Perfect Strawberry Rhubarb Jam without Pectin
This strawberry rhubarb jam recipe does not include additional pectin, but DOES include a couple of secret ingredients that will have everyone thinking you’re a jam making genius. That is, if you decide to share.
THIS. JAM. I have made strawberry jam many, many, many times. But, never have I ever added rhubarb. Until this year. And, dear reader, I cannot believe that I have lived this long without strawberry rhubarb jam.
Oh! The wasted years! All the slices of toast and biscuits and waffles that have been consumed in vain without the pleasure of being spread with a thick layer of strawberry rhubarb jam!
Too much? Yeah, ok. I promise to tone down the drama if you promise to make a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam. Because, even if I manage to silence my inner drama queen, I’m going to tell you that this stuff is crazy good. Even my rhubarb hating husband couldn’t get enough.
Want the secret to amazing strawberry rhubarb jam?
There are four ingredients that you should absolutely positively add to this jam that will take it from good to I-am-going-to-quit-my-job-and-go-into-the-jam-business-because-this-stuff-will-make-me-a-fortune. Ready?
- Vanilla extract.
- Almond extract.
Wait. Salt and pepper? Please don’t click away. For the life of me, I don’t understand why all jam recipes don’t include salt. Hardly any of them do, which is madness. Madness, I tell you.
Salt is a necessary component to pretty much everything delicious – savory AND sweet. Perhaps especially sweet. Salt balances and rounds out the flavors of sweet foods. Even more importantly, salt makes food taste more like itself. When added in the right proportion, salt brings out the flavor in food, intensifying the food’s best qualities.
In this recipe, just 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt intensifies the strawberry and rhubarb flavors to a somewhat shocking degree. If you really wanted to test that statement (hey there, skeptic, I’m talking to you), make two batches – one with salt and one without – and you will absolutely, positively be able to taste the difference. Or, you can just trust me and get on with it.
Ok. Salt in jam is a good idea. But pepper? Yes. A thousand times, YES. Just 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper enhances the natural sweetness in the fruit while adding an oh-so-subtle kick and complexity that’s going to seriously step up your jam game. (What? You don’t have a jam game? Well, you do now.)
Adding pepper to fruit is not all that unusual.
Stop at a roadside fruit cart in Mexico or South America and there’s a good chance your fruit will be sprinkled with salt (!) and chili powder. And black pepper in cookies – especially sugar cookies and ginger cookies – is phenomenal.
In Mark Bittman’s iconic book, How to Cook Everything, he includes a recipe for strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and a couple grinds of black pepper, spooned over vanilla ice cream. It’s the kind of recipe that makes you feel like the secrets of the universe have been suddenly revealed to you. What??? All I had to do to make strawberries and ice cream taste this good is add some vinegar and black pepper???
That’s the kind of experience you’re going to have if you add some salt and pepper to your jam.
Ok. Enough with salt and pepper. Let’s talk pectin.
Is pectin necessary for jam?
Do you have to add pectin to fruit jam?
Pectin is a naturally occurring starch that forms in the cell walls of fruit and vegetables, giving them structure. When combined with acid and sugar, and heated to 220 degrees (F), it forms a gel that thickens fruit jam, jelly, and preserves. For the most part, the amount of naturally occurring pectin in fruit is sufficient and there’s no need add more.
BUT (there’s always a but) – it’s important to understand how to draw all that natural pectin out of the fruit you’re cooking so that the jam will “set” – i.e., thicken into jam.
In general, the firmer the fruit, the more pectin it contains. Apples, for example, contain a high amount of pectin, while strawberries do not. Rhubarb, is a big fat rule breaker, because it’s BOTH firm and low in pectin. So, because neither strawberries or rhubarb contain much pectin, it’s important to understand how to maximize the thickening power of what’s in there.
How to get the most thickening power from naturally occurring pectin:
- Cook to 220 degrees (F). It’s important to make sure that the jam reaches 220 degrees (F), which is jam’s “set” point.
- Add lemon juice. Lemon juice is key to great jam because the acid draws out all the pectin in the fruit and then helps all those strands of pectin bind together so that the jam thickens and “sets”. Bonus – lemons themselves contain a high amount of pectin. So, just by adding lemon juice, you’ll naturally raise the amount of pectin in your jam.
- Add all the sugar. Yes, this recipe contains 4 cups of sugar, which is more than some recipes and less than others. For this recipe, 4 cups was the perfect amount. Sugar does a whole lot more in jam than sweetened it up. Sugar binds the water in the fruit so that it can’t interfere with thickening. Reducing the amount will leave you with more of a strawberry rhubarb sauce instead of jam. (Also, keep in mind that a tablespoon of this jam only contains 3-4 grams of sugar.)
- Cook it long enough. You’ve simply got to let some of the excess water in the fruit evaporate, a process that only happens if you cook it long enough. “Long enough” will vary. For me, with the particular batch of fruit that I used in the strawberry rhubarb jam that you see here, “long enough” was about an hour and a half. If you’re working with less (or more) juicy strawberries, or live in a different climate or at a different altitude than I do, “long enough” might be different. So how do you know when you’ve reached “long enough”?
How to know when jam is set.
Jam thickens as it cools. So, the jam that’s bubbling away on the stovetop might be “done”, meaning it’s cooked long enough to thicken up after you’ve taken it off the heat and ladled it into jars. But how do you know???
Before you begin cooking your jam, place a small dish in the freezer. After about an hour of cooking, remove the dish and spoon a teaspoon or two of jam onto the frozen dish. Let it sit for a minute or so, then run your finger through the jam to test it’s consistency. The frozen plate will cool the jam down quickly, helping you know right away whether or not the jam is done or needs to cook for a bit longer.
How long does homemade jam last?
If you process your strawberry rhubarb jam in a hot water bath, it should keep for up to two years, as long as you store it in a relatively cool, dark place. If you choose to freeze it instead, the jam will maintain fantastic taste and texture for up to 6 months, and probably as long as a year.
Unprocessed jam stored in the refrigerator (or processed jars that have been opened) should keep for at least 3 weeks.
You might also like…
- No Peel, Slow Cooker Apple Butter
- Sugar Free Homemade Applesauce
- No Pectin Peach Preserves
- Thumbprint Cookies with Peach Preserves
Useful Canning Tools:
- Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner, Including Chrome-Plated Rack and 4-Piece Utensil Set
- Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit (by Jarden Home Brands)
- Ball FreshTech Auto Canning Jar
- Ball Mason Jars 8 oz capacity Set of 12
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
- 7 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 7 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, stems removed and cut in half
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (more to taste)
- 1 tsp almond extract (more to taste)
- Put the pieces of rhubarb and strawberries in a large heavy bottom saucepan. Add the sugar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Once the jam begins to boil, partially cover the pan, adjusting the lid so that it covers about 80% of the pan. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer rather than a violent boil.
- Put a small dish in the freezer. Cook the jam for at least one hour, and up to two hours, stirring frequently, especially towards the end of cooking. (Be cautious as you stir; as the jam begins to thicken, it will splatter.) After an hour of cooking, remove the frozen dish from the freezer and spoon a teaspoon or two of jam onto it. Let the jam sit on the frozen dish for a minute or so to cool, then run your finger through it to test the consistency. If it’s still quite runny, put the dish back in the freezer and keep cooking, re-testing it every 15 minutes or so.
- When the jam has thickened up enough, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.
To freeze the jam:
- Ladle the jam into jars, leaving about 1-inch of room at the top of the jar, and let sit out on the counter, uncovered for an hour or two, until cooled to room temperature. Screw the lids onto the jars and place in the freezer. The jam will keep in the freezer for 6-12 months.
To process in a hot water bath:
- Pour the jam into sterilized, dry glass jars leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top. Using a damp cloth or paper towel, wipe the tops of the jar to ensure a clean seal. Cap and screw on lids, leaving them a bit loose.
- Bring a large pot of water, or water-bath canner, to a rolling boil and gently lower the jars into the boiling water using tongs. The water should cover the jars by at least 1/2 inch. Let process for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the water bath and place upside down on a dry towel laid out on a flat surface. Allow to cool completely.
- Once the jars are cool, check the seal by gently pressing down on the center of the lid. if it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. if that should happen to a jar or two, just store the preserves in the refrigerator and use it within 3 weeks. (Or freeze for 6-12 months) Properly sealed jars can be stored in a cool dark place for up to 2 years.
Keywords: homemade jam, how to make strawberry rhubarb jam, strawberry rhubarb jam recipe with no pectin
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