3) Meanwhile, sterilize 4 or 5 half-pint jars and bring your water bath to a boil. Heat new lids. Transfer the hot jam to the hot jars and adjust the two-piece lids. Process in a boiling-water bath canner for 10 minutes.
My version made 4 half pints and 1 4-oz jar, which I’m giving away! Leave a comment by Monday at 8 AM and I’ll select a winner by random number generator. Happy canning!