Strawberry Lemon Marmalade

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!

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53 comments to Strawberry Lemon Marmalade

  • Linus

    Looks fantastic – I need to freeze more berries next summer.

  • Emmaleigh504

    Sounds delish!

  • Daisy Mae

    Amen to your USDA comments. It’s about understanding what the USDA recommendations are intended for. And modifying within the spirit of the guidelines.

    I have my grandmothers Kerr Book of Preserving from the early 1950s. I often look at it – to see how recommendations have changed in the past 50-60 years. And I wonder how much of it has to do with the decreasing safety of our raw food supply. (I was thrilled last week when I was able to buy locally grown greenhouse spring mix – my mom reminded me that 50 years ago you couldn’t even buy a head of iceberg lettuce in January in the NE).

    On that note, I’m the only one in my family who water baths my jam. Everyone else in my family waxes it.

  • Mmmm. This sounds fantastic! Now I need some strawberries that *aren’t* trucked in from California!

  • Oh, oh! Select me random number generator! Umm, okay. I agree with you on the sugar ratio discussion. Thanks for bringing it up. I’ve been lowering my sugar amounts, too, with no ill effect.

  • dorisandjilly

    Looking at the old books is enlightening, isn’t it? FYI folks, be careful with these. My grandmother still insists that you can process green beans in a water-bath canning, because that’s what she learned to do in the 40s. That is decidedly NOT OK. When in doubt, play it safe, and check with sites like the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

  • Gwyn

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I have been wondering how much you can alter canning recipes since most published ones have way too much sugar for my taste and/or are boring. I’ve been using Pomona pectin, which does not require much sugar, but it looks like I can cut it even more.

  • That looks wonderful and I think well within the seasonality clause as you picked them when they were seasonal. The problem, as you and I pointed out on twitter, is many folks confuse canning safety (follow these rules or you may die of botulism poisoning) with canning recommendations (follow these guidelines or your product may be unsatisfactory or spoil).

    I wish I had noticed the Tigress can Jam before the deadline. I would have loved to have taken part. I love to can and have also gotten very adept with the safety guidelines, and separating safety from best results. As such I don’t heat my jar lids when canning. Keeps me saner to have one less pan and not need to fish them out and it was never a safety concern. That step is so the compound will soften on the lids and seal better, which has never been a problem.

    This is similar to one of my jams. I make a Strawberry Jam with Cointreau and Drambuie that relies on oranges to gel. I think my sugar content is similar and a master food preserver friend has seen the recipe and did not say there was a problem.

    -Robin (who really needs to do something with all the fruit and sugar in my freezer)

  • Worrying about mold is such a different thing than worrying about botulism.

    You can poke around and scoop out mold and then keep eating the jam… well, at least in my world. I wouldn’t do that for company.

    I predict that within a year there will be an expose on some reckless food blogger amateur canner who dies from botulism and how could we all be so stupid… and then some people will realize it’s a lot of work and have a moral stance, and others will still think it’s fun and useful. ~shrug~

    I think the important thing is that you have clearly explained the process, the deviations you chose, and the possible risks – having done the research and gotten a bit singed from it. And, having read that, I make grabby hands and would love to try a jar.

  • Looks and sounds delicious!

    I’m with you on the sugar-reducing; I almost never make a recipe with the full amount of sugar required or it tastes far too… sugary.

    What do you think about bottled lemon juice vs fresh though? Are there really vast differences in pH or is that just the USDA being fussy? When I made my lime curd, I hated to use bottled juice, but I stuck strictly to the recipe because the curd is not shelf-stable for very long as it is (I sooooooo need a pH meter!).

  • Sounds delicious, I’d definitely love to try it! Thanks for your thorough descriptions of your process and recipe modifications.

  • Sounds great! I’d love to try a jar.

  • Melissa

    I just made my first orange marmalade this week and am definitely going to make this over the weekend! I have exactly one quart of strawberries in the freezer that I picked last May, though I IQFed them so they are not sugared. I suppose I will add a bit of extra sugar, then. I’m excited to try this!

  • MK

    I am all for modifying recipes within the realms of food safety. However, canning safely is about texture AND acidity, not just acidity. Some things, like pumpkin butter and pickled eggs, just aren’t safe to can. I improvise all the time, and safely. But there are many people that don’t understand pH or math, and can’t understand why it wouldn’t be safe to add lots of hot peppers to their salsa recipe. That’s why the USDA advises to always follow the rules, and I am okay with that.

  • dorisandjilly

    With curd, I’d stick to bottled. All the marmalade recipes I’ve seen stick with actual fruit, not bottled juice, though, so I think you’re OK.

  • dorisandjilly

    Oooooh, boozy marmalade! Sounds delicious. And thanks so much for your vote of confidence!

  • To go further on the bottled vs fresh lemon juice, in the curd it is necessary as you are trying to guarantee a low acid ingredient, eggs, are high enough in acid to can them. Jam is a different ball game as it is made with all high acid or neutral ingredients. if you start adding low acid items like nuts or peppers to a marmalade or jam it would be unsafe.

    btw, just as an extra word of caution, there are some low acid fruits that need more acid to be canned. The only example i can think of now are figs.


