I made strawberry jelly a couple of weeks ago shortly after returning from strawberry picking. I nearly lost all of the strawberry juice while it was slowly boiling. After picking strawberries that morning, and chasing Dominic around the patch, I was taking a short breather. Well, truth be told, I was surfing the web and soon became absorbed. The aroma of strawberry juice permeated the house and quickly got my attention. I walked into my kitchen a short time later (who knows really how long it was) and found that the strawberry juice boiled over and coated my lightly colored tile floor and white stove. I managed to remove the pink tint from the floor and stove, but not before losing much of the strawberry juice.
I managed to salvage enough of the juice to make my grandmother’s strawberry jelly recipe. For a short time, Minnie, my grandmother, had her own strawberry patch on the hillside just above one of the barns on their farm in Higgins Creek, up on Gentry Mountain. Once, when I was about 5, I played on the hillside with one of my aunts and ate strawberries while my mom and dad and everyone else picked.
Minnie didn’t keep the strawberry patch for too long. She and Jake, my grandfather, grew many fruits and vegetables and kept cows, hogs, and chickens, but tobacco was their livelihood. Eventually, Minnie gave up the patch because of the extra work and time involved. She always had strawberries after the patch was gone, because, I think, she bartered with another local farm.
Fresh, ripe strawberries produce the sweetest juice and retain the finest qualities of the soil. You can extract the juice in one of two ways: simmer the strawberries in a small amount of water until the strawberries are soft and mushy, or crush them through a sieve or food mill until all that remains are seeds and pulp.
Minnie didn’t use a recipe when she made her jelly. She crushed her strawberries until the juice looked like enough. When she was satisfied that she had the right amount of juice, she put in a little of this, a little of that, and stirred. She cooked the jelly until it felt done, processed it in a waterbath until it seemed right, and then stored it in her dark, earthen cellar. Her strawberry jelly was perfect.
- 3¾ cups fresh strawberry juice (about 6 pints strawberries)
- 4½ cups sugar
- 1 package (1.75 ounce) regular powdered fruit pectin
- 4 Ball 12-ounce jars with lids and rings
- Waterbath canner (21½ quart with rack and cover)
- Jar funnel, jar lifter, bubble remover, and magnetic lid lifter
- A sieve
- Cheesecloth or jelly bag
- To prepare jars: Wash jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Put jars in the waterbath canner, and cover completely with water. Bring water to a simmer (don’t need to boil). In a small saucepan, add lids and bring to a simmer. You don’t need to add the rings. It is important to keep jars and lids hot or your jelly might not seal.
- To make the strawberry juice: Measure washed, hulled, and halved strawberries. In a large saucepan, add strawberries and ¼ cup water for ever 4 cups of strawberries. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, and partly cover. Let strawberries simmer, crushing berries as needed, until the strawberries have softened and only a small amount of strawberry pulp remains. Strain cooked strawberries and juice using a dampened jelly bag or a strainer lined with dampened cheesecloth. The strawberry juice may need to strain for about one hour or longer. Repeat the process, as needed, to remove all seeds and pulp.
- To make the jelly: In a six or eight quart saucepan, add strawberry juice, then stir, or whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir sugar in quickly, all at once, and return to a full rolling boil and boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Remove any foam that has settled on top of the hot mixture.
- To process the jelly: Remove one jar at a time from the canner. Empty the water in the jar back into the canner. Fill jars within ⅛ of top. Use bubble remover to remove trapped air (if this occurs, add more jelly as needed to bring jelly within ⅛ of top). Wipe jar lids and threads. Center lid on jar, add ring, and screw tightly. Place all jars in canner. Add enough water to cover by at least one inch and increase heat to high. Once the water reaches a full boil, cover and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and remove lid. Allow jars to rest for 5 minutes, then remove from pot. Let cool completely before storing, about 24 hours. Before storing, remove rings, and check seals on jars. The button in the center of the lid is indented if the jar is sealed. If pressed, the button will not pop up. If jar is not sealed, reprocess jelly, or refrigerate and use immediately.
Yields four 12-ounce jars