Sunday, May 25, 2008

strawberries, pectin, and hypothesis...

These past months, I have been up to all sorts of things. Cooking, baking, sewing and such. I have been learning to be domestic. And while I have really enjoyed becoming, in my mind, what I always pictured I would be as a "home-maker", this is all new to me. I am in uncharted waters here. You see, I have spent the majority of my adult life training to become one thing. A Scientist. Seriously. For nearly a decade, the bulk of my educational efforts have been spent learning how to interpret an electrophoresis scan for Multiple Sclerosis. Or, detecting and identifying antibodies in the blood bank so the surgeon will have compatible blood for the emergency heart surgery going in 20 minutes. Or looking at peripheral blood smears for abnormal cells, to tell the doctor the patient has Leukemia. (really sad) Or that he doesn't. (really happy)

I have always loved science, and loved being a "lab rat." I love my job. But now I only work a few days a month. And I think lately, my scientist self has started feeling just a little neglected, and a little overrun by domesticity. :) This became glaringly obvious to me while I was at the grocery store the other day.

I was shopping for pectin. WHAT????? Yeahhh...I was shopping for pectin because my domestic self noticed that strawberries were on sale for $1 a pound, and thought it would be nice to make some home made strawberry jam. And to make jam you need strawberries guessed it. Pectin.

So, I was perusing the pectin selection (say THAT fast 5 times) and found a few things. The first one I saw was this.

A pectin classic. I've used this before to make freezer jam (with mixed results). It's pretty simple (you have to boil the pectin, but thats not so bad), and is relatively quick. But then I saw THIS....
Two things stood out to me. First, just how yummy the picture looked. And then second, the words "No Cook." And then then words "Fresh, Delicious, Easy." Hmmmmm...... My neglected scientist self instantly began designing an experiment to prove if the Ball pectin really IS fresh, delicious, and easy. And I also wanted to scientifically prove which pectin produced better tasting jam. (my taste buds are pretty darn scientific). So, I bought both, headed back to the produce isle to double up on the strawberries, and headed for home. (Oh...and I also bought some of the plastic Ball freezer jam containers. Mike asked me why I bought these new conatiners when I could have just used tupperware we had at home. My response? "These are cuter." And in my defense, I was planning on giving some of my finished product to the neighbors, so the containers SHOULD be nicer than the old cottage cheese tub that has been used and washed a hundred times.)


Back to the experiment. My hypothesis was:

Ball pectin will be easier to use and will produce fresher and tastier strawberry jam than Sure-Jell pectin.

I KNOOOOOWWWWWW what you are thinking. I am a science dork. But we've already established that. So, if you want the results of my delicious experiment, you are just going to have to keep reading.

Here is basically everything you needed to know (according to me and my tastebuds) about making strawberry freezer jam.

I started with the Ball pectin because I was anxious to try it out.

Ball Pectin

The instructions seemed simple enough. First, cut and mash strawberries. I needed to smoosh up 4 cups of these.

I used a potato masher as oppossed to a blender or food processor. But I like my jam a little on the "chunky" side. If you don't, just mash it up more. Simple. The buying guide on the bag said I would need about 4 pounds of strawberries. (Each of the containers is a pound) So, thats what I bought. But it was WAY too much. I found that ONE pound of whole strawberries = TWO CUPS of mushed strawberries. So, I really only needed 2 containers of the delicious fruit and not 4. Ohwell. More to eat later.

Next, in a seperate bowl, I added the Ball pectin to 2 cups of sugar. Atleast I think it was two cups of sugar. I'm writing this after the fact, so I don't remember EXACTLY...It could have been a little less than 2 cups. But just look at the instructions on the bag. (you could also use Splenda as an alternative.) I mixed those together, then added my 4 cups of fruity goodness. I stirred for 3 minutes to help the sugars disolve. And then I used a wide mouth funnel to make filling my cute jars easy, scooped the mixture in, and put the lids on.