  • Sounds delicious. After the Great Twitter Sugar Debate of 2010, I liked reading what you actually made! Can’t wait to see what you do for the rest of The Can Jam.

  • thanks so much for this post. i am in agreement with you 100%.
    this is a discussion that should be on-going throughout the can jam IMO.

    now, on to those strawberres, i have a ton in my freezer that i pickled last summer, and i don’t add pectin so my strawberry jams are always gelled a little less than i really prefer. this may be the answer!

  • Looks delicious! I have some strawberries that I picked and froze from last summer as well. How do you feel about using honey instead of sugar? My strawberries were not packed in sugar.

  • I always come to this site to get the most updated information and fabulous recipes. Everyone loved the soup and I still have some on the shelfs!

    This year I’m going to freeze some strawberries to do this recipe.

  • dorisandjilly

    Donna: I have mixed feelings about using honey instead of sugar. I think the “official” word is that you can sub some, but not all, and I don’t know where you draw the line. I know that Marisa over at Food in Jars made a lovely lemon honey marmalade, so it’s definitely possible:

    And for Donna and everyone else who’s using quick-frozen berries: be aware that you may get slightly less flavor than you’re expecting. I freeze my strawberries in sugar not because I particularly like sweet things (I don’t), but because sugar’s such a good preservative (groan) that it makes an enormous difference in maintaining flavor in frozen fruit. Sad, but true. Next year try putting up just a quart with sugar to see what you think.

  • dorisandjilly

    This is a placeholder comment for StuartCarter at Twitter, who can’t seem to post but wants to be entered in the giveaway.

  • How did I miss this?? I probably won’t retweet so as to up my chances 🙂

    I didn’t end up making marmalade with my citrus, I didn’t end up getting tangerines and the tangelos we got were so membrane-y…but I will foray into water baths one of these days.

  • Janis

    Strawberry. Lemon. Marmalade.


    My head is spinning. I already have strawberries in the freezer. Putting organic lemons on the grocery list now. Thank you for this recipe and for your helpful advice!

  • I’m at work reading this (bad!) so I don’t have my Ball complete book of home preserving at hand, but my recollection is that there are several no or low sugar recipes in there as well. Along with the USDA, if Ball isn’t worrying about it, I am pretty sure it’s fine as I bet these guys are more cautious than most!

    When I first made jam, I definitely saw the need to look for lower-sugar recipes as there’s nothing like pouring 7 cups of sugar into 5 cups of berries to make you wonder if that’s not just a BIT much!

    And by the way, this looks delicious! This is a marmalade I can go for (as someone who is not a huge marmalade fan!)

  • As I’m fond of saying, I’m a canning virgin and joined the Can Jam to learn from those more experienced. I guess we must travel in different Twitter circles, ’cause I missed The Great Sugar Debate. 🙂 Thank you for going into detail about your rationale.

    I’ve made 2 marmalades for the Can Jam (posted at my blog), and the one thing that jumped out at me, was what seemed to be an enormous amount of sugar. Since the methodology I used for the second (4-1/4 Fruit) marm was different than for the first, I’m now thinking I could have gotten away with maybe a cup less sugar, and still get a more than acceptable quality gel.

    BTW – Yours looks positively divine!

  • A commenter on my Orange Jelly post mentioned she would like a recipe for a Strawberry Orange Marmalade like she had in Germany.

    Do you think this could be further modified by replacing the 4 lemons with 2 big oranges? I know that Lemons are more acidic than oranges – do you think we would be getting into dangerous territory with the further modifications?

    I missed out on all of the pick your own this year – I am going to watch our seasons harder this year and try to make them. I want to pick-my-own strawberries, and blackberries, and blueberries, and …. well you get the drift. 😉

  • dorisandjilly

    @RobbingPeter: I’d say: sure! Fruit’s fruit, and oranges are (obviously) high in citric acid. With the exception of figs (see earlier comment), fruit is considered high-acid. You’ve only got a problem if you start adding low-acid things, like nuts, onions, big clumps of herbs, etc. The only catch is that you can’t be guaranteed that it will gel properly because lemons are higher in pectin than oranges.

  • This recipe sounds incredible. I will try it this week. I am an emergency preparedness specialist and I teach food storage as part of those preparations. I love the fact that you make your marmalade from frozen. I am always looking for recipes to help people rotate their storage and this is perfect. This year I developed a recipe for peach salsa to rotate canned peaches. It is yummy too. I’m so happy I found you.

  • meg

    That sounds great! I love the combination strawberries & lemons

  • MIchal

    Fascinating post. I grew up making marmalade. In New Zealand in the 80s and 90s none of the recipe books mentioned water baths for jams. You simply sterilized glass jars in the oven, poured in the hot jam, let it cool and stuck the jam in a cupboard somewhere. I remember eating 7 year old canned fish made by the mother of a friend of mine. Don’t know if I would do that now, though I was fine and the fish tasted great.

