While most of the Northern Hemisphere is just approaching strawberry season, the season is wrapping up here in Japan. I recently found over a pound of strawberries on sale for about $2.50 because they were past their prime, which made them perfect for making preserves.
Commercial strawberry jams typically contain over 60% sugar (including the sugar in the fruit). This is great for preserving the fruit and helping the pectin to set, but I generally find them too sweet, and the delicate flavor of the berries gets lost in the sugar. That's why I like making my preserves with around 20-30% sugar. Our strawberries in Japan tend to run from 5-10% sugar, but in the US, strawberries typically contain 3-5% sugar.
The other thing I do differently with my preserves is that I like to partially caramelize the sugar before adding the fruit. This gets the berries cooked faster (resulting in a fresher taste) and gives the sugar a more nuanced sweetness with a marvelous cotton-candy-like fragrance. To do this, I heat the sugar to somewhere between the Hard Crack and Light Caramel stages of caramelized sugar (between 300-340F). The higher you take the temperature, the more caramel-like your preserve will taste.
Preserves are separated from jam because the fruit is not mashed, and you end up with a clear syrup you can strain off and add to carbonated water to make strawberry soda or drizzle over shaved ice. If you want to make it more jammy and thick, I recommend using a potato masher to partially mash the berries as they're cooking, which will mix the pulp into the syrup, giving it a more spreadable consistency.
Finally, I like using citric acid to give my preserves more acidity because it doesn't have any other flavors to interfere with the strawberries. It's usually pretty easy to find in powdered form in the health supplement aisle, or in the canning section of the supermarket, but if you can't find it, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for every ¼ teaspoon of citric acid.
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