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.