Let me just start right off by saying: Mom, I owe you an apology. You were right, and I was wrong. I am very sorry I didn’t listen to you when I should have.
Freezer jam IS quicker, cleaner, less work, fresher-tasting and lower in sugar than regular cooked jam.
I was visiting my parents for the first half of June, and one of the many, many things we did in those two weeks was make jam with some of the finest, freshest, sweetest, juiciest strawberries you could hope to find anywhere. My mother, who has learned the fine art of energy conservation in rehab, said we should make freezer jam. Less sugar, she said. Less work, she said. Tastes better, she said. “But I don’t like freezer jam,” I whined.
Besides, I said, are we not just the sort of home-canning heroines who not only put up huge batches at a go but also choose the hottest day of the year to fire up all the burners on the stove for hours at a time so we can really enjoy the full flavor of the thing? I insisted that we do it the old-fashioned way, using the big canner that holds 10 pint jars, because we were going to make a double batch.
My sweet mother, god love her, only wants me to be happy, so she said fine, she’d help me make my cooked preserves while she quietly went about making her batch of freezer jam on the side that was finished long before the big canner even came to boil.
That was the main sticking point: the pot. That behemoth holds at least five gallons of water, and its circumference far exceeds that of the stove’s largest burner. We set it on high at 3 p.m. and it didn’t start rolling to a boil until after 5 p.m. By that time we’d hulled and mashed our fruit and combined it with sugar in a 7 cups to 11 cups ratio. Doesn’t that just make your diabetes sense tingle? My mother, it should be remembered, is diabetic, so she was not going to be able to enjoy this strawberry-tinted melted sugar anyway. But she was right there to help me make it, stirring the pot and adding the pectin and watching the time like the trouper that she is. Even though it wasn’t actually the hottest day of the year, thankfully, our kitchen was plenty steamy and she worked really hard so that I could make this jam just the way I wanted it. God love her.
We both scanned our memories as far back as we could as to whether we have ever processed strawberry jam (i.e., put the filled, sealed jars back in the water bath to boil for 10 minutes). We were sure we never had (and equally sure that neither we nor anyone we know has ever gotten sick from eating our jam), but we consulted three books on home canning as well as the package insert that came with the pectin and they all said to process. So, I turned the burner under the canner back to high (having turned it down to simmer while we pulled the jars out to fill) and waited. And waited. And waited.
More than 90 minutes later, the pot still had not returned to a rolling boil, we were both exhausted and irritated, dinner had to be postponed until we could free up some surface area on the stove, and the filled jars in the canner were never going to properly process. We both threw in the sticky, crimson-stained towel and said “never again.” Never, never, never again will we can with the big pot, and we will never again process strawberry jam. We boiled the jars, we cooked the fruit precisely according to directions, we sealed them properly—good enough.
Which brings me around to why I feel the need to make that sincere and heartfelt apology to my mother now.
While at the supermarket this afternoon, I passed a display of small plastic Ball freezer jam containers next to canisters of instant pectin. The recipe on the box said only 1 cup of sugar to 2.5 cups of fruit was needed for a 3-cup batch. So I tossed the containers and pectin into the cart, U-turned back to the produce section for a couple boxes of strawberries, and headed home to make jam.
It took me all of 15 minutes to wash, hull and mash the berries, and another 3 minutes to stir them up with the sugar and pectin before filling the jars. No cooking, no waiting, no sweating, no swearing, no anxious watching of the clock, no burned fingers. Just three little jars of richly red, deliciously fresh-tasting, perfectly sweetened jam that won’t crank my blood glucose levels off the charts.
That’s the way we should have put up all those delightful little Oregon strawberries instead of drowning them in sugar and cooking them to death.
Again, mama, I’m sorry I put you through all that for my own little nostalgia trip, just so that I could say I made jam the old-fashioned way one last time: the way you and I used to make it, back when we were both a lot younger and had a lot more stamina and enthusiasm for this kind of work. I just wasn’t ready to let go of the past and update my methods to something smarter and healthier and easier and appropriate to our current working capacities. I wasn’t ready to admit that I no longer have the energy to waste on projects that are entertaining but nonessential.
I’ve seen the light and I’m ready now, though. Freezer jam it is, from now on.