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Do not be afraid! Making jam's easier than pie

When it comes to strawberry season, I do not mess around. I get 'em while the getting’s good.

It’s part of the joy, and sorrow, that comes with eating seasonal, local foods. When local strawberries are in season (in spring, as nature intended) they are glorious. When they’re gone, you just have to wait until next year. (If I’m ever tempted to fall off the seasonal wagon, one taste of a bland grocery store strawberry puts me right back on it.)

Why are local berries worth the wait? Farmers who don’t have to worry about shipability and shelf life are free to select plants that produce the most flavorful, satisfying berries. Take one bite of a berry from your closest farmers market, and I bet you’ll be hooked, too. 

So, right now, when strawberries are reaching the peak of their brief season, I operate in hoarder mode. I buy them at farmers markets. I pick gallon after gallon at area you-pick farms. I relish every berry in my weekly CSA pickup. I even have about 50 plants of my own crammed into my tiny backyard. 

What do we do with all those berries? Gorge ourselves by the handful, mostly. But I also freeze a bunch for year-round smoothies, serve fresh strawberry pies at every possible occasion, and make bucketloads of jam. You can’t have too much strawberry jam. 

Which is why I suggest that you try making a batch yourself. Jam is very simple to prepare, even if you decide to can it for long-term storage. If you plan to store the jam in your fridge and eat it within the next month, you can skip the canning process altogether. 

Jam-makers generally fall into two camps: Those who use packaged pectin and those who don’t. Being a middle child, I prefer to diplomatically straddle the fence. I love the bright color and flavor of jams made with pectin, and I appreciate their short cooking times, too. But next winter, when I’m really pining for a strawberry fix, I’ll love the intense complexity of a traditional no-pectin jam.

So, I make a few batches of each. If you’re new to canning, I suggest you start with a pectin recipe, like this one for Strawberry-Mango Preserves or spicy Strawberry-Serrano Jam. If you own a candy thermometer, give Ina Garten’s recipe for Easy Strawberry Jam a try. Jams are much more forgiving than actual candy ... they may just turn out a little runnier or a little firmer than you might have preferred. That's OK; just adjust the recipe next time. It will still taste great.

This afternoon, I plan to finish off my third gallon of you-pick strawberries with a batch of strawberry-ginger jam. Then it will be time to pick more berries.

Think I’m a bit obsessive? You should see me during tomato season.