Feeling Jammy: First Crop Strawberry Preserves

The very first crop of strawberries arrived at the market this week. I could smell the berries long before I saw them; they are sweet and ruby red. And the perfect size for preserves.

I’ve been influenced in so many ways by Mes Confitures (Christine Ferber.) She taught me to approach making jams slowly. To taste the fruit at the market before deciding to preserve. And when I bring the fruit home, sometimes I let it ripen another day, until the scent of fresh berries fills the kitchen.

Mme. Ferber (do you think I could call her Christine? I’ve been cooking with her for awhile now) taught me to macerate the fruit overnight, then strain the fruit out, and thicken the juices until syrupy, adding back the fruit at the end. This preserves the shape of the fruit and accents the color. You get jewel-tone jars with sparkly clear jam and whole fruit that tastes just-picked. This is preserves. Not jam.

Mme. Ferber also taught me about using spices and herbs in jam. She writes recipes using ginger, pepper, star anise. She adds mint, rosemary, thyme, and – a real revelation – lemon verbena. I have these herbs in the garden now, readily available for flavoring jams.

I’ve fiddled a little with the sugar, as I like to err on the side of less sweet and let the fruit shine through. But these are recipes inspired by Mme. Ferber’s brilliance.

Here’s what I’m making with first crop strawberries this year.

(If you’re just getting started canning, this post has some basics.)

Each recipe will make 4 or 5 half-pint jars.

I’m all about small batches. Half of each batch is destined to be given away, because I’m all about giving gifts of love. Is there any more obvious jar of love than strawberry preserves?

Won’t you let me know how you do with this project? Just leave a message in the comment section.

Strawberry Preserves with Mint and Black Pepper
recipe from Mes Confitures, with slight adaptations

Try to find real peppermint, not spearmint. Most better nurseries will sell peppermint plants at this time of year. It’s a far better behaved plant in the garden, grows happily in a pot, and makes really good minty lemonade.

3 lbs. first crop strawberries, rinsed and hulled (if later, larger crop berries, halve or quarter)
2.5 c sugar
Juice of one lemon
10 black peppercorns, crushed
Ten peppermint leaves

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, gently toss the berries with the sugar and lemon juice. Cover with parchment and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, put the contents of the bowl, including any sugar that has accumulated at the bottom, in a heavy bottomed preserving pot (I like a 5 qt or larger heavy copper, Le Creuset, Staub or Emile Henry pan.)

Heat the berries and preserves for a few minutes, just until it begins to boil and all the sugar is melted. Return the berries to the bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, strain the liquid from the berries and heat in the large pot, again. Bring this syrup to a boil – a hard, rolling boil. In order to achieve a good set, bring the temperature to 10° over the boiling point – or 222°. This takes a good long time and gets pretty scary looking.

Once it’s at 222°, remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes to allow the foam to gather on the top of the syrup. Skim the foam with a large meticulously clean stainless steel spoon. Get all the foam, slowly, carefully, so your jam will be county-fair worthy.

Add in the strawberries, pepper and mint leaves. Bring the jam back up to a hard, rolling boil, stirring gently all the while so the fruit doesn’t stick, trying not to break the berries.

Allow it to boil for five minutes.

Funnel into your sterilized jars, cover with lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Strawberry Preserves with Lemon Verbena
Inspired by Mes Confitures

3.5 lbs. first crop strawberries, cleaned and hulled (this is also wonderful 1/2 and 1/2 strawberry/rhubarb)
3 c sugar
Juice and zest from one lemon
10 sprigs lemon verbena, reserve 10 leaves

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, gently toss the berries with the sugar, lemon juice and zest and lemon verbena sprigs. Cover with parchment and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, put the contents of the bowl, including any sugar that has accumulated at the bottom, in a heavy bottomed preserving pot (I like a 5 qt or larger heavy copper, Le Creuset, Staub or Emile Henry pan.)

Heat the berries and preserves for a few minutes, just until it begins to boil and stir to make sure the sugar is melted. Return the berries to the bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, strain the liquid from the berries, remove the lemon verbena, and heat in the large pot, again. Bring this syrup to a boil – a hard, rolling boil. In order to achieve a good set, bring the temperature to 10° over the boiling point – or 222°.

Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes to allow the foam to gather on the top of the syrup. Skim the foam with a large stainless steel spoon. Get all the foam, slowly, carefully, getting it out so your jam will be county-fair worthy.

Add in the strawberries. Bring this back up to a hard, rolling boil, stirring all the while so the fruit doesn’t stick. Allow it to boil for five minutes.

Funnel into your sterilized jars, add two verbena leaves to each jar, cover with lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

9 thoughts on “Feeling Jammy: First Crop Strawberry Preserves”

  1. Your post is lovely and helpful re details…My husband chokes on black pepper so I might have to omit that. The garden is full of different mint(s), though.Hello, summer!

  2. Both of these recipes sound absolutely wonderful. I, too, have been swooning over the season's first strawberries. Harbinger of summer!

  3. I have started on the recipes, found them very interesting , finally will have something different to the ordinary jam Thank you

  4. I made the lemon verbena jam yesterday and while it has amazing flavor, it’s pretty runny. More like strawberry sauce. I followed the recipe exactly, so do you have any thoughts on where I might have gone wrong? Any chance I could bring it all back to a boil with some pectin and try canning again? Thanks!

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