Urban Preserving: Small Batch Strawberry Vanilla Jam

June 2, 2011(updated on August 30, 2021)

one quart

As many of you know, I live in a fairly compact apartment (remember these pictures of my kitchen?). My husband and I have something in the neighborhood of 1,050 square feet that we call our own. In the last three years, my canning habit has expanded and between empty jars, full jars and equipment, occupies a goodly amount of our available storage space. Over the last 12 months, it was necessary as I was creating and testing recipes for my cookbook project.


This summer, I’ve decided that it’s time to scale back just a bit. And though I love having enough to give away to friends and family, I just don’t need to make vast batches of strawberry jam that yield five or six pints. For my own use, just a few half pint jars will most certainly do. And so I’m going to try something new here on the blog. Every week or two, I’ll be posted a recipe under the header “Urban Preserving.” These recipes will be small batch preserves, all scaled to use just a pint, a quart or pound of produce. The yields will be petite, perfect for those of you who have small households or are short on space, time or cash.

after macerating

Before I left town for the Memorial Day holiday, I turned a quart of strawberries into three half pints of strawberry vanilla jam. I bought the berries on a Sunday, chopped them up when I returned home from the farmers’ market and tossed them with a cup of sugar and two split vanilla beans. Poured into a jar, the berries took a three-day rest in the refrigerator. I didn’t actually intend to let them macerate for that long, but as so often happens, life was busy and I just could not find the time to make jam until Wednesday night.

small batch canning

One of the true joys of small batch canning is that there’s no need to pull out a giant pot to serve as your water bath. A small one does the job just fine. I have two such pots that work well as a tiny canning pot. The first is the asparagus pot that I wrote about here. The second is the tall, spouted pot you see above.

Called a 4th burner pot, this is truly one of the best and most versatile pieces of cookware I own. I love it for making pickles, because you can heat the brine in it and then pour it directly into the jars. It makes the perfect gravy pot during the holidays. It can double as a tea kettle. And because it’s got that rack, it makes a terrific small batch canning pot. See how perfectly those three half-pint Elite jars fit into it?


So, to catch up, I poured the jar of chopped, macerated strawberries into a 5 1/2 quart pot. I added an additional cup of sugar (bringing the total to 2 cups) and removed the vanilla bean pods. I turned up the heat and inserted a thermometer to track the temperature. I cooked the jam to 220 degrees and also eyeballed the back of the spoon, rivulet test. A lemon’s worth of juice and zest went it towards the end of cooking.

a full half pint

There’s another reason that making small batch jam is so satisfying. Because there’s less volume in the pot, it cooks down more quickly. That means it’s easier to get it to 220 degrees and often means that you can skip the pectin in recipes that might otherwise need it (I know that there are some of you who eschew the pectin entirely, but I’ve always found it necessary when making strawberry jam). Shorter cooking time also means a fresher tasting jam and such glowing color!

fresh out of the canner

The jam was poured into the hot half pint jars (it fit exactly, but I scraped every droplet out of the pot to ensure evenly filled jars), lids were applied and the jars were stacked into the rack. Lowered into the pot, they spent 10 minutes simmering in the handy 4th burner pot.

lidded up

Within 45 minutes of when I turned on the heat under my jam pot, the jars were out of the canner and pinging on the counter top. I took one jar up to Northampton last weekend to share with our hosts. The other two jars are tucked away for next winter.

A non-narrative, traditionally organized recipe is after the jump.

4.75 from 4 votes

Small Batch Strawberry Vanilla Jam


  • 1 quart strawberries a little over 1 1/2 pounds, should be approximately 4 cups of chopped berries
  • 2 cups sugar divided
  • 2 vanilla beans split and scraped
  • 1 lemon zested and juiced


  • Wash and chop berries. Toss them with 1 cup of sugar and the vanilla beans/seeds and place in a large jar or bowl.
  • Allow the berries to macerate for at least 2-3 hours and up to 72 hours.
  • When you're ready to make the jam, prepare three half pint jars.
  • Pour macerated strawberries into a large pot and add the remaining cup of sugar.
  • Bring to a boil and cook until the jam reaches 220 degrees, stirring very regularly.
  • Add the lemon zest and juice in the final 5 minutes of cooking.
  • Once the jam has reached 220 degrees, remove the pan from the heat.
  • Pour jam into your prepared jars.
  • Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in your canner for 10 minutes (normally I'd admonish you not to start your timer until the water has returned to a boil. However, as long as your water is quite hot when the jars go into the canner, the time it will take to return to boiling should be minimal).
  • When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a towel-lined counter top.
  • When jars are cool enough to handle, remove rings and check seals.
  • If any jars are not sealed, store them in the fridge and use them first.
  • Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place.

