Recipe and photos by Mimi Jones Taylor
I wasn’t sure if we were going to get a strawberry harvest in Ontario before July this year. Our winter was frigid, then in April, just as things appeared to be warming up, they froze over. I know that if the farmers have seedlings in the ground before Victoria Day weekend, they have to do their best to keep the ground warm and moist for the little guys, but with our last frost being on that weekend, the farmers certainly had their work cut out for them.
You see, I have a thing for strawberry jam. And when I say I have a “thing”, that doesn’t mean I eat every jar I lay my hands on. In fact, I hardly eat strawberry jam at all. But I do love to make it.
Before I moved to the Green Belt, though, I never contemplated making jam. My mother tried her hand at it when I was a child, and all I remember seeing were pots of bubbling and boiling liquids here and there and gooey Certo spilling all over the stove and having tons of filled jars in our cellar.
My late husband the chef made wine jams for sen5es – in their early days when they were a gourmet food store that served light fare. He had always prided himself on the fact that his jams were made with only the naturally-occurring pectin in the fruits themselves, and no additional pectin was used – no small feat when you add alcohol to the cooking fruit, since alcohol can inhibit the jam from gelling.
But my love affair with making strawberry jam started the year my son was in Junior Kindergarten. He is “on The Spectrum”, meaning he has autism. He is a high-functioning child with a condition formerly known as Aspergers. As a result, when he started school, not only did he have a Kindergarten teacher, but he had an Educational Assistant, along with the Special Education Resources Teacher, and the student teachers all helping him to transition from the happy, carefree life at home to the confined life inside a classroom. At the end of the year, when it came time to figure out what to give his teacher for a thank you gift, I was faced with having to give at least four gifts. I didn’t know what to do, since this was just before the dollar stores started selling better-quality mugs, and besides, teachers have a billion mugs anyway. All of his teachers had gone above and beyond the call of duty with him, and I wanted to thank them in a special way. I could have just baked cookies, but I had no idea who had what kind of allergies, and my kitchen facilities are in no way, shape, or form nut-free.
While I was trying to figure out a suitable gift, one evening I stopped in at Whittamore’s Farm on the Markham/Toronto border to pick up a quart of strawberries so I could make some strawberry ice cream. Whittamore’s had stunning flats of berries, along with pretty jars on the shelves near the strawberries. Then it clicked. I should make strawberry jam. Why not? It would be something different, homemade to show that I cared, and, more importantly, it wouldn’t be another mug.
I bought a flat and some jars and brought it all home. I researched the best way to make jams without using additional pectin. And off I went. Turns out I actually learned something from observing all the people around me make preserved fruit. I ended up with ten x 250 mL jars of jam that first year. And all of the teachers came back to me in September to let me know how much they had enjoyed the “fruit” of my labours (yes I just made that joke).
We have been very lucky with the school system for my son. He has managed to have the same EA and SERT since JK, something that is practically unheard of in the public education system in Southern Ontario. So every year, these wonderful teachers, and the new teachers and EAs who have come into my son’s life, all end up with jars of homemade strawberry jam. I was told by his SERT that she hides the jam in a special place in the fridge with a huge note on it. “This is MOM’s jam. Do not touch on pain of death!” This is coming from one of the kindest, most patient people I have ever encountered on this planet!
But getting back to my fears about this year – with frost occurring well into May, I feared that there would be no fresh strawberries in time for the end of the school year, and I would be forced into purchasing eight – yes he had eight teachers involved in his life this year, including the principal – cheesy dollar-store mugs and filling them with bulk store candy. But the weekend before school closed, I saw, much to my delight, flats of Whittamore’s strawberries ready for preserving. I took pictures of my process, and as you can see, the fruit this year held a lot of water, even more than in previous years. I did have my son help me crush the fruit so he could take part of the credit of making the actual jam. All I had to do was whip up some labels, and voila – instant (and when I say instant, I mean made in 90min) presents to show these hard workers – who do what they do more for love than the pittance of cash we pay them – a small token of my appreciation of everything they do every day for my son.
Here’s my simple recipe. Hopefully you will have people waiting with bated breath for your jam year after year as I have with mine. Just remember to share!