|Sugar-Free Strawberry Balsamic Jam|
This past Christmas, my friend Ondine (the one who is foodier than me) gave us one precious jar of her strawberry balsamic jam. Of course, she uses sugar, so I was only able to dip my pinky into it; but oh MY it was good. My family polished it off in no time flat.
We are now deep into May, and I have wiped out all of my sugar-free strawberry jam. I have been waiting for the strawberries to come into season enough to be consistently ripe and tasty (and for the prices to drop a little.) This week: jackpot. Organic Swanton berries (local, union picked) were $2.50 a basket at Monterey Market. Ondine was nice enough to share some guidelines; she used a recipe by Eugenia Bone, but added vanilla. So I, of course, based my version on Ondine's, but with no added sugar. Mmm mmm mmm. The balsamic both balances and enhances the sweetness and acidity of the berries, and the vanilla brings in undercurrents of yum. The darkness of the vinegar also makes the color of the jam more like a garnet than a ruby. You will not be disappointed, I promise!
Sugar-Free Strawberry Balsamic Jam
6 pounds of ripe, perfect, organic strawberries (7 green 1 pint baskets)
|Lovely Swanton Berries|
7 tsp pectin
2 1/2 cups erythritol
1 2/3 cup xylitol
1 level teaspoon stevia extract powder
1 tsp unsalted butter
1/3 - 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 - 2 1/2 tsp organic vanilla
Makes 6 pint and 4 half pint jars of jam
If the jars are brand new, wash them and the rings and lids to remove any chemicals left from processing. If they have been sitting in the basement, check them for dust, and wash off any you find. Put the jars and rings into a very large stockpot or canning pot and fill with hot water to cover by an inch or two. Put them on the rear burner of the stove over high heat and bring them to a boil. When they come to a boil, turn the heat down and keep them hot and ready.
Following the instructions in your low sugar pectin kit, make calcium water. (I use Pomona brand.)
When the fruit comes to a full boil, get a long-handled wooden spoon ready, and gradually add the sweetener mix to the hot fruit, stirring constantly as you pour in the sweeteners. Stir well and frequently to dissolve the pectin and the sweeteners with the fruit and to prevent lumping. Add the butter. (The butter is optional, but keeps the foam in check.) Bring it back to a full boil. Turn off the heat, then add 1/3 cup vinegar and vanilla and stir well to combine. Taste it, and if needed, add more vinegar, vanilla, or sweetener.* see notes below. Get ready to can. (Don't worry if it isn't as thick as jam; it thickens as it cools.)
Clear a good sized work surface near the stove, and cover it with clean dishtowels (preferably ones you don't care about!)
Turn the heat off under the pot of jars and move it to the front of the stove so you can reach them easily, and move the jam to the back of the stove so you don't get water into it by accident. (Put the lid on the pot of jam if necessary.) Using tongs or a jar lifter in your dominant hand, and a clean dishtowel in your other hand, carefully remove the lids and rings and drain them on the towels. Lift each jar out of the hot water, dump the hot water back into the pot, and carefully guide and transport the hot jar over to the towels. Turn it upside down to drain out the extra water. Repeat until all of the jars are drained and ready. Scald your best ladle and wide-mouthed funnel in the boiling water and have them ready with your jars.
Turn the heat back on medium high underneath the pot of water and bring it back to a full boil while you jar the jam.
Now, again using your tongs (or a clean towel, oven mitts, or tough hands!) turn the jars right side up, and line them up to be ready to fill. If you have a wide-mouthed jar funnel (which I so highly recommend - available at any good hardware store, Bed Bath and Beyond, well stocked grocery stores, etc., for less than $5) put it on top of one of the jars.
Grab your best ladle, and bring the pot of hot jam over to your work surface. Carefully fill each jar, leaving 1/4" of space at the top. If you have a wide-mouthed funnel, the bottom should come to just the right spot. If you don't, do your best! If necessary, spoon some out to reach the right level. After you have filled all your jars, use a clean, moist towel to wipe the ring area and the top surface of the jars clean. Again, if you have a wide-mouthed funnel, you are much less likely to spill the jam and need to clean the jars. If you have less than a full jar of jam, put that one straight into use and don't bother to can it.
Put the lids on, followed by the screw tops, and screw them down.
Notes from Christine:
Why organic strawberries? If you can't afford much organic food in your budget, strawberries are a must (as are bananas, red peppers and apples.) The way conventional strawberries are raised leave tons of poison on the berry, releases gases into the environment, and endangers farm workers.
Balsamic Vinegar: What kind should I use, and how much? I used Bariani, which is local, concentrated and delicious, but not very expensive. Ondine said she used the cheapest stuff from Trader Joe's. I used 1/3 of a cup in my first batch - yum, then I added another 1/4 cup to my second batch (plus another 1/2 tsp vanilla) - even more yum; if you use cheaper stuff, you may want to add more to achieve the same level of flavor. I'll let you in on a little secret shared with me by the former head chef of a well-regarded local restaurant; balsamic vinegar concentrates through evaporation as it ages. The oldest, sweetest, and most syrupy stuff is quite expensive. You can mimic this by taking some cheap stuff and cooking it down in a non-reactive sauce pan.
* Deciding how much vinegar and vanilla to add can be a little tricky; jam doesn't taste the same hot as it does cold. When the jam is hot, the flavors are amplified. On my first batch, I added 1/3 cup of flavorful, concentrated vinegar, and 2 tsp of good vanilla. It was awesome when it was hot, but the flavors had toned down when it cooled. On the next batch, I decided to pump up the flavor, so I added an additional 1/4 cup of vinegar. When I tasted it, I got nervous... the flavor was intense - ack! I thought I'd added too much. I added another 1/2 tsp of vanilla to balance it.... Still intense... I was a little nervous about the outcome, but I went ahead and canned it - and it was awesome when it cooled off! So, be brave.
"What's with all of these obscure sweeteners?" Erythritol and Xylitol are sugar alcohols; super low-glycemic, super low-calorie, super low-carbohydrate, and good for your teeth.
Xylitol is about as sweet as cane sugar, has a fairly neutral flavor with a little bright, almost pepperminty quality, and can be found easily at a well-stocked health food store or really good grocery store.
Erythritol, very neutral in flavor, is about 60% as sweet as sugar, and is very difficult to find in stores, except in individual packets. As it is 60% as sweet as sugar, it takes quite a bit more to reach the right level of sweetness in a recipe, and this makes proportions difficult. However, its very neutral profile makes it a natural for blending with xylitol and stevia, especially since stevia is so highly concentrated. It's worth tracking it down by mail-order, or you could make a special request to a grocer to order some for you.
Stevia is a natural, calorie-free leaf extract, super concentrated and very sweet, but with a weird, bitter aftertaste and no volume; due to its highly concentrated state, one teeny-tiny scoopful (which comes in its container) is equal to a teaspoon of sugar. It is easily purchased at Trader Joe's or any grocery store.
Be aware that some Xylitol and Erythritol brands in American packaging are actually imported from China and repackaged. That is why I buy all of these directly from Xylitol USA, http://www.xylitolusa.com/ which manufactures them from North American sources.