Cooking Strawberry Jam with your Child
My earliest and fondest memories of cooking are of summer days spent making strawberry jam with my mother. In early June, we would pick up a flat of strawberries from the farmer’s market, bring it home, and lay newspapers all over the dining table before beginning the task of hulling, crushing, measuring and cooking the berries. There is nothing else in the world like the smell of ripe strawberries cooking down to a syrupy jam—this smell is the essence of summer.
Strawberry jam is the perfect thing to cook together with a young child, because it offers so many opportunities for delight, and helping a child fall in love with what she is doing is the best way to encourage learning. Jam making doesn’t have to be a complicated affair: one way to simplify it is to eliminate canning. If you pick up even a small amount of berries from the market you can cook up a small bowl of jam that will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. A little goes a long way—swirl a spoonful into some plain yogurt instead of buying one of the already-sweetened kinds.
4 cups strawberries
2 cups sugar
What to do:
Look together for berries at the peak of ripeness—and teach your child how to tell the difference. Let her taste the berries before getting started. Prepare a workspace where it’s okay to make a mess.
Use strawberry hullers that are like thumb-shaped tweezers that you squeeze to pinch the green stem away from the red fruit. The metal edge is sharp enough to dig into the berry, but blunt enough to be perfectly child-friendly. Pull all of the green stems off of the strawberries and discard.
Put the hulled berries into a large bowl or a large Pyrex measuring cup and let your child (with clean hands) smash the berries down into the bowl or squeeze them by the palmful. Squish some berries more than others, so that there are a fair amount of chunks and it isn’t too soupy.
Measure 4 cups of berries and put into the cooking pot. Measure 2 cups of sugar and add it to the pot. (You can use any amount of berries. The general rule is that half of the volume is sugar, but you can vary this depending on the sweetness of the berries. Just remember that a certain amount of sugar is necessary to preserve the fruit and to make it jam instead of fruit compote).
If your child is very young, let her sit on a stool close enough to see and smell the jam as it cooks, but far enough to keep them out of danger of getting burned. If the child is old enough, she can help stir the mixture to prevent the bottom from scorching. Turn the burner to a medium-high heat and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally. After a while, a white-pink foam will gather on the surface of the mixture—use a large spoon to remove as much of it (and as little berry syrup) as possible. Boil the jam until the bubbles rise to the surface much faster and seem to pop at the surface.
Test for doneness by holding the stirring spoon up over the pot and watching the liquid gather at the edge of the spoon. At first it will just drip right off the spoon, but as it thickens it moves more slowly. When you hold the spoon up and the liquid forms two droplets that hold at the bottom edge without dripping into the pan, the jam is done. Take it off the heat and let it cool. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the jam to brighten the flavor.