The first time I ever saw someone make jam I was horrified. It was a terribly hot summer day and my jam-making friend, a woman who’d never seemed insane before that day, was boiling great vats of strawberries and sugar at a rate so furious you could barely see the stove for all the steam. Hot fruit was splattered everywhere: walls, floor, stove, people. The kitchen was an inferno of sticky, sweet goo. Hot, sticky fruit hurts. So does the boiling water she used to seal the jars. Jam making looked about as safe as climbing into an active volcano, and about as senseless.
But don’t those raspberries look beautiful? And what can you do when there are so many of them in the market and you’ve eaten all you can every day for weeks? And they don’t cost very much?
It occurred to me about ten years after the jam making debacle, that possibly jam could be made in smaller batches — microbrewed, as it were.
And that is what I do when I make jam. After much experimentation I’ve come up with a few rules:
- I only make two kinds of jam: raspberry and apricot. Why? Because neither is too sweet and both are absolutely beautiful to look at.
- I make small batches in a beautiful copper preserving kettle I bought at Sur La Table for the ridiculously cheap price of $49. (It is a lot of money, but not for something you use all summer long, year after year, and to perfect effect.)
- I do not use pectin. I don’t like the way it makes the jam congeal. I use three ingredients only: lemon juice, fruit and sugar. That’s it.
- I make the jam in small jars. That way, if I give some away, I’m not giving away everything I have. Plus, it just looks nicer in small jars — more jewel-like.
- I do not use a hot water bath. I have a secret (well, not so secret, just wonderful) way of sealing it that works quite well.
Here are some specifics. First, the raspberry jam recipe. It comes from a book called Preserving in Today’s Kitchen by Jeanne Lesem. (Ms. Lesem was born in Kansas, raised during the Depression in small towns in Arkansas and, from the book jacket, appears to have been a journalist in New York City. I’d love to read her autobiography.)
- 3 (6 ounce) trays of raspberries
- 2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- Set an open 8 ounce canning jar upside down in the center of a microwavable glass measure or casserole. Distribute the berries around it, add the lemon juice, cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes. (You can also just do this on the stove, heating the berries for a few minutes, to get the juices flowing.) Let stand for two minutes.
- Transfer berries and juice to a 1 1/2 quart saucepan, add 3/4 cup (6 ounces) sugar bring to a boil quickly, and boil rapidly until slightly thickened.
- Pack into a hot sterilized 12-ounce jar, seal with one of those two-part canning rings you get when you buy canning jars , invert for 5 minutes, then set upright to cool. (You’ll often hear the sound of the jars popping, which is the sound of a vacuum being made to keep the jam preserved.) This is the wonderful method of making the jam air tight, so it will keep for the long winter, when raspberries seem a world away.
That’s it. When I went outside to get the lemons, the bush was a thing of beauty:
You can do this in two parts, by the way. Today, I prepared the raspberries up to the point where you do the boiling. I tripled this recipe (which still isn’t a lot) and then heated them up a bit with the lemon juice.And then I added sugar, put them in containers and stuck them in the fridge. They looked like this right before I added the sugar:
They’re in the fridge now, macerating and gaining flavor. Tomorrow, I’ll boil them for about 15 minutes — nothing too dangerous — and then put them in jars, turn the jars upside down for five minutes and bob’s your uncle.
Next? I’m still determined to do those tea cakes. Plus, I’ve got some awfully beautiful apricots to make into jam.
Part Two can be found here.