Small batches make for the best tasting jam, in my opinion. and require nothing more than the best fruit, the right amount of sugar, some fresh lemon juice, and your choice of flavoring. Strawberries lend themselves to all sorts of variations when it comes to flavor additions, and vanilla seems like a natural partner. I have a little collection of slightly-used vanilla beans in a sugar bowl in my kitchen. It provides a supply of vanilla sugar, which is great for baking and for tea, coffee, or countless other sweetened beverages. I scooped the vanilla beans out of the bowl and tossed them in with the strawberries, and, with a little boost from vanilla paste, they made an ordinary strawberry jam very special.
The beauty of a small batch of jam is that less time is required to cook the jam and the result will be fresher and brighter tasting. It’s also much faster to prep two pounds of strawberries than ten, so even if you have lots of berries, consider making several small batches rather than one big one. The results will be better.
You will have enough jam for toast and muffins and recipes that require the addition of strawberry jam (think muffins, cake fillings, hand pies). Use your jam as a pancake or ice cream topping. A small batch also allows you to store the jam in the refrigerator, if you’re not into the canning process.
Enjoy the bounty of summer fruit and make small batch jam. Choose a different fruit as each come into season. Add complimentary flavors and seasonings and let your imagination guide you. A trip to the local Market and an hour or so of kitchen time will have you enjoying fresh summer fruit jam. Try it and see if you don’t agree.
Small Batch Strawberry-Vanilla Jam
A quick and easy strawberry jam that captures the taste of summer. Vanilla bean and vanilla paste add the perfect complimentary flavor.
- 2 pounds strawberries, fresh and ripe, but not too soft
- 1 1/4 pounds granulated sugar
- 1 large lemon, halved and juiced
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out (Iused 2 dried vanilla beans)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
- A generous pinch of Kosher salt
Wash and hull the strawberries and cut them into similar size pieces (quarter or half them, depending on their size). Put the berries in a heavy non-reactive pot or Dutch oven, preferably with a wide shallow profile. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla bean (with the seeds) and stir together gently. Let stand for about 30 minutes, or until the sugar is softened and somewhat dissolved. In the meantime wash 4, 8-ounce jam jars and lids, and rinse them thoroughly with very hot water. Set them aside on a kitchen towel to dry.
Set a saucer or small plate in the freezer. Put the pot of strawberries on the stove, over medium-high heat, and simmer until the juices begin to thicken and take on the consistency of syrup. This may take 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of your pot. Test the jam by removing the pot from the heat and placing a small spoonful on the frozen saucer. Replace the saucer in the freezer and check the sample of jam in a minute or two. It should wrinkle when you push it with your finger and the juices should not run all over the plate. If necessary, return the pot to the heat and cook another few minutes, then test again. When in doubt, it's better to slightly under-cook the jam.
Remove the jam from the stove and stir in the vanilla paste and salt. Carefully remove the whole vanilla bean. (Rinse it and let it dry, then add it to your sugar bowl). Spoon the jam into the prepared jars, cover with the lids and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Some of the best strawberry jams I have made included the addition of a complimentary flavoring. I have used liqueur, such as Grand Marnier, spirits like whisky and brandy, and balsamic vinegar. For a slightly savory variation add freshly ground pink or white peppercorns, or chopped soft herbs, especially basil leaves. Use your imagination and enjoy the process. You can find the recipe that inspired me here, along with lots of good jam-making advice. Enjoy!