Jam-apalooza: improv jam recipe
Do you make jam? Home preserving is hot, hot, hot, and not just for those sweltering over the stove. The makers of Ball jars report record sales, and they’re helping things along by sponsoring canning demonstrations and contributing funds through the Farmers Market Coalition.
The good folks at Ball also sent me what they call a discovery kit, and it makes me wonder why no one thought of it sooner. It’s a basket that holds three 1 1/2 cup jars, perfect for using in my stock pot. For people new to the process, it’s a great introduction before you go out and buy lots of bulky equipment.
One of the things I like about making my own preserves is that I can play around with flavor combinations. Alas, strawberry season is finished already here in the Midwest, but a few weeks ago I bought a flat of Michigan strawberries, and made some strawberry bourbon sauce and the classic jam you see here. My finest effort, if I say so myself.
Next up: brambleberry-blueberry jam. A few weekends back, I beat the birds to a generous quart or so of wild black raspberries, now resting in the freezer to be joined by some blueberries from a neighbor’s farm. My inspiration is my friend Kelly’s “hedgerow jam” from the wilds of the Driftless region of Wisconsin. Once I saw a little jar in her fridge, I knew I needed to make my own. As soon as I could scrounge up enough wild berries before the birds feasted. At last, the day arrived. Stand by.
My jam-apalooza agenda: mix up the flavors
I’ve decided that a good goal is to work my way through the fruit season to see for myself how each fruit behaves, and which flavors I prefer. My strawberry may be hard to beat. Although my blueberry basil jam is a close second. But onward.
I plan to try different combinations in my summertime jam-apalooza:
- Riesling, sauterne or flavorful white wine for lighter fruits like apricots and peaches.
- Chopped herbs such as strawberry with rosemary or thyme, or raspberry and cilantro
- Finely chopped fresh or candied ginger in rhubarb, peach or strawberry
- Fruit combinations - remember “what grows together goes together.” I’ll try the classic strawberry-rhubarb or mixed berry. Maybe sweet and tart cherries together for the five minutes they’re available at the same time, or some of the brandied cherries from last year, if there are any. Or later in the season apple-pear, both with and without cinnamon.
If you want to play along, you’ll need a kitchen scale. If you don’t have one, order online or scoot to your kitchen supply store - they’re reasonably priced and you’ll use it more than you thought.
Janine’s improv jam “recipe” (and I use the word loosely)
Weigh the prepared fruit (cut into bite-size pieces, without pits, hulls or anything else that you wouldn’t swallow). Then measure an equal weight of sugar. Pour both into a large pan. You can use a deep saucepan if you’re nervous about boiling over, or a substantial skillet, which will give you a larger surface area for the liquid to dissipate faster.
Add about 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice per quart or so of fruit. This helps with the thickening, and also balances the flavor so your jam is not too cloyingly sweet.
Bring to a rapid boil over medium high heat. Stir frequently with a rubber scraper to avoid any scorched bits on the bottom of your pan, which could contaminate the flavor of your entire batch. Turn the heat down slightly to avoid boiling over at the beginning until some of the liquid evaporates, then gradually step it up to keep the boil going. The more quickly you reach a jammy consistency, the less “cooked” your jam will taste. In other words, it’ll taste more like summer.
As it cooks, I sometimes smash the mixture a few times with a potato masher because I don’t care for huge bits of fruit in my jam. Decide your own taste and go with it. Add your other flavorings after about 15 minutes or so.
When the jam coats the back of your rubber spatula with a film rather than running off, it’s time to start testing. You can do this by putting a plate or several spoons in the freezer, or by putting a small bowl in an ice bath, sort of like a chilled double boiler.
Remove the saucepan from the heat to prevent it cooking further. Dribble some jam into your spoon/plate/bowl and move it around until it becomes room temperature, or pop it into the freezer for a minute or two. Once it has a thick consistency and doesn’t run, you’re ready to can it. If you like a thicker jam, return to a boil. My personal preference is for a looser jam, because I think the fruit tastes brighter. Decide your own preference and go from there.
I’m pretty casual about getting jam to set. If it’s runny, I use it as a sauce for ice cream. Marisa at Food In Jars has a great post about getting jam to set, and another about how to save runny jam. And the
Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (another gift from my friends at Ball) is a great resource, as is their new site Fresh Preserving.
If you’re making a small batch, say a couple cups, simply ladle your jam to a covered container and store in the fridge. If you’re making a few jars, stay tuned for an upcoming post on the canning process.