  • I have some blueberries in the freezer and I’ve been thinking about making blueberry lemon marmalade.

  • I played around with boiling lemon pieces to extract some natural pectin for jams this summer, and I really liked the results. Strawberry lemon marmalade sounds delicious! How is the set? I’d love to see some spread on toast!

  • Loved your post and mmmmm that sounds amazing. I finally got mine up, too. Looking forward to jamming with ya, this year. Cath-

  • wow-looks delicious. i never think about freezing the fruit–i just scramble to get it all canned while i can! in the spring, i make a (mostly) strawberry jam w/ lemons and vanilla bean. would love to try your version.

  • RobbingPeter, It would work fine to use oranges in place of the lemons. Totally safe and the 2 oranges have plenty of pectin for a good set. When using oranges I often use valencia or juice oranges because they have thinner skins. My jam I linked to above uses orange instead of strawberry, although it is more like strawberry jam with orange instead of strawberry/orange marmalade.

    If you are worried about the set with strawberries you can also include about 25% under ripe strawberries. I have found when adding oranges I do not need to worry. Strawberry season is the hardest to catch around here as it is so fleeting. Strawberry jam is a major part of our year round diet so I always feel like I am playing a game of beat the clock to make enough.


  • sounds so refreshing! as i have no frozen berries, i will definitely by trying this when strawberries come into season.

  • Wow! I made this Ball recipe (well, the Canadian Bernardin version, which is the same thing) this fall (also with frozen fruit from the summer), and I LOVE it, but I find it’s not lemony enough. When strawberry season rolls around again, I’ll be putting this variation on my “Must-Can” list!

    Thanks for your info on sugar in jams. I LOVE making jam, but I find I don’t want to eat a lot because they’re way too sweet. I will read the USDA guidelines and consider cutting back on the sugar in the future.


  • Mmmm this sounds yummy!
    Why didn’t I think about using the fruit in my freezer too?!? Great idea!

  • Laura

    I’m relatively new to canning, but loving it so far! This recipe sounds fabulous (and addictive). How would I adjust this if using all fresh strawberries? I’m hoping to make a whole bunch this Sunday with a friend since strawberries are plentiful and *cheap* in my area right now. Thanks!

  • dorisandjilly

    Laura: Lucky you! I’d increase the strawberries by about half (they shrink when frozen) and add about 3/4 c. more sugar (my frozen berries were sweetened). Enjoy.

  • Laura

    Awesome! Thanks so much- I can’t wait!

  • Lindsey S

    this sounds sooo good, and thanks to Laura for asking about fresh strawberries because that is what I’ll be using. This will be my second item I’m canning ever and first time trying/making marmalade too, I’ll see how this goes haha


  • Elizabeth

    Some friends and I (all completely inexperienced canners) tried to make this recipe yesterday and the darn thing would just not gel. We used: 9 lemons, 4.5lbs of fresh strawberries, 9 cups of water and 6 cups of sugar. Then we put in a three teaspoons of pectin, and it still would not come together. Basically, we tripled the recipe but didn’t triple the sugar because we had just made another jam that called for 14 cups of sugar and reduced it by half, and it gelled up just fine. I’m sorry that we tinkered with perfection, but can anyone explain to clueless-me why it wouldn’t have come together? Was it too much water, not enough sugar, too many strawberries? Thank you!

  • dorisandjilly

    Elizabeth: It’s hard to say exactly what the problem was, but, for starters, never double (or triple!) a recipe for anything that needs to gel. It’s like trying to boil down a giant pot of stock–it takes forever. And 6 cups of sugar sounds like a very small amount of sugar for such a large quantity of strawberries. Also, when you use a low-sugar recipe, you have to use a low-sugar pectin. Chalk it up to a learning experience, but it still makes a great sauce!

  • I think Elizabeth partly addressed the question I have- would fresh strawberries substitute well enough for frozen? I’d rather use fresh while they’re available. This looks great and will make a perfect first-time-jam-making experience for me.

  • dorisandjilly

    @Chef Jen: Sure! Fresh strawberries are fine. I only used frozen because I was making this in January. Remember that my berries were sugared in the freezer, so you may need to increase the sweetness to get a good gel.

  • Well, my first time making this stuff didn’t wind up as I’d hoped. My lemons were more large than medium, and the marmalade was too tart. In my inexperience, I didn’t realize that the sweetness would not change upon sitting. I have 6 half-pints. Can they be remade or must I chuck them out?

  • Therese Z

    If it’s too tart, can’t you use those jars as ingredients in something else, as a filling in a sweet muffin (2/3rds of the batter, a tsp of marmalade or jam, the last 1/3rd of batter), the center of a sweet butter cookie, or even consider melting one year’s worth to make a syrup from to pour over a custard or vanilla pudding or ice cream?

    Pairing up too-tart preserves with really sweet foods usually benefits them both.

    Years of canning and I still end up with odd jars, and I’ve had good luck re-purposing them nearly every time.