I’m going to tell you the truth about this post. The tone was completely different the first time I wrote it. I was singing a completely different tune. You see, I was planning on telling you how I had come to the conclusion that all of those annoying rules about making jam at home were just for suckers. I was going to tell you that I had figured out how to make excellent jam by just trusting my heart and having fun. But then I realized that in this case my heart just couldn’t be trusted.
In the past, jam seemed like too much trouble for little pay off. All that fruit? Too expensive. Giant pots, specials tongs, funnels, racks, pectin? Who has the space and energy for that? Pounds of sugar? No thanks. Botulism? I think that's a real thing we should be scared of. I say Bonne Maman is pretty good, right?
But then I had some real luck making my version of dreamy, easy jam. I had a bunch of leftover fruit that I just threw in a skillet. I made up my own sugar to fruit ratio that seemed credible. I cooked the fruit until it just felt right and sealed the jars by simply turning them over. No rules. No pectin. No funnels. This method just kept working. I was on jam easy street. Everything I touched turned to perfectly wonderful jam and I thought, “This is simple! I’ve cracked the jam code! Jam rules are for the birds!” My head was so big.
Then I made some really bad jam. Overly sweet, over-cooked, rock hard, and super- disappointing. I was too cocky. The simple ingredient list fooled me. I made a few delicious batches off the cuff and thought that I had it all figured out. And then jam gave me the cold shoulder and put me right in my place.
I’ll tell you what I figured out. Jam is kind of serious. Making it at home is
simple, but there are a few tricks. If you learn them, you can create
spectacular, gift-worthy, summer-in-a-jar jam. If you don’t, you may
find yourself crying into a sticky pot.
Here's what works for me. My jamandments, if you will...
1. Use a big, wide pot and make small batches: More surface area and less fruit means a shorter cooking time and a smaller chance of overcooking your glorious bounty. (I also cut cooking time by throwing my fruit with the sugar the night before so the juices release while I sleep. Food that works while you rest. Yes!)
2. Use less sugar: I use 1/2 cup sugar per pound of fruit, adjusting by about 1/4 cup up or down depending on the sweetness of the fruit. A lot of recipes call for tons of sugar for a perfect set. Too much sugar kills the fantastic fruit flavor. Taste trumps set if you ask me.
3. Test for the proper consistency : Remember - hearts cannot be trusted. Coddle the baby jam and take its temperature. 220° is the sweet spot (I tend to stop around 215° just to be safe.) Test it on an ice-cold plate. Or, try the sheet test. More testing specifics here.
4. Process the jars for safe and happy jam consumption: Apparently, the upside down method has flaws. Don’t waste all of that hard work. Pop those sterile, filled jars in a water bath. Or tuck them in the freezer for later. Or just eat it all in a week. Mmm. That last option sounds the best.
OK. Enough rules. I’m sorry we
had to go there. I’m just thinking of all your
future jams. And your kids’ jam. And their kids’ jam.
Blueberry Ginger Jam
Makes 3 8 ounce jars
2 1/2 pounds wild blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
3 lemons, juiced
1. In a large bowl, combine blueberries and sugar. Cover and refrigerate until the sugar has mostly dissolved and the berries have let their juice, 12 to 24 hours. (Skip this step if you have a time restrictions. No trouble.)
2. Add berry mixture to a large skillet and bring to a simmer over medium-high, stirring frequently. Add lemon juice and ginger. Cook until the jam is thick and gelled. (Double check the consistency with one of the the three tests I mentioned above.)
3. Ladle into sterilized jars and process as you see fit.