How to make strawberry rhubarb preserves

This last weekend we spent a couple of days wandering around out near the Allegan, Michigan area. We camped on Swan Lake, hit some antique shops, & did some picking at the area farms. One of my scores was a big enamel canning pot and rack. I had it on my agenda to pick up a bunch of fresh berries and take them home to can, so I took it as a great sign.

Almost 4 years ago (6/7/08) when Dave and I got married on Lake Michigan, we found a roadside shop called Dutch Farms just outside South Haven that had the best rhubarb pies and fresh strawberries. We stopped there on our way home Sunday and I loaded up, excited to get home and try canning. I hadn’t canned anything since I was a kid. I remember spending a long afternoon in my mom’s Texas Hill Country kitchen canning peaches.

One thing I will say is that if you have it in mind to make any type of jam, be prepared to find tons of contradicting recipes out there. It’ll make your head spin and undermine your confidence that you’re doing it right. I cherry picked what sounded right to me and hoped for the best. I thought I’d share the process here in case anyone would like to give it a try as well.

Strawberry rhubarb jam

Here’s what you’ll need to make an accidental monster batch of strawberry rhubarb preserves:
(The original recipe called for 6 jars. Oops!)

14-8 oz. canning jars, lids, and rings (Yup. 14. Did I mention I thought I was making 6?)
1 big stock pot, a cookie sheet, and a couple of thick dish towels
Canning tongs
Wide mouth funnel
Stainless steel ladle
5 pounds of sugar (that’s a whole bag to you and me)
2 pounds of fresh strawberries (keep them whole)
2 pounds of chopped up rhubarb (I used a mandolin slicer)
8 oz. lemon juice
1 box of pectin

Day 1
In a big non-reactive bowl (glass, plastic) pour in your whole strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice (no pectin for now). Stir it up so everything is coated, cover it, and leave it in the fridge for a full day. Try not to lick your fingers too much.

Day 2
To start off, you’ll want to load everything you’re going to use for canning into the dishwasher to get it good, clean, hot, and sterile. I put the stock pot in as well. Don’t know if you have to do that, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Once everything is clean, place the jars, lids, and rings on a sturdy cookie sheet and place it in an oven, preheated to 250 degrees. This serves a couple of purposes. It’ll ensure the jars are sterile, dry them, and keep them warm enough that they won’t break when you’re spooning in the hot jam mixture.

Just about the time you put the jars in the oven, you can start cooking your preserves. You’ll need a large non-reactive pot. I used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. You can use stainless steel, glass, enamel, copper…but do not use aluminum. It reacts with the acids and will ruin your preserves. This goes for anything else you’ll be putting into contact with your mixture. Use a silicone/rubber spatula, stainless spoons for tasting & testing for consistency, etc.

Since you’re already juggling, get your canning/stock pot out and fill it halfway full of water. Get that to a solid simmer, not boiling, put the lid on and leave it be for now.

Pour your fridge box full of fruit, sugar, and lemon juice into the pot and start stirring with your silicone/rubber spatula. Add the box of pectin. Keep stirring. Keep stirring. You’re headed for a full rolling boil but you have sugar in there so you need to keep it moving so it doesn’t gel up on the bottom of the pot.

This is the part where I got a lot of conflicting info, so I just had to feel it out. Recipes which do not call for pectin say to let it boil for 20+ minutes. Recipes which do say 1 minute. After some reading, I decided that I wanted to keep as much flavor and color in my fruit as possible, so I opted for the pectin. Pectin does not add any flavor, just shortens the cooking process do you don’t have to get your fruit to the masticated state before it’s able to set up. Some recipes call for 2 boxes, some for 1. In my batch, I went with 1 and ended up with a creamy texture, not a super-firm gel. That’s OK. I prefer it this way.

So you’ve reached a rolling boil at this point. For our purposes, a rolling boil is defined as a boil that doesn’t stop when you stir. Now is the time you’ll pull your cookie sheet full of jars out of the oven (careful not to burn yourself) and set them on the counter next to your stock pot. When your jam looks shiny and has a firmer texture to it (when you push it around in the pot, it sort of gathers up on the spatula), you’re ready to start canning.

Place your wide mouth funnel into your first 8 oz. glass jar and using the stainless steel ladle, spoon your preserves into the jar, leaving about a 1/2 inch between the surface of the jam and the rim of the jar. This is called headspace and the preserves need it for expansion.

Fill 6 jars, wipe any excess off the rim of the jar, then place the jar’s lid on top. The lid is the disc with the wax seal around the edge. Screw on the rim, but only slightly finger tight. You only want it on just enough to hold the lid in place.

Once you have a batch ready, go back to the canning/stock pot which should be nice and steamy by now. If you have a canning rack, load your jars in and lower them into the water. If not, use your canning tongs and carefully lower your batch into the pot. Make sure the water covers the tops of all the jars.

*For 8 oz. Ball glass jars with lids and rims, leave strawberry rhubarb preserves in the hot water bath for 16 minutes.

canning water bath

After 16 minutes, pull the jars out of the water bath and set them on a heat-safe counter space. You should start to hear the lids start popping. I’ve been told that it’s an old wives’ custom to say, “Thank you” to the first one to pop. Ehh, what could it hurt? If for any reason a couple of your lids don’t pop (seal), just put them in the fridge and consume them within a few days. They’re fine to eat, just not to keep on a shelf for a year.

Keep ladling, lidding, and water bathing until your batch is complete. You’re done! Your batch will keep in a cool, dark place for about 1 year.

This is the part where you sit on a comfy stool in your kitchen with a glass of wine and look at your batch, happy in the fact that you kicked it’s ass.

Strawberry rhubarb jam

Well done, you canner!

If you try this out, please come back and tell me about it.