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175 thoughts on "Urban Preserving: Small Batch Strawberry Vanilla Jam"

  • Would it be possible to use some vanilla extract in place of the vanilla beans? They’re SO expensive where I live.

  • I made this last night – my first time ever making jam and the flavor was DIVINE! But — this morning I looked at my jars and the jam was still very wet/runny/watery looking…. I followed your directions… but something is amiss.
    I thought, as it cooled overnight, it would set or gel up better. Any advice? Shall I open them all up and cook it down some more, or what?

    1. Sarah, it is a soft set jam. It’s not going to be entirely firm like store-bought jams. However, if it’s runny like liquid, then it needed a few more minutes in the pan. With these small batch jams, you really do cook until they’re seeming quite thick and set. You can recook it, or you can use it in places where a runny jam is just the thing. Up to you.

      1. Thanks! I will just try cooking down a bit longer and see what happens. Runny or not – it is still so delicious!

  • The recipe was easy to follow, however, it came out a bit to runny. I cooked it again to try to let it thicken up. The taste seems nice, but really wanted the consistency a little thicker. I didn’t expect store bought consistency, but quite a bit thicker than it turned out.

    1. I just wanted to update my recent comment regarding the “Small Batch Strawberry Preserves”. As I mentioned the taste is very nice. I refrigerated one of the jar of preserves and the consistency became thicker, actually perfect. I will use this recipe again.

  • I’m so looking forward to making this as I walk around the resurfaced farmer’s markets and gear up for canning season! I’m curious though – for this, and your other Urban Preserving posts, can you safely double a recipe? And I’ve always wondered – if you’re canning a lot in one session, can you re-use water from one water bath to another (i.e. pull out one round of completed jars after the required time, and then immediately add a new set to the boiling water)? Or do you need to start with fresh water every time?

  • I tried this as my first time canning. I forgot the lemon juice, even though it was sitting on the counter ready to go! Do I need to store in the fridge?

    1. No, it will be fine. In that recipe, the lemon juice is just there for flavor balance, not for safety.

  • Thank you so much for this recipe. I made two batches last summer with strawberries our family picked. I am making two batches this week and hope to make at least a few more to last us the year. Those six little jars didn’t make it very long!

  • Marisa! YOU and your vanilla just saved our strawberry jam!!
    Every summer we pick four flats of local strawberries and make jam with our kids. This year, after the canning it looked runny and too light pink…it also tasted sour- not too little sugar sour, but off-sour.
    I was ready to toss it and my husband plowed on, recooking all of it! We added more sugar and it became kind of pruney. Again, I said “toss it!”.
    Coming across your vanilla idea saved our jam!!
    We added it in and it became delectable strawb-a-licious-ness!
    Thank you for sharing your adventures and solving our (mis)adventure!
    Making jam is more chemistry than I realized.

  • Hi! I was just wondering if it were okay if I were to substitute the sugar with honey instead? If that was possible, or would it affect the shelf-life of the jar?

  • How many 1/5 pints jars total did you end up with? I’m not using the 1/2 pint and wanted to know if it ends up being a pint and 1/5 or two pints. Just not sure with your pictures and forgive me if you mention it. Thanks!

  • Hello! This is now my third year making this delicious jam. Recently, our large front burner on our stove went out, and I can’t get the repair guy out for over a week. I had already prepped two batches of strawberries for jam, when I remembered the 4th burner pot you used in this recipe. I quickly ordered one online. I just stacked the three half-pint jars inside (the same squat wide ones you have pictured), and I was concerned that the top jar would not necessarily be completely submerged in the boiling water as the jars usually are when I use a larger pot. Is this still okay because the steam is hot enough to get the top jar to temperature? Or should I just do two at a time instead? I don’t want to have a jar fail; they are too precious! Thanks!

    1. If you have three wide mouth half pints (and not the extra squatty Collection Elite jars), it’s better to run them two at a time.

