The short answer:
If you want 8 pints of strawberry jam in a year, and have two reasonably adept cooks in the kitchen, making a year’s worth of jam takes about 2.5 hours from buying the berries to a clean kitchen. So in the time it takes to go to a theater and take in a movie – and for about the same price as two tickets and some snacks – you can make enough jam to last you quite a while.
Keep reading for all the caveats and “your mileage may vary.”
The long answer
The #1 reason I hear from people why they find home food preservation intimidating is “it takes too much time.” Believe me – I understand being busy and I’m not conceited enough to presume to tell people that they do, in fact, have time to preserve their own food – but I thought folks might like some raw data so they can decide that more easily for themselves.
Here’s what I found today as my sweetie and I made strawberry jam. We took 8 quarts of berries (a flat; about 12 lb) and ended up with just short of 8 pints of jam. The first lesson is that having two people working really compacts the time needed, because as one person is cooking the jam down, the other can keep prepping berries and/or start cleaning the kitchen.
Gathering supplies – < 1/2 hour
- Strawberries: 15 minutes tacked on to a trip we were already taking – picked up a flat of 8 quarts of berries.*
- Getting the canner, jars, etc. out of storage and setting up the kitchen – 10 minutes
- We had sugar and lemon juice because I knew we’d be canning and bought them when sugar was on sale a month ago.
Preparing the berries – 30-45 minutes
This time is pretty variable depending on how fast you can cut the berries.
- Wash, hull, and cut the first 4 quarts of strawberries: about an hour. At this point, Scott started cooking the first 2 batches of jam and I kept cutting up the last strawberries.
- If we’d been doing raspberry or blueberry jam, we’d just rinse them and proceed – maybe 10 minutes, total.
- During this time, your jars are heating in the canner on the stove.
Cooking the jam and cleaning the kitchen – about an hour
This is a little more complicated to explain, because of the “multiple batches” necessary. You can only cook up so much jam at once, because it will foam up and run over the pot, and if you do too big a batch, it might not set. (This is especially true if you use added pectin and like a very firm jam.) We found today we can do 3 quarts of berries in a , keep it in the pot, and come up with a perfectly acceptable jam. It’s a little soft, but not runny – just how we like it.
So at this point, Scott took the canner off the stove and set it aside. He then had room to put two pans on the stove – each with 2 quarts of berries, two cups of sugar and 1/4 c of lemon juice. He was able to tend both of them for long enough for me to cut up the last few quarts of berries – then we each took a spoon and stirred and stirred until the jam was cooked down.
Then we put all the jam in one pan and he started cooking the third batch in the freshly-emptied pan (don’t bother washing it; just put the lemon juice and a tiny bit of water in the bottom of the pan to keep the berries from sticking). I put the first batches of jam in the jars, and put the jars into the canner – it was still plenty warm though it had been off the stove for 30-45 mins at that point. We put the canner back onto the stove now that a burner had opened up and starting bringing it up to boiling. Scott kept cooking and started cleaning the kitchen. By the time the third batch was ready to jar, the kitchen was clean and I’d had a snack.
Important note: you can’t hurry up the cooking phase. I wouldn’t try cooking more than 3 quarts of berries in one pot. Use extra burners, if needed (those portable electric or butane burners are amazingly handy) but don’t just put it all one one pot.
Canning the jam and finishing cleaning – 15 minutes
Now, with all 8 pints of jam in the canner, the jars just had to process for 15 minutes. We used that time to finish cleaning the last pot and a few utensils.
So, all told, we were finished after about 2 hours kitchen time and we’ll say 1/2 hour of outside the kitchen prep for gathering supplies.
- I have a lot of canning experience, and Scott’s got two seasons under his belt now. Our rhythm of working together is pretty good.
- There are no small people in the house demanding our attention while we cook.
- Eight pints might not be a year’s worth of jam for you. Until we started making yogurt and putting jam in it (fruit on the bottom!), we ate maybe one pint of jam a year. Now it’s about one pint every 3 weeks. So we usually need 2-3 jam sessions each year. Still – that’s fairly pleasant afternoons with my sweetie. Better than weeding…
- Doing this alone would have added an hour or 90 minutes to the total time, I think.
- It’s sometimes hard to extrapolate time vs. quantity of jam because what’s most important is the number of batches you have too cook down and process. If you cook 2 quarts in a batch instead of 3, you don’t save much time (maybe 15 mins of prep and a few minutes cooking) – so go ahead and make your pots as full as is practical.
- Finally remember that other berries have a lot less prep than strawberries. We could have done raspberry jam (with the seeds left in) in about half the time, I think.
So – your results may vary, especially if you’re new to canning, but this is at least some sense of the time it takes to put up strawberry jam.
* We found buying strawberries to be nearly the same price as picking our own. These berries were $28 for a flat ($3.50/quart). Picking our own would have cost $19 in berries and $7.50 in gas (two gallons). So seriously – paying someone else $1.50 to pick the berries and bring them 25 miles closer to my house seems like a bargain, and also saved about three hours of time.