My Time-Saving, Sanity-Saving, Jam-Making Tip

posted by Andrea | 07/9/2013

Last week Wednesday morning, I picked over 17 pounds of strawberries.

I had been trying to get out and pick berries for a couple weeks already — but you know how it goes…something else always came up.

Then, on July 2, I checked the website for the U-Pick farm I was planning to pick from and it said July 5 was the last day for picking (and they were closed on July 4). So, I made arrangements to pick the very next day (July 3), and hoped it wouldn’t rain!

Well it was cloudy, cold, and over-cast… but it didn’t rain, and I got more strawberries than I actually needed, so I was thrilled.

strawberries

If you’ve ever picked fresh-from-the-farm berries, you know that once you get them home, there’s only a small window of time before they start going bad, getting molding, and turning to mush (like only 2-3 days at the most). So since I obviously didn’t want to waste any of my time, money, or these delicious berries, I started washing and slicing them up right after I got home.

In case you’re wondering, 17 pounds of strawberries is A LOT to wash, hull, smash, slice, etc. — especially after you’ve just spent the morning hunched over picking the berries. It’s definitely worth it — especially since I only can jam every other year — but it’s still a long morning/afternoon of strawberries.

As you can imagine, the last thing I felt like doing after spending all morning picking berries and all afternoon washing, smashing, and slicing berries was to spend all night making another huge mess in my kitchen canning jam.

No thank you!

Plus, some of the jam I make requires the addition of blueberries and raspberries — neither of which are available locally yet.

So once the berries were washed, I smashed them up just like I was going to make jam… BUT I didn’t actually make any jam.

Note: the next sentence is my tip — don’t miss it!

Instead, I measured out exactly how many cups of smashed berries I would need for my different jam recipes (strawberry, triple berry, and strawberry/rhubarb) and put that amount of smashed strawberries into individual (labeled) freezer containers.

By doing this, I’m assured that the freshness of the berries is at it’s peak, and I give myself the freedom to can jam whenever I have the time, energy, and necessary ingredients.

Now doesn’t that just sound WAY less overwhelming! 

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For example, I’ll do the same thing when I pick blueberries and raspberries in mid-July and late-August, so later this fall, when I make the time to can a couple batches of triple-berry jam, all I have to do is defrost my pre-measured containers of smashed strawberries, smashed blueberries, and smashed raspberries; then add my sugar and pectin, and I’m making jam.

No picking, washing, cutting, smashing of any berries. No extra mess in my kitchen. No extra hours spent.

I can finish an entire batch of jam (and clean up) in about 30 minutes flat once the berries are defrosted – heck, I can probably even do that during one of Nora’s short naps :)

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I’m waiting to get free rhubarb from my parent’s garden, so whenever I get the rhubarb, I’ll defrost the strawberries for my favorite strawberry-rhubarb jam. And since I’m super busy this week getting ready for our upcoming vacation, I decided to put berries for my strawberry jam in the freezer too. We still have 1 jar of strawberry jam and 2 jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam left, so I’m in no rush to make more before we leave.

For those of you who might be hesitant to freeze your smashed berries for jam, let me assure you that I have personally done this many, MANY times and never once experienced any negative side-effects from using frozen berries (and I’ve canned a lot of jam).

Since I literally freeze the berries within hours of picking them off the plants, the frozen smashed berries taste super fresh and the jam has tons of flavor. Also, in case you’re wondering, I’ve left my berries in the freezer for several months (even over a year) with no issues.

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If you have ever felt overwhelmed by the thought of canning your own jam, please try this tip. If worse comes to worse and you decide not to make jam, just add some sugar to your containers of smashed berries and use them as a yummy topping for ice cream or strawberry shortcake!

By the end of my crazy “strawberry day”, I had all 17+ pounds of berries washed, hulled, sliced or smashed, and divvied up into containers for jam, shortcake, and smoothies… all stacked nicely in the freezer.

