The process of preserving fruits gathered from the summer harvest has been around for centuries. I learned how to make jam helping my Mother, my Grandmothers and a very dear Aunt Mary. My Dad’s Mother and my Aunt Mary would send my brother and I out on horseback, out to the ranch to gather plums from the thickets growing wild in the canyons. Their wild plum jam was legendary in the area. On my Mother’s side, my Grandmother grew apricot and peach trees, producing succulent fruit for spectacular jams and preserves.
There are hundreds of recipes for strawberry preserves and jams. I’ve tried dozens of them but always come back to this method. I found versions of this recipe in cookbooks belonging to my Grandmothers, both dating back to the 1930s. This process varies from more traditional methods, which use added pectin.
With this recipe the strawberries are left whole and the preserves sit overnight to allow the berries to rest in the liquid. The result is a luscious strawberry nectar with whole strawberries as the centerpiece. The preserves are “softer” than those made with added pectin and can double as a dessert sauce. The addition of butter to the strawberries and sugar helps to minimize foam from building up in the preserves while cooking.
If you’re planning to can the preserves, you’ll want to start by washing the jars and lids in hot soapy water, then sterilizing them following the manufacturer’s directions. *
This recipe makes a small batch, about four 8-ounce jars, enough for you and maybe one for a friend!
2 pints of fresh strawberries, equal to 1-1/2 pounds
4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon butter
¾ teaspoon red wine vinegar
Thoroughly wash the strawberries, hull and leave whole. Place the strawberries in a large kettle or stockpot, top with the sugar. Heat the berries and sugar over low heat, stirring gently after the sugar has begun to melt, being careful not to break up the berries.
When the sugar has completely dissolved, add the butter and raise the heat to medium. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for three minutes. Add the red wine vinegar and return to a full boil for eight minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the preserves from the heat and skim any foam that might have formed. Stir the preserves occasionally and when slightly cooled, pour in a heatproof dish. (I use a large Pyrex® measuring cup.) Stir periodically, until completely cool, cover and let set at least 12 hours.
The strawberries will absorb some of the liquid, plumping up a bit. Transfer to canning jars or refrigerate. The preserves will thicken slightly after chilled.
*If you’re canning the preserves in a water bath, follow the directions provided by the manufacturer of your jars. Ball® and Weck® both make wonderful canning jars and have step-by-step guidelines to canning safely posted on their websites.