Last spring, I attended a party at which the dessert was an enormous tray of ripe, local strawberries. The berries were artfully arranged around a jar of honey from nearby hives. And though the berries were plenty sweet all on their own, our host encouraged us to dip the strawberries in the honey before taking a bite. The combination of strawberries and honey was a revelation.
Within minutes, I started imagining a strawberry preserve sweetened with honey. As I played the flavors out in my head, I added a few sprigs of thyme so that the finished product would have just a faint herbal whisper.
Because honey is expensive and I didn't know how well the pairing would work, I made just a bit. And to my mind, that's one of the joys of small batch canning. You don't have mountains of produce invested in each batch and so there's more space to be daring and attempt new flavor combinations.
To my palate, this particular combination of strawberries, honey, thyme and a small squirt of lemon juice was hugely successful. However, if you don't have easy access to thyme, feel free to try it with another herb. I've also paired strawberries with rosemary or lavender before and both were happy combinations.
Tips for small batch jam making: • Don't reach for your regular jam pan or Dutch oven. Go for your widest non-reactive skillet or sauté pan. My favorite is a 12-inch stainless steel skillet.
• Stay close. These small batches of jam only need 8-12 minutes of cooking time, so you want to keep your eye on the pan.
• Keep stirring. Because the cooking time is so compressed, small batches can go from undercooked to burnt in the space of 30 seconds. Stir constantly so that you don't miss the sweet spot.
• Test for doneness with a swipe of a silicone spatula. Drag it through the center of the cooking jam. If the space you've cleared stays empty for several seconds, it is done. If the jam immediately rushes in to fill the space, it needs more time.
A honey note: To avoid a sticky measuring cup, measure the honey by weight. One cup of honey weighs 12 ounces. I like to place the bowl of strawberries right on my scale, zero out the weight and then pour the honey directly over the berries.
Strawberry Thyme Jam
Makes 1 pint
1 quart strawberries (approximately 3 cups chopped) 1 cup honey (12 ounces) 5 to 6 sprigs thyme Juice of 1/2 lemon
Chop berries and place them in a bowl. Add honey and stir. Strip thyme leaves off branches and add them to the strawberries and honey. Stir to combine.
When honey has dissolved and the strawberries are quite juicy, scrape the mixture into your pan.
Bring to a bubble and cook over high heat for 8 to 12 minutes, until the jam is thick and sticky.
Funnel jam into two prepared half pint jars and process in a small water bath canner for 10 minutes.
When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel. When they're cool enough to handle, remove the rings and check seals. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and eaten promptly. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
This recipe doesn't have to be processed in a water bath canner. If you prefer, you can skip that step and simply refrigerate the finished jars once they're cool. It will keep 3 to 4 weeks in the fridge.
Marisa McClellan is our guest feature writer for June. She is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated farmers' market shopper who lives in Center City Philadelphia with her husband Scott McNulty. She's the author of the blog Food in Jars and spends most of her days cooking up jams, fruit butters and pickles in her 80 square foot kitchen. Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches All Year Long is her very first cookbook.