Last Spoon we talked about butter, so now let’s talk about jam.
I can’t think of anything lovelier than opening a jar of homemade preserves in the dead of winter (okay, as dead as a California winter can be) and being hit with the scent of fresh peaches, still warm from the sun. If you really want to ruin your children for life, feed them homemade jam. I speak from experience. I can never look at Smucker’s again. It’s a twofold affair really. There’s of course the sublime taste of the fresh fruit, straight into the jar, that cannot be matched by anything at the store. More importantly, though, is the memory of my mother standing over the stove in the cool of an August morning, stirring and pouring and tightening lids, and packaging up little bits of our summer for us to pull out on cloudier days to come.
Making jam is not hard, so please don’t be scared away by the length of this post. I meant to put this up a few weeks ago so everyone would have more of the season to find fruit, but I had a camera fiasco…. In any case, depending on where you live you can probably find a last crop of figs or strawberries, or perhaps even late harvest peaches. If you can’t, save the recipe for next season. Sealed jams should last approximately 1 year when stored in cool, dark areas. I plan to give my jam out as Christmas gifts this year alongside a small bag of homemade cookies or treats.
PICKING FRUIT: When you look for fruit the most important component is flavor, not to be confused with sweetness. Some of the best jam I made was from plums that weren’t very soft or sweet, but had an amazing tang. You can always add sugar, but you can’t recreate flavor.
SONOMA STRAWBERRY JAM I had been having trouble all summer finding good strawberries. Every basket I tried just didn’t have any flavor. As September passed and October began to draw to a close I gave up hope of finding any that were worthy of jamming. However, one evening a very special someone brought home a flat of fresh, sun-ripened strawberries from Sonoma, and my summer was made. We sat at our counter all evening picking at the small, juicy red treasures, and I still had enough for a whole batch of Sonoma Strawberry Jam.
Have all of your equipment and ingredients ready to go before you start. Again, it’s not hard, but once you get started cooking the fruit the process needs to happen quickly. You will need 8-12 jam jars and metal lids, which are usually available at hardware stores. I like 4 ounce and 8 ounce sizes. You will also need a wide-mouthed jam funnel (like this one), a long magnet for lifting sterilized lids onto the filled jars, plenty of clean dish cloths (dry and some dampened), a long-handled strainer or sieve, one envelope of pectin (I prefer the Certo liquid/gel kind) cut opened and sitting upright in a cup or bowl, and a large stockpot. Set it all up like this…
For strawberry jam you will also need
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter (optional but helps prevent foaming during the cooking phase)
- About 4 baskets (pints) of strawberries
- 7 cups sugar
- Set up all of your equipment, close to the stove. Measure out the sugar into a bowl and set aside.
- Unscrew all the lids from the jars and put the flat lids into a pot or heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water over the lids to sterilize them and set them aside until you’re ready to put them on the filled jars. Wash the rest of the jars in hot, soapy water, dry, and set aside.
- Wash the strawberries and pull out their stems, taking care not to take too much of the fruit along with them. Using a pastry blender or potato masher, crush them into small pieces. Measure out 4 cups of the crushed fruit. If you have extra, save it and pour on top of ice cream or yogurt!
- Put the fruit into the large stockpot and turn on medium-high. Add the sugar slowly, and then the butter. Turn heat on high and start stirring!
- When the mixture comes to a FULL BOIL (still stirring constantly) add the pectin. Be sure to squeeze the gel out carefully – don’t squeeze the package too hard or you’re going to have a real mess on your hands. Allow to boil for 1 minute and then take the pot off the heat. Carefully skim as much foam as you can off of the top.
- Place the jam funnel on top of a jar and ladle jam mixture into the jar so that it comes to within about 1/4 -1/8 inch of the top. Wipe the rims with one of those damp cloths you had handy and then use the magnet to drop a flat lid on top. Quickly screw the rim on. It’s okay if you don’t have a magnet; just use tongs or very clean hands to drop the flat lids on.
- When all the jars are filled, quickly go back and make sure all the lids are tightly screwed on. Then, invert all the jars for exactly five minutes. This is what will seal them. Note: if you are selling your jam the USDA mandates that you must use a hot water bath to seal the jars instead of the inversion method. There should be simple instructions for this included with your pectin.
- When your five minutes are over turn the jars back over and spread them out so plenty of air can flow around the jars, helping to cool the jam. You will need too let them stand like this, untouched or bumped for about 24 hours while the jam “sets up” or gels. During this time the lids will also seal completely. Listen for the fun little popping noises as the flat lids pull themselves inwards. After 24 hours check to make sure all of the lids have done this. If one failed to seal stick it in the fridge….cook’s treat.
If you’re making PLUM you will need about 3 1/2 pounds plums, which you should pit, finely chop, and simmer with 1/2 cup water for about 5 minutes. You should get 4 1/2 cups cooked plums. Using this as the fruit, follow instructions above and use 7 1/2 cups sugar.
There is something magical about making jam; bottling up that fresh taste of spring and summer. I look forward to playing around a bit this winter with pears, spicy apple butters, and marmalade. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy.
Recipes adapted from Certo, but mostly from my mom.