There are a few common misconceptions about jam-making that I don’t quite get. And I’d like to clear them up now, if possible.
1) you must make an enormous batch, requiring pounds of fruit, an enormous pot and every square inch of counter space available.
2) you must use proper canning equipment, buy jars with sealable lids, and process your jam at so many pounds per inch for a precise length of time, lest you give someone botulism.
3) you must buy packaged pectin, be exact with your measurements and then feel some degree of panic over the possibility that your jam might not set.
4) it will take you all day, or at least most of the afternoon.
Really guys, it’s just not that big a deal. Jam is just fruit cooked down with sugar and acid (ie. lemon juice). So why can’t you just mash up a pot and simmer it while you do other things? What’s wrong with making a cup or two at a time, enough to last the next week or so, instead of needing to fill a dozen jars and stock your pantry shelves for winter? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
I had a big bowl of strawberries left over from the display of a foodstyling job on Wednesday, and even the boys barely made a dent in them. I have zero freezer space left – I doubt I’d find room for even a single strawberry – so jam seemed a good solution. The seed was planted when I got an email offering a copy of 250 Home Preserving Favorites for Free Stuff Friday! I adore preserving books.
I planned on making the recipe for Strawberry Fig Jam with Balsamic Vinegar that came in the email, but didn’t have fresh figs, and they aren’t in season. At 4:30 I spotted the rapidly deteriorating bowl of berries, hulled them while talking on the phone, mashed them with a potato masher and threw them in my cast-iron skillet.
The advantage of using a skillet: more surface area, so the fruit cooks far more quickly. I added a half cup of sugar (you could add more, but I like jam not overly sweet, and for the flavour to come through) and squeezed in the juice of half a lemon, and it came to a simmer quickly. It cooked for ten minutes; I stirred it now and then – more often as it got thicker, breaking up the berries a bit more with my spoon – and when it was thick enough that it a) looked like jam, and b) left a trail when I dragged the spoon through it, it was done. It was 4:45.
I had intended to do a quick skillet jam with balsamic, but after a rough day I was in the mood for something more friendly and comforting – like vanilla. I stirred a bit of the good stuff in as I took the jam off the heat. (If you want a balsamic version, add about a tablespoon along with the lemon juice.) Now I have no choice but to make scones in the morning.
Skillet Strawberry Jam
1 L strawberries (4 cups), hulled
1/2 cup sugar
juice of half a lemon (about 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract (optional)
In a bowl, roughly mash your strawberries with a potato masher (you may need to lean into it at first, to get them going) or squeeze them with your fingers. Put them into a large skillet (cast iron is perfect!) with the sugar and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often and breaking up large chunks of berry with your spoon, until it thickens and your spoon leaves a trail across the bottom of the pan. (It should take about 10 minutes.) If you like, stir in the vanilla. Cool. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
And since I mentioned it – here’s Yvonne’s recipe for Fig Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar. Yum.
Fig Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar
from 250 Home Preserving Favorites by Yvonne Tremblay
3 cups crushed strawberries
2 cups finely chopped fresh dark figs
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, or to taste
1 tbsp lemon juice
5 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1. In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pot, combine strawberries, figs, vinegar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
2. Add sugar in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently, stirring often and reducing heat further as mixture thickens, for 18 to 22 minutes or until thickened. Use a potato masher to further break down figs. Test for setting point.
3. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
4. Ladle into sterilized jars to within 1?4 inch (0.5 cm) of rim; wipe rims. Apply prepared lids and rings; tighten rings just until fingertip-tight.
5. Process jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Transfer jars to a towel-lined surface and let rest at room temperature until set. Check seals; refrigerate any unsealed jars for up to 3 weeks.
Right, it’s time to give away a copy of 250 Home Preserving Favorites. Now, I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t really report on it. But I can tell you it was written by Yvonne Tremblay, a four-time Grand Champion Jam and Jelly Maker at the Royal Winter Fair, so I imagine she knows her stuff. If I’m going to learn how to make jams and jellies from someone, the best authority I can think of is someone who wins preserve contests at country fairs. 250 recipes should take you through the summer just fine. Besides jams and jellies there are marmalades, chutneys and barbecue sauces. I’m all about the condiments.
So shall we share what dinner was last night? Or on the subject of preserves, do you have any favourites? Feel free to provide links!
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