Everyday Cooking

My Mother's Strawberry Jam

June 11, 2013

Merrill's baby Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.

Today: It's strawberry season, and Clara is insatiable.

Clara with Strawberrie

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Clara hadn't eaten a strawberry until a few weeks ago. I try not to be too controlling with her food, but giving her produce that's in season whenever possible is one of my sticking points. And I really didn't want her first experience to be with a wan, pale-bellied, refrigerated supermarket strawberry.

During last year's strawberry season, she wasn't eating solid foods yet. So we waited -- I waited -- patiently for May to roll around again. Her first strawberry was doled out straight from a crate of plump, ruby beauties as I waited in line at the farmers market to pay for them. The first was followed shortly by a second, and then a third, then a fourth.

Clara eating strawberry

Now it's all I can do to keep enough strawberries in the house. (Not to mention how much we're spending on stain remover.)

Last week we somehow ended up with an extra quart that was softening rapidly, so I set out to make some of my mother's strawberry jam. It's a simple recipe -- not too sweet, which means it's looser than most, with a wonderful fresh berry flavor. 

Strawberries Strawberries in sugar

My mother's trick, which I've heard about from others too, is to stir a knob of butter into the cooked jam. Don't ask me about the science behind it; supposedly the butter helps to clarify the jam and to get rid of the foam as it cools. My mother's jam is always crystal clear and foam-free, so I don't mess with the recipe.


Now Clara can have strawberry jam on her toast in the morning -- with a side of strawberries, of course.


My Mother's Strawberry Jam

Makes 2 pints

4 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Pinch salt
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons cold unsalted butter

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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  • MarilynMcD
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I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


MarilynMcD June 17, 2013
I am wondering if this can be made without sugar? we are a sugar free household and I'd love to try this recipe!
Merrill S. June 18, 2013
Sorry, I haven't made it without sugar!
erskinechef June 16, 2013
Thanks for the recipe. Any tips for freezing the jam?
Merrill S. June 18, 2013
I've never frozen it -- the recipe doesn't make very much, and it never lasts very long in our house!
Renée (. June 16, 2013
Personally, I've never been a fan of the butter-method. For starters, it's never worked for me; and second, your jam's no longer vegetarian/vegan, which is important for people who are, and for those who keep kosher. I like to bring the strawberry jam up to a good hard boil, keeping the pan slightly off-center of the burner. The foam collects on one side of the pan. When the foam is "firm", you can just skim it off the top with a slotted spoon or skimmer spoon. As Mrs. Wheelbarrow mentions below, the rest will disperse with stirring, after you've achieved a good set.
clementscooks June 16, 2013
*** your MOTHER'S recipes! Apologies :o)
Merrill S. June 18, 2013
Thanks for the lovely comment! It should work fine with other fruits -- just make sure to include the lemon juice.
clementscooks June 18, 2013
Sounds great- I'll let you know how it turns out!
clementscooks June 16, 2013
I'm looking forward to trying this. Would this work with other fruits as well? I have quite a bit of plums/pluots that from our csa box that I wanted to make jam with (and I have virtually no experience with making jam- my grandmother used to make the most amazing jams as well- it's wonderful that you have your grandmother's recipes!).
Kitchen B. June 12, 2013
Clara was made for strawberries. Or did i mean to say strawberries were made for Clara! Don't tire if hearing how cute she is!
Merrill S. June 18, 2013
Thank you!
Cristina S. June 12, 2013
I don't mean to sound foolish in front of so many experienced canners, but--I want to use this recipe as a base for my first go at canning. Can I still add the butter, and is it necessary to add powdered fruit pectin?
Kukla June 11, 2013
Finishing any jam with butter is a very old European method. It adds a beautiful shin, smoothness, makes the jam a little thicker and of course tastier.
Merrill, I admire you for teaching your adorable Clara (in Russian we would call her Clarochka) to taste and eat such a large variety of dishes, so early in her life!
ChefJune June 12, 2013
...and in Yiddish it would be Clarala. :)
Kitchen B. June 12, 2013
In Nigerian-speak it would be Sisi (pronounced see see) Clara
Amanda H. June 11, 2013
Butter makes everything better -- thanks for the recipe, Merrill! And please tell Clara we like her hairdo.
Blissful B. June 11, 2013
I absolutely love that you introduced her to strawberries AT the farmer's market. You're awesome.
vvvanessa June 11, 2013
Gah! I just want to squeeze my computer screen every time there's a picture of Clara on it!

re: strawberry stains. May I suggest the baby condom? Basically it's an old t-shirt of yours that you throw on over her clothes while she eats, a sort of full-body bib. I have friends who keep a stash of their old concert tees on hand, so not only is their toddler relatively stain-free, but she also appears to have great taste in music.

Also, this thing is magic with stains. Contrary to its name, it doesn't actually contain bleach:
Kenzi W. June 11, 2013
Ha, I love this tip.
Merrill S. June 11, 2013
These are great, thanks! Another foolproof way to avoid stains: feed the baby naked!
Amanda H. June 11, 2013
I wish I'd known about this when my kids were little and tossing beets around the kitchen.
AntoniaJames June 11, 2013
By the way, what IS the best way to get strawberry stains out? Even with a full apron, I seem to get that vivid, everlasting red juice all over everything when handling our soft, luscious local strawberries. ;o)
calendargirl June 11, 2013
The best secret I know for strawberry stains (and all fresh fruit stains, actually) is to remove the garment, place it over the sink and pour boiling water from about 8-10 inches directly on the stains. The stains will disappear before your eyes. You can squirt a drop or two of liquid detergent on stubborn ones and repeat, even rubbing the fabric a bit with your fingernail when it has cooled a bit. When the stain is out, you can then put the garment, towel, whatever, into the regular wash. But the stain will set if you put it into the dryer before working the magic disappearing act with the boiling water. The fresher the stain, the better. Let me know how this goes for you, AJ!
AntoniaJames June 11, 2013
Did you see MrsWheelbarrow's column in the Times last Wednesday on how to make a firmer strawberry jam that's not too sweet? The secret? A kiwi berry! Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/1014783/Strawberry-Jam-With-Kiwi.html I haven't made it yet, but plan to soon, as kiwi season is winding down here. ;o)
Lindsay-Jean H. June 11, 2013
Cool! I need to try that!
Merrill S. June 11, 2013
Yes, thought that was so interesting!
ChefJune June 12, 2013
What's a "kiwi berry?" I am so allergic to kiwi - it would kill me.
MrsWheelbarrow June 16, 2013
Thank you for the shout-out, AJ. I always use a bit of butter to clear the foam. Also, stirring the jam for three minutes after you have established a good set will remove any bits of foam that are dispersed through the jam. As for strawberry stains? Thank goodness for dark aprons. My fingertips, however, are perma-stained from pitting cherries. Anyone have any ideas?
Renée (. June 16, 2013
Cathy - I know it sounds harsh, but I always keep a bar of good old-fashioned Lava soap next to the sink when I can berries and mangoes. I've found it's the only way to get those stains off my fingertips and from under my fingernails. :)
ChefJune June 11, 2013
Oh dear! I hope she'll like peaches as well when the strawberries go out of season. She is just too cute for words. It must be horrible when you have to scold her.
Merrill S. June 11, 2013
It's not my favorite thing to do...
AntoniaJames June 11, 2013
Just remind yourself that you're doing her a favor, and that she'll thank you many times over when she grows up. She will! And she'll be a lot more pleasant as a result, too. ;o) P.S. My mother's very consistent approach, which I incorporated into my own parenting, was "Firm but fair." It works.