I did leave one huge bowl of berries out for eating and making a couple of my most favorite strawberry pies ;)

 

A Few More Jam-Making Resources:

I hope this tip will help you to simplify the process of canning jam, and give you the confidence to try making a batch (or more) of jam this summer. I promise, it’s not as overwhelming as you think… and if you’ve never tasted homemade jam, you have NO idea what you’ve been missing out on!!

Get out there and pick (or buy) some berries, smash them up, and put them in the freezer for the next time you have a “Martha Stewart Moment” and feel like making homemade jam.

What are your best tips for simplifying the canning process?

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27 comments

  1. Laurel

    07/09/2013

    Best tip I have heard in a long time. I still haven’t recovered from my marathon day last year of picking and making countless jams all on the same day. I am for sure doing this the next time. Thanks!

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  2. LoriB

    07/09/2013

    I love homemade jams and jellies. The hardest part is the fruit prep. I make grape jelly with juice from my own grapes which I freeze and use when I have a little more time. Easy-peasy. Never thought of doing the same with other fruits but I will now.

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  3. Ann

    07/09/2013

    I picked close to 90 pounds this year! Wait until you have teenagers and 15 pounds will seem like nothing! :-)

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  4. Charlene Uchtman

    07/09/2013

    Great idea Andrea!
    Freezer space may be an issue but have you ever tried freezer jam? I prefer it to canned and you don’t heat up the kitchen, ever.

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    Phil McDonnell Reply:

    @Charlene, what is freezer jam? Do you have a recipe?

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  5. Starla Kreider

    07/09/2013

    We bought 60# this year at a local farmers market. for a little more than what it would cost me to pick them. I did a bunch of jam and also crushed them, added sugar, and put them in small containers for school lunches. We freeze them and use during the school year – the boys love them!

    Fresh strawberries are so yummy! I prefer to preserve them over most other things that come along later in the season: apples, peaches, pears, green beans, tomatoes and sweet corn are usually on my summer list.

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  6. Emily

    07/09/2013

    What a great tip! Oh I love berry season in Michigan!! I bought berries at our local farmer’s market and made forty jars of freezer jam this year…yummy!!

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  7. CC

    07/09/2013

    Freezer jam is one of the easiest ways to make jam. I have only tried it with strawberries, but it is by far the freshest tasting jam you can make. I think the berries never being cooked is the key factor in that. Canned jam is better for gifting (which I do a lot of at Christmas), but if you have freezer space and it is just for your family freezer jam is wonderful. I don’t measure or mash my blackberries or blueberries, but I freeze them during picking season and make my jam/jelly before the Christmas season.

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  8. Megan C

    07/09/2013

    I use a strawberry huller (which so many have never heard of or seen). It makes hulling the strawberries SO much quicker and I waste nothing as it literally just picks off the stems.

    I also typically just make strawberry freezer jam. To me, it tastes so much better than canned jam and takes about 15-20 minutes to make a batch. If you’ve never tried freezer jam, I HIGHLY recommend it!

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  9. Mary Ann

    07/09/2013

    Great tip!

    I’ve done this with peaches for peach jam per my mom’s suggestion. I just puree the amount of peaches needed for a batch and freeze in a freezer bag with lemon juice (to prevent browning). So much nicer to wait to make jam when it’s not so hot!

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  10. Tricia B

    07/09/2013

    This is a great idea. i’ve been doing it for years and it works very well. Freezer jam is quicker but it is too sweet to my taste. The ratio of sugar to berries is much higher than cooked jam. If you freeze your berries and make the jam a batch or two at a time, I feel, the time factor isn’t too much of an issue.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Agreed — I’m not a fan of freezer jam. Plus, I like to give jam as gifts and I don’t like waiting for it to defrost :)

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  11. Katy

    07/09/2013

    Great tip! I’ve done the same with tomatoes for salsa. They are super easy because you just wash them and put them in the freezer whole (I have tried this with roma and grape tomatoes only). Then when you are ready to make salsa you just drop them in boiling water like you normally would to peel them. They are not as firm as fresh tomatoes, but since you cook them anyways for the salsa, I’ve not had bad results with this method.

