Do you ever get all fired up about the idea of certain food projects? Like you see a thing about pickling or bread making with a carefully nutured starter or something and out of nowhere you’re all, “Yes! Why don’t I do that?! I should be doing exactly THAT!”. And then you head directly to a kitchenware shop and drop ridiculous money on unitasking kitchen tools that you end up using exactly once?
Yeeeaaahhh. I’ve done that a time or two.
Like, say, jam making. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve boiled down fruit with sugar and canned it. And it’s sad, really. Because homemade jam is such a delightful thing to make and eat and give to other people. A true beacon of Americana, if you will.
Plus I own all the equipment I need to do some serious jam making without acquiring burns on 75 percent of my body (note: I say this because I bought said equipment after my own Macgyvered jam-making tools failed miserably and threatened to leave me with burns on 75 percent of my body). So the other day I told myself to get it together, brave the crazies at the mid-week Civic Center farmers’ market, see what was good and fresh and fruity, and make jam out of it. Plums won, big time.
Besides making you feel like you’re in a Norman Rockwell painting, jam making is one of those activities that sort of centers you. Chopping fresh fruit, measuring out sugar, dumping both in the biggest, oldest pot you’ve got, stirring, stirring, stirring with a big wooden spoon. It’s glorious. this is the stage of jam-making when I always wonder why in the world I don’t do this more often.
I get visions of making jam of every conceivable fruit combination and gifting my friends with carefully preserved jars that they can pop open months later for a taste of summer, when berries and stone fruits have long past their peak. It’s so romantic. Until–fast forward 30 minutes later–I am cursing while running my hand under cold water because of a wayward molten jam splatter. But when the jars are filled, capped and lined up, cooling on the counter, I’m glowing with acheivement, again wondering why I don’t do this more often, seared skin notwithstanding.
This batch of plum jam was nothing short of super late summer bliss. Bright, sweet-tart, hints of lemon, vanilla and a gossamer blanket of cinnamon to warm the whole thing up. And tasting exactly like a plum Jolly Rancher, if they ever made one. Can’t explain it, but it’s totally true. I’m just passing on my feelings to you here, like good friends do. Neosporin-ed hands and all.
Late Summer Plum Jam
Makes about 5 half-pint jars
Any variety of plums will work here. I found some lovely ones with a ruby-red interior that made for a stunning shade of jam, but those cute little Italian prune plums that are happening right now would be great too. Since plums are so thin-skinned, peeling isn’t necessary, so buying organic ones is an especially great idea.
If you want to can your packed jam jars, check out this great resource–Canning 101.
3 pounds plums (any variety–see note), washed, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (Vietnamese or Saigon cinnamon, if you can find it)
In the biggest, heaviest pot you’ve got, stir together the plums and sugar. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has given off some juice and the sugar has mostly dissolved, about 1 hour.
Set the pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, vanilla bean and cinnamon. Bring to a hard boil, stirring often, until the jam is thickened and runs off the back of a spoon in big, heavy drops, about 25-30 minutes. While the jam is cooking, skim off any foam that comes to the surface. To test for doneness, spoon a dollop of jam onto a freezing cold plate and let it sit for a minute or two–of you can run your finger through the dollop and a track remains, the jam is done.
Ladle the hot jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top of each jar. Cap tightly and process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, or store in the refrigerator.
We’ve talked about modest crisps and big showy pancakes, reinvented the apple muffin and seen me be proven seriously wrong by a wonderfully unique cake. But despite those recipes and then some, I was still left with four pounds of a fragrant mixture of Fujis, Romes, Red Delicious and Winesaps. Since it’s been a while since I’ve used my amateur preserving know-how, I thought it was high time to pull out the jars that once held July’s strawberry jam, and fill them with thick, spicy-sweet apple butter. What could be more autumnal than that?
Like most jams, the recipe for and process of making apple butter is really simple. Although I will say that apple butter is decidedly messier than most jams. Have your trusty pot-screen-cover-thing very close by, as well as a candy thermometer for insuring the apple butter reaches and stays at the right temperature for setting properly. If you choose not to preserve your apple butter, it will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, maybe longer. If you want to preserve the jars for enjoying in the dead of winter when you want to taste the best part of fall, or give them as cheery little gifts, canning is easy once you get the hang of it. Remember my first preserving adventure? See, even I figured it out.
Makes 4-5 8-oz. jars
4 pounds of apples (I used a mixture of Fuji, Rome, Red Delicious and Winesap)
2 cups of sugar (I used one cup regular granulated and one cup vanilla sugar)
1/2 gallon apple cider
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
Peel, core and cut the apples into large chunks. You should have about 2 1/2 pounds of fruit after preparing the apples. Put the fruit into a wide, deep, heavy bottomed pot and pour the apple cider over the apples to cover. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 20-30 minutes until the apples are very tender.
In batches in a blender (or using an immersion blender–I have got to get one of these. Maybe if I say it to myself 1,000 more times, it will appear in my cabinet?), puree the hot apples and cider to make a thin applesauce. Pour all the puree back into the pot and bring to a slow simmer over medium-high heat, until the puree reaches 220 degrees, stirring occasionally. Once the temperature is reached (you may have to crank the heat a bit higher to make that happen), stir in the sugar, spices and lemon juice. Cook the apple butter for anywhere from 1-2 hours, until it has thickened significantly and turn dark in color (you know, like the color of apple butter). Try and keep the temperature at 220 degrees as best as your can during that time, and stir often to prevent a crust forming on the bottom of the pot. When you think the color and consistency is right, test the apple butter on a freezing cold plate and let it cool for a moment. It should set up thick and smooth and not move on the plate when its ready.
Ladle the hot apple butter into hot, sterilized jars, and screw on the lids. Store in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, or for preserves, process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water.
So while on a flight from Miami to L.A., I dug into the July issue of Food & Wine magazine with the “Best New Chefs” cover story. Awesome, inspirational read by the by. Anyway, I came across this other great article about canning and making preserves. And here our story begins.
One of the best things about living in Los Angeles is access to all the Farmers’ Markets. There’s literally one every day of the week around these parts. After finding a recipe for Strawberry Preserves in the aforementioned F&W mag while on that airplane, I decided that I would, upon landing, walk myself directly off that jetway and to my favorite Farmers’ Market to stockpile fresh Joo-lah strawberries and get to jam-makin’. Welllll…it took two weeks to get to the market and stops at four different stores with my poor husband in tow to find proper jars (thank you, Sur La Table, when will I ever learn to just go straight to you first??), but the berries were still very much in season and said husband was so bored of my endeavor at that point that he left for the driving range and I got the whole place to myself and my jam making–yippee!
Now, I’m a kitchen gadget kind of lady, so I have pretty much everything I actually need when I feel like getting into cahoots with a recipe or culinary idea. There is much justification going on when I spot something new and kitchen-y I really want. So you can imagine how excited I was when jam making came along and there was all this new stuff that I needed to buy to pursue this new passion! Clearly, one cannot make jam without new stuff! And the stuff needed for jam making and/or canning of anything goes like this:
- A huge pot
- A big, deep skillet
- Wooden spoon
- Sturdy tongs (for grabbing the jars out of boiling water)
- Pastry brush
- Candy thermometer (so many uses, it’s not even funny)
- Metal rack that fits your huge pot (to keep the jars up off the bottom of it)
- Proper jars (You can use the kind with lids and rings; I got the pretty, patterned Leifheit ones that are one-piece lids because they reminded me of the ones my Grampa had in his kitchen and that was a nice feeling–I say call in your guardian angels for any endeavor involving boiling sugar.)
There are a few things you should know before making preserves or canning, and here is a great overview of Canning 101.
After I wrapped my brain around the process, here’s the recipe I used. You’ll notice there’s no fruit pectin in this recipe, which is commonly used to ensure that the jam sets. Because there’s no pectin, you’ve gotta make sure that the jam hits the temperature indicated in the recipe before you pull it off the heat or it will be no bueno when it cools. You can test the hot jam for “doneness” by putting a few drops on a freezing cold plate. If it sets, it’s ready to put it in the prepared jars.
All in all, a very successful first attempt at making strawberry jam, I would say. It set up perfectly (thank you, candy thermometer) and has gotten rave reviews from taste-testers. You will note that in the recipe above I have screamed at you to skim the foam off of your jam before spooning it into the jars. I may or may not have forgotten to do that since the recipe I used may or may not have FORGOTTEN TO TELL ME TO DO THAT. Jam foam isn’t untasty or anything, it’s just unattractive on an otherwise perfect jar of jam.
Also, next time, I will definitely make this recipe with less sugar. I was a little afraid to mess with the fruit to sugar ratio even though I thought the recipe called for too much sugar for my taste–I feared it wouldn’t set properly or something. But after doing some research, I found out that you can absolutely reduce the sugar without sacrificing the consistency, though I might add some fruit pectin when I make a low-sugar version, just in case. The jars I bought were so cute, and fun to give as gifts. And by fun I mean seeing the shock on people’s faces upon learning that city folk can indeed make jam.
Courtesy of Chef Linton