Strawberry jam is practically a religion in my family. Both sets of my grandparents used to make their own varieties, picking the fruit fresh from their gardens. My Grandma Hellewell makes a delicious kind she calls "Heavenly Hash"; strawberry jam mixed with raspberries and blackberries, or whatever kind of berries you happen to have growing in your backyard.
As a child I knew no other way to have waffles than smothered in homemade strawberry jam and topped with a big dollop of whipped cream. I still prefer them this way. But until last year I had never made the jam myself. I always counted on grabbing a few jars out of the freezer when I was home visiting from college, or my grandmother would save a jar of Heavenly Hash so I could smuggle it in my luggage on trips back to New York.
Forget about salsa gardens, or cutting flower gardens.. someday I want a jam garden. But for now, I'll just buy strawberries at the store like everybody else (what I wouldn't give for a nice U Pick strawberry farm nearby). So when you've used up your last jar of jam and strawberries go on sale? Well then it's time to buy a few flats and make some jam.
You've got to chop your berries up, that's the first step. So we borrowed my parents old food grinder which does a terrific job of getting the berries to the perfect consistency, finer than a chop, but not too fine.. you still want little pieces of fruit. The grinder was my grandfather's. I have memories of him using it to chop onions Thanksgiving morning as he made his famous stuffing with LOTS of onions.
When my grandfather passed away the grinder ended up with his only daughter, my mom. I think I might have to arm wrestle my two sisters for it someday. The patent stamp on the back says 1899... 110 years old and it still works beautifully.
We prefer MCP pectin, according to my mom. You just follow the directions right on the package. We like to heat the jam just a touch while you're trying to dissolve the sugar, stirring constantly (JR is an excellent stirrer). I think a little chart helps too, if you're making more than one batch at a time. Six batches later, we have a nice stash for the winter. And plenty of extras to share with friends as well. Looks like we can start making waffles again.
I almost forgot to mention that at our wedding, I had the brilliant idea to give homemade strawberry jam as favors to all 180 of our guests. JR and my dad made batch after batch after batch of jam for about 3 days straight so each guest could take a jar home. (Did I say thank you, Dad? I appreciate it now a bit more, after having made a few batches!)