  • Hi Marisa! I was just wondering if blackberries can be substituted in this recipe? I have some wild blackberries & think it would be amazing with the vanilla. This is by far my favorite strawberry jam recipe! I would like to removed the seeds from the blackberries before making the jam. Just checking with you to see what needs to be changed to keep it safe for canning with this substitution. Thanks!!

    1. Lisa, just measure out as much blackberry pulp as you would use chopped strawberries. It should work just fine.

      1. Thanks so much! The lemon zest over-powered the blackberries & gave a bit of a bitter taste. But I’m so glad to know I can do this again & just use less zest. The set was beautiful! I’m making your pickled cherries next! Thanks again!!!

    1. The 4th burner pot holds three half pints if you’re using squatty collection Elite jars. It will hold two wide month half pints.

  • I accidentally added the lemon juice and zest with all the strawberry mixture at first. Will this ruin the whole batch?

    1. Nothing is ruined. You just get a more assertive lemon flavor if you save it until the end. But there’s no harm in making as you did it.

  • Hello, how long is the jam good for? I like to make jam for Christmas presents but have only ever done large batches. Excited to try this small batch recipe.

    1. The rule of thumb is that for best quality, you should use your homemade preserves within about a year.

  • Marisa,
    I love this recipe! I’m making it again but have only 1 vanilla bean. Can I add a dot of pure
    vanilla bean paste to make up for the 2nd bean? Thank you for always sharing great recipes and info. Small batches are awesome!

  • Hi! Do you think I could make a larger batch? For example … If I let the strawberries for six half-pints sit in the fridge with vanilla beans, then processed it sort of along the lines of the Ball Recipe, would it turn out? Thanks!

  • Thank you! I love your recipes and play with them to suit my tastes. This jam usually comes out a tad sweeter than I would like. So this time, I reduced sugar to 1 and 3/4 cup and added the rind and half the juice in while cooking (instead of the end). I kept the juice of 1/2 the lemon to adjust tastes at the end but didn’t need it. It turned with the right amount of sweetness for me, but also a little tangy, which I liked a lot. The fourth burner pot is wonderful for small batches like this!

  • Fresh Strawberries – nothing like them! The jam looks totally yummy. And I love the idea of added vanilla in the jam- YUM!. That jam looks fantastic! Strawberry jam is my weakness….I could spread it on cardboard, lol. Great recipe!
    Hope you’re having a good week 🙂

  • 5 stars
    Hi Marisa,
    I love this jam recipe! I have made it twice now–once with Meyer Lemons and once with regular yellow lemons. Both are tasty. Thanks for your recipes and the wealth of information that you share on your site.
    Could you please answer one question? Very often your jam recipes call for the juice and/or zest of one lemon or more. Could you please give me the general lemon measurements of the juice and zest in tablespoons and teaspoons? In lieu of that, what weight in ounces are the size lemons you use before preparing them? Lemons vary greatly in size, and the amount of juice and zest they contain. No doubt, you have a size that you reach for when shopping for your recipes. That info would be great to know, so that I can reproduce your recipes as closely as possible. I understand that some recipes use a certain amount to ensure proper acidity in the finished jam, while others have lemon added for the flavor boost they provide. The latter is, of course, subjective to the taste preferences of the person creating the jam. Still, I would love to know your lemon measurements both for safety, and as a great starting point in determining how much to use.

    1. Frieda, I don’t measure the lemon juice and zest in spoons, so I don’t have that measurement to give you. The juice and zest of fresh lemons are there for flavor, so it’s not going to impact the safety if you end up using 1/2 teaspoon more or less than I did. Use what tastes good to you. Grocery store lemons are typically around the same size (larger than a clementine, smaller than a juicing orange I guess).
      When I am using lemon juice for safety, I call for bottled juice and I tell you precisely how much to use.

  • 4 stars
    This recipe is nice and simple. We had 14lbs of strawberries from picking on Father’s Day. The flavor is great. One note, I took some learnings from others whose jams were too runny and I simmered mine for about a half hour or more. When I finished, it was maybe the consistency of tomato soup, i.e., very runny. But as one other commenter noted, it firms up significantly in the fridge. (I think this also has to do with the pectin in lemon zest.) So now that same batch has more of the consistency of fig paste, so a good bit TOO sticky and gelled. So I guess the lesson here is, it’s okay if it’s super runny. You want it to firm into jam, not food processed dates!