The arcane science of making jam.
It isn’t really all that arcane. Nor is it much of a science. You need four relatively simple ingredients: fruit, sugar, pectin, and lemon juice. You mix them together in a pot and voila, you have one of the tastiest and most useful ways of saving fruit. I wrote in a prior post that my favorite way to preserve the summer’s bounty of fruit is in rum, but jam is at least #2 on the list.
It’s true that the recipe consists of more than saying, ‘voila,’ but not really by all that much. Because it’s really not a science. As I said before, you put it in a pot. Eventually, after you’ve cooked it for a while, it thickens into jam. The art (for I won’t call it science again) is only in recognizing the point where your glop ceases to be glop and becomes instead jam.
Here’s how it works. You take a fruit, any fruit, and you remove any part you don’t want to eat. You put the rest in the pot. Let’s take an apple, for example: If you don’t want a giant apple skin in your jam, peel the apple. If you like little bits of apple skin in your jam, cut your apple skin into little bits. If you want big chunks of apple in your jam, use big chunks of apple. If you want something smoother, put it through a food processor. What I’m saying is, you can put almost anything you want into jam, as long as it’s edible, and what you put in is what you’re going to get out.
So you’ve put those chunks of apple into a pot and turned on the fire. If you cook it long enough, the water will begin to cook out, the flavors will start to concentrate, and your fruit will thicken first into syrup and eventually into jam. Everything else is window dressing.
Most people add lots of sugar. It thickens your fruit mixture, reducing the cooking time to jam. It also makes it sweeter, which may be totally unnecessary. Fruit it already pretty sweet. Fruit that has been cooked has sweetened further as the flavors have concentrated.
Pectin is just another thickening agent. Ergo, it is unnecessary but useful. As I’ve already said, if you cook fruit long enough, it becomes jam on its own. Sugar and pectin just speed up the process. I use the Sure Jell Pectin brand single serving boxes available in any grocery or hardware store. I’ve tried some other varieties that looked more cost effective, but they didn’t work very well. I use the low sugar variety of pectin. This doesn’t mean that your pectin has less sugar in it. Low sugar pectin means that your jam will need less sugar in order to solidify into jam. This means you get more fruit flavor and less pure sweet. A worthy trade-off to my mind.
So are you with me so far? Put cut-up fruit into a pot. Cook (stirring regularly) until it boils. Add sugar and pectin. Keep cooking until it comes to a boil again.
Last ingredient – lemon juice. The big fear with canning at home is that you’ll get mold or something into your jam. Mold doesn’t like acid. Lemon juice is very acidic. Adding a quarter cup or more drops the PH of your jam enough that stuff won’t grow in it.
But this is too vague! How much of each thing to I add?! Ok, here’s a template:
- 4 cups fruit (chopped)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 box low-sugar pectin
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- The stuff they sell by the bottle is fine.
Basically, cook the fruit until it reaches a slow boil. Add the sugar and cook until it reaches a slow boil. Add the pectin and continue to cook the potion until it thickens. Stir in the lemon juice. You’ve got jam.
I sometimes struggle to tell when it’s thickened enough. It will thicken as it cools down, but by how much? It’s still hot when you’re making the decision. One solution is to scoop some out with a spoon and set it aside. Once it cools down in a minute or two, it will be obvious whether or not cooling is sufficient enough to thicken it.
This will keep in your fridge for a couple of weeks in a Tupperware without any problem. Honestly, I’ve kept it in my fridge most of a year and never had any problems with it. If you would like it to keep longer, time to try canning.
I’ll write a post about that later.
Spoiler alert. Canning means storing in jars. It has nothing at all to do with cans. Go figure.