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  12. Amanda

    07/09/2013

    I’ve never done jam before, but it’s on my list of things to try. I picked about 6lbs of strawberries this year. I left out a qt or so for immediate consumption, but I hulled and cut up the rest and threw them in the freezer. I’ve already used some in smoothies and other things. I just bought the first of some local blueberries in NEO this past week. I made blueberry muffins last night, and the rest will be hitting the freezer this afternoon.

    I love getting local produce at the peak of it’s flavor and freshness and prepping it and freezing it. In early August, I’ll probably buy about 50 stalks of corn, blanch it, and keep a few to eat whole, but slice the rest off the cobs and use it all fall/winter :)

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  13. Courtney

    07/09/2013

    I love strawberries! Do you have the strawberry rhubarb recipe on your site, I couldn’t find it in the recipe box section. Thanks for this great tip!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I thought I did… but just checked and I don’t :)
    It’s just 2 c. smashed strawberries, 2 c. cooked rhubarb, 6 c. sugar, and 1 box fruit pectin. Cook/seal the same way you do any other jam recipe. Maybe I’ll have to get this recipe up on the blog soon :)

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    Courtney Reply:

    Thank you!!

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  14. Heart and Haven

    07/09/2013

    We also do this for our figs! We make fig jam every year, and the figs aren’t always ripe at the same time (and not always enough to make an entire batch of jam)….so we just process the fruit & freeze until we have enough for the recipe.

    Also, we often get free pumpkins from my husband’s co-workers after Halloween – word gets out that we can fruits/veggies :-) . Many will buy the pumpkins just for ornamental purposes. We’ll make pumpkin puree & freeze it…then I can make spiced pumpkin bread throughout the year whenever I want!

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  15. Sharon

    07/09/2013

    Excellent idea Andrea! I’ve done something similar with pears when our one pear tree produced several bushels of fruit and I knew it would get too ripe very quickly. I even made a few batches of spiced pears in the crock pot to put in the freezer. Yummy!

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  16. Kristen

    07/09/2013

    Thanks for the idea/encouragement, Andrea!
    Just curious – how many jars of jam will you be able to make from this 14 pounds of strawberries (plus the other fruit)?

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    Andrea Reply:

    I’m just doing one batch of Strawberry, one batch of Straw/Rhubarb, and 2 batches of triple berry. I’ll get about 8 cups of jam per batch… but there are other fruits added in as well. I picked 17 pounds of berries but probably only 1/2 of them went to make jam. The rest were for eating, pies, shortcake, smoothies, etc.

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  17. Cheryl

    07/09/2013

    I have never tried it, but have been told that an egg slicer works great for slicing strawberries, too! (And also mushrooms) It sure would save time when slicing pounds of berries!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Cheryl, there is no need to slice berries when making jam, just wash and smash. If you’re doing strawberries, you’ll need to remove the green stem, but that’s it. All other berries you can smash “as is”!

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  18. Cathy

    07/10/2013

    This is great!!! I have been doing this for years. So very much prefer homemade jams to store bought. Our family favorite is raspberry and pear. I also freeze my strawberries whole asap for dropping in my fruit smoothies. I am very well known in my area for my salsa and believe it or not last year was my first year to process the tomatoes and freeze them and make salsa in May! It turned out awesome it just freaked my internal calendar off!!! lol

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  19. Tracy

    07/10/2013

    Thanks for the great tip! I can’t believe I have never thought of this, instead I sweat in the kitchen every year to prepare my jam. I’m definitely going to give this a try next summer. Thanks again!

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  20. ShannonP

    07/12/2013

    My favorite way to hull strawberries is with the end of a carrot slicer — the shaped, pointy tip works great.

    My other biggest tip is to can with a buddy. The conversation helps the time pass more pleasantly. I can with my mom and we share the fruits (bwahahaha!) of our labor.

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  21. Jenni/Life from the Roof

    09/30/2013

    LOVE this. It is one of the few tips that I read that I actually put into use fairly quickly (which may not say much for me, but a lot for you :)). I have three extra quarts of frozen strawberries in my freezer now that I can pull out when needed to make more jam. I already made one batch from one frozen quart and it tasted like regular jam. Thanks so much for this tip!

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