The package says this will make approximately 5-8oz. jars. (or 40 oz. total) But I filled 2 of my big jars (16 oz each) and then 2 of my small jars (80z each). So, if you do the math, that equals 48 oz. or 6-8oz. jars. Ending up with extra jam always makes me happy.

Finally, just let it sit out on the counter for 30 minutes to "set" a little more. And that's it! It was as easy as that. There really was no cooking. And the whole thing took about 10 minutes. (Well, except the letting it set for 30 minutes part. Obviously.)

And this is what it looked like.

And the taste???? Was SOOOOOO good. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and not too sugary. It tasted more like real fruit, and not like fruit syrup, like some jams do. D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S. I knew it was going to be pretty hard to beat, but I gave it a try.

I opened the Sure-Jell box and found a double sided page of instructions. So, I was already a little annoyed. I finally found the recipe I needed for strawberry jam. Be careful, because there are TWO. A recipe for cooking the fruit, and a recipe for not cooking the fruit. I chose the recipe for not cooking the fruit.

So, this time I only needed two cups of mashed strawberries. And FOUR cups of sugar. Yup....Four. That seemed like a lot. Compared to the other jam, there was twice as much sugar and half the strawberries. I was already less than impressed.

So, I added my 4 cups of sugar to my 2 cups of strawberries. Stirred it all together and let it sit for 10 minutes for the sugar to start dissolving. This would be a good time to cook your pectin.

Sure-Jell pectin has to be boiled with water. I don't remember HOW much water, exactly. But I think it was something like 4.25 cups. Or maybe 1.25??? Whatever the amount was, I'm sure It was EXACTLY measured out, very scientifically. :) Just check the directions. So, you add the pectin to COLD water, and stir it until it boils. Boil for 1 minute, then dump into your sugar/strawberry mixture. Stir this around until all the sugar crystals are dissolved, and then put into your containers.

The instructions say to leave it out at room temp for 24 hours to let the jam set. But Scientist Sarah is extremely skeptical of leaving ANY kind of food out of the fridge for 4 hours, let alone 24. So, I left mine out for a half hour with the other jam, and into the fridge it went.

24 Hours Later-Conclusion

So, I waited a whole day before trying the jam again. And I definitely had a hands down favorite. The Sure-Jell was 'okay'....but turns out my hypothesis was correct.

According to my taste buds, The jam made with ball pectin was pretty much the best jam I have ever made. (I know, I know...there's not much competition for the best jam I've ever made.) But if you are craving something fresh and fruity, like I was, you should definitely give this a try.

And, because this TECHNICALLY was a science experiment. I had to put my newly found domestic skills to good use and make home-made honey whole wheat bread.



  1. yum. I am going to make some as soon as we use. I am glad you tried that out because now I know which one to use. I used the sure jell last year and didn't like it. Yum. I live homemade jam.

  2. Sarah...I love to read your blog. I'm sure hungry now as I'm nearly leaving work at 5:30. Rather than go home and make something delicious for dinner, I may just go pick up some fresh bakery bread (Since I'm already hungry...) and some strawberries, and you guessed it-the Ball Pectin, and make some jam!!! It sounds divine! I may later attempt the home made bread, but as I work 50+ hours a week, I have to save those domestic type projects for the weekend.

    Thanks for the great idea-Scientist Sarah!

  3. Yay! I've read your results thoroughly and have the stuff on my grocery list. You are going to move up on the list of people my husband likes without him even knowing it for suggesting such a treat.

  4. you should try the reduced sugar sure gel and see if you like it better, but just another challenge for you when you are feeling in the mood to run some more experiments!

  5. Done. Delicious. Thank you.

    Slight anger when they only had Sure-Jell at Walmart on the baking row...but it was all better when they had this kind over by the cute little jars, which I also bought.

  6. Congratuations on becoming a jam conesour. I have never tried ball pectin, but since reading your blog I will give it a try. Uncle Bob will be glad I am finally going to make some frozen jam again.

  7.; You saved my day again.