Low stress and better than storebought
Two main concepts govern most of my decisions: simple and cheap, so when the weather produced a bumper crop of fruit, there was no way I was letting all that free food go to waste. I mean, it was FREE! You can’t pass up free! With the plethora of fruits available on the island, I planned my strategy by season.
Credit: JestMeLate summer I started making morning trips to the blackberry patch down the road to fill bowls with those juicy sweet berries that burst into that sweet-tart explosion on your tongue when you pop them in your mouth. Yum! But there is a limit to how many bowls of ice cream piled with blackberries you can eat. A very high limit, it’s true, but eventually you need a break. But what could I do? There were still weeks left of blackberry season, and they were free! I had to use them!
The answer was simple – learn to make jam. How hard could it be? Ok, frequently those four words, ‘how hard could it be’, are a prelude to disaster, but when it comes to making jam they really do apply. Go ahead, give it a shot. I did it and so can you.
Let’s get a couple principles out of the way first.
- Clean. Your jars or other containers have to be clean, your berries have to be clean, and when you’ve finished your kitchen will need to be cleaned.
- Pectin. This is what makes jellies and jams solid and some fruits provide their own, such as berries.
- Sugar. Sugar makes the pectin set. You can’t make sugarless jam unless you buy special pectin.
- Acid. Acid, such as lemon juice, also helps the pectin set.
- Stirring. You have to stir your jam pretty much the entire time you’re boiling it or the sugar will burn to the bottom of the pot and you’ll ruin your jam, and likely your pot.
If you want to can your jam for a long shelf life, you’ll need to set up a boiling water bath, rings and lids. If that last sentence had you reaching for the anxiety meds, ignore it – you can put your jam in the frig.
Get your berries; rinse them to get rid of leaves, twigs and stray spiders. Pick out any fruit that looks moldy (important!), really green, or way past ripe. A few greenish and a few overripe are just fine. Measure your berries in a cup, just dump them in, don’t squish them. Remember how many cups of berries you have.
Put your fruit into a pot that looks bigger than you think you need. Your berries should come no more than half way up.
Add half as much sugar as you have fruit. 4 cups of berries = 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of berries = 1.5 cups of sugar, and so on. You can use more sugar, but don’t use less.
Add as many tablespoons of lemon juice as you have sugar. 3 cups of sugar = 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
For the mathematically inclined, that recipe is:
X cups berries
½ X cups sugar
½ X tablespoons lemon juice
Put a plate in the frig where you can get to it.
Turn your pot on low and start stirring and squishing the berries. The idea is to get some juice out of the berries and keep the sugar from burning onto the pot
When it looks juicy, turn up the heat and keep stirring. It should get very liquidy and start to boil. This is where you find out if your pot is big enough. As your jam thickens those happy little bubbles turn to explosive miniature volcanoes, turning your stovetop to a red-dotted piece of art.
Keep boiling until the foam starts to go away, probably at least 15 minute of hard boil. Take a small spoonful and put it on the plate in the frig. Give it a couple minutes to cool, then check the consistency. If it’s very runny, keep boiling. Now’s also your chance to taste your jam and decide if it’s sweet enough for you. Still too tart? You can add more sugar, as long as your total doesn’t exceed the total of berries. In other words, if you first added 2 cups of sugar, you can add up to 2 cups more now.
Keep boiling, stirring and testing until you think your jam is a little more runny than you’d like it. Remember it’ll get firmer when it cools. If you think you’ve made it too thick you can add more berries, a splash of juice, or a little water and test it again.
When you’re happy with the gel, take the pot off the heat, and those of you that are canning, can following your standard procedures. For the rest of you, let the jam cool a little.
If you’re putting it into jars, go ahead and do it while it’s hot. If you’re using plastic containers, make sure your jam isn’t so hot that it melts the plastic. Fill up your containers, put the lids on, let them cool a bit on the counter, then store them in the refrigerator. Plastic containers can also be stored in the freezer. They should keep for several months in the refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer, if everything went well. If it didn’t go well, you’ll see mold eventually start to grow in your jars. Don’t eat the mold. It tastes nasty, but it’s unlikely to be dangerous.
Worried about food poisoning? Not a problem with high sugar foods like jam. That bit of lemon juice you added also keeps the bugs from being able to grow.
Too runny? Makes great ice cream topping or fruit add-ins for yogurt.
Too thick? Works perfectly as the topping for those peanut butter cookies with the jelly dollop on top.
Don’t worry if it’s not perfect – you made it! How awesome is that?
Have plenty of apples? Check here for easy applesauce.