How to Make Strawberry Rhubarb Jam without Pectin
This delicious homemade strawberry rhubarb jam recipe does not include any added pectin, but DOES include a couple of secret ingredients that will have everyone thinking you're a jam making genius. If you decide to share, that is. 😉
"This recipe is simply amazing! Who knew pepper would add so much to jam? Brilliant! I used fine ground white pepper, and it worked beautifully. I also used bottled lemon juice and added a tiny bit more than the recipe. Thank you so much for all the wonderful info you shared with this article!" - Lauren
"I made a very small batch last weekend, and bought more rhubarb to make a large batch today. It’s so good! Strawberry-rhubarb pie is my specialty, love this crustless option to get the same flavor." - Louise
"Love this recipe!!!!! Will certainly use this again. Thanks!" - Kathy
This is the Best summer jam recipe
I have made at least one batch of homemade strawberry jam every summer for decades. But, until a couple of years ago, it never occurred to me to add rhubarb. Once I did, I knew I'd never go back to plain strawberry because this stuff is crazy good. Even my rhubarb hating husband can't get enough.
My 6 favorite ways to eat this jam:
- Spread over a warm from the oven Flaky Homemade Buttermilk Biscuit
- Slathered over thick slices of toasted Homemade White Bread OR hearty slices of Homemade Whole Wheat Bread
- On my favorite fluffy, Everyday Quick Pancakes
- In Peach Almond Thumbprint Cookies - Use strawberry rhubarb jam in place of peach jam
- As a delicious filling for soft layers of Vanilla Cake
- As a replacement for cherry jam in these Cherry Shortbread Crumble Bars
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 ¾ 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 black pepper to fruit is not 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?
Yes. 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 (104 degrees C), it forms a gel that thickens fruit jam, jelly, and preserves.
Do you have to add pectin to fruit jam?
No. 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 this jam to 220 degrees F (104 degrees C). It's important to make sure that the jam reaches 220 degrees F (104 degrees C), 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 (800g) 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.
- 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.
- 7 cups (700g) fresh rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 7 cups (1162g) fresh or frozen strawberries, stems removed and cut in half
- 4 cups (800g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (*see note)
- ½ - 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (to taste)
- ½ - 1 teaspoon almond extract (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. (*See note)
- 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. (*See the note below about what to do if the jam doesn't set.)
- When the jam has thickened up enough, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Start with ½ teaspoon of each, taste and add as much more as you like. At this point you can add more black pepper if you like as well.
To freeze Strawberry Rhubarb 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 Strawberry Rhubarb Jam in a hot water bath:
- Pour the jam into sterilized, dry glass jars leaving about ¼ 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 ½ 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.
How much black pepper should you use in this recipe?
If you are sensitive to the flavor of black pepper, or feel that the pepper you have is particularly spicy, start with ½ teaspoon and add more to taste if you like. You can also use white pepper, which tends to be much milder than black pepper.
On the other hand, if the pepper you have is mild, or if you just want a more pronounced "kick", feel free to add more than the 1 teaspoon that the recipe calls for.
What to do if your jam isn't reaching 220 degrees F (104 degrees C):
I've heard from a few readers who have had a difficult time getting their jam to 220 degrees F (104 degrees C). If you're jam isn't reaching that temperature, don't be afraid to turn the heat up a bit. If you do turn up the heat, be sure to stir it more often so the jam on the bottom of the pan doesn't burn.
It's also important to make sure you're using a thermometer with the correct temperature calibration. If the temperature reading on your thermometer is off, it can be difficult to know if your jam is getting to the right temperature.
What to do if your jam doesn't set:
Wait 48 hours. Let the jam sit for 48 hours because sometimes it takes that long for the pectin to set up. If it still didn’t set, you can re-cook it with a bit of additional pectin. For every 4 cups of jam, whisk together ¼ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon powdered pectin. Add the jam to a saucepan and add the sugar/ pectin mixture. Stir to dissolve the pectin and bring the jam to a boil. You want it to boil vigorously for about 5-10 minutes, stirring often.
If you put a plate in the freezer ahead of time, you’ll be able to check to see when the jam is ready. Pull the plate from the freezer and scoop a spoonful of jam onto the plate. The cold plate will cool the jam quickly so you can see if it’s set.
Can you replace the sugar with honey or agave?
One reader wrote in to tell me that she substituted the sugar for a mixture of honey and agave and had great results. Here's what she said, "I did make it with honey and agave (I only had a little of each) and I did ¾ cup of each sweetener to replace 1 cup sugar. It tastes great and when I did the frozen plate test it got to the desired jam texture." Thank you Brooke!
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McSunley Medium Stainless Steel Prep N Cook Water Bath Canner, 21.5 quart, Silver
Premium Canning Kit | 7-Piece Stainless Steel Canner Set includes Essential Tools: Ladle, Canning Funnel, Jar Lifter, Bubble Remover, Kitchen Tongs, Jar Wrench
Ball Regular Mouth Mason Jars 8 oz, 12 Pack Canning Jars
Granite Ware Covered Preserving Canner with Rack, 12-Quart
Nutrition Information:Yield: 48 Serving Size: 2 tbsp
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 77Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 38mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 1gSugar: 18gProtein: 0g
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