(This is from a session we did back in May. Better late than never, right?)
I had planned on another baking lesson. Then the hot, dry Santa Anas started blowing. There would be no baking happening in this house.
Now my friend, well she has AC. And while turning on an oven still sounded enormously unappealing, when she suggested we gather at her place to make jam instead, I gladly accepted the invitation.
She also has a lot of cutting boards.
We set the kids up with butter knives, strawberries, and instructions on how to cut the just ripe fruit. In chunks, not too big, not too small, and no greenery or white “shoulders”.
They made short work of three pounds of berries, scooping them up and dumping them into a heavy, wide pot.
Then we added granulated sugar, (just enough to enhance the natural sweetness of the berries), and the juice of one orange and one lemon.
We talked about how store bought jam contains a lot more sugar, (as much as 1:1 by weight!), than we would be using for our jam. Sugar acts as a sweetener, but also as a thickener and a preservative. Since we weren’t aiming for shelf-stable jam, we didn’t have to worry about losing the preservative effects of more sugar. This jam would be runnier than a commercial product as well, but truer in flavor. A reasonable trade-off in my book.
We started cooking the mixture over medium heat. The additional liquid from the orange kept the berries from sticking while they gave up their juice.
The kids took turns occasionally stirring the contents of the pot. The smell of warming berries made bellies growl.
We talked a bit about how fruit contains pectin, (in the cell walls of land plants to be exact), and how it helps jam gel when it is activated by the cooking process.
We continued to cook the jam, adjusting the heat so that it bubbled steadily. The goal is to cook it fast enough to preserve the fresh and bright flavor, but not so high a temperature that there is a risk of burning the jam or the cook!
Aside from the delicious smell, we could tell the jam was getting closer to done by looking in the pot. The berries had a translucent appearance and were completely submerged in syrupy liquid. The bubbles, once large and thin, were now smaller, tighter, and more viscous. Less boiling water, more bubbling lava.
We had placed some small plates in the freezer beforehand, and now was the time to retrieve them to start checking the consistency of our jam.
We placed a spoonful of the hot mixture on the cold plate and drew a finger across it. When we could make a clear path that didn’t fill in we knew we were done.
The hot jam was ladled into jars and left to cool. Later, the jars would make it to the refrigerator where the jam would continue to thicken further.
But first a little snack…
So this is not really a recipe. I mean you can use nearly any fruit and, depending on the sweetness of it, as much or as little sugar as your tastebuds dictate. I like to start with 1/4 cup of sugar per pound of fruit and go from there.
The amount below will yield about a 1/2 pint. It is better to cook small batches in order to protect the fresh and bright, fruit flavor.
This is not a “putting up” jam, so it will be runnier than store bought and should be kept in the refrigerator where it will keep for at least a week. Unless you fail to hide it from those who don’t comprehend what “a reasonable amount” means.
1 lb of fruit, chopped
1/4 c sugar, more or less to taste
2 T liquid (fruit juice, lemon, whatever)
Place all ingredients in a pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally until thick, (see description in post above). Place in jars. Cool. Refrigerate. Look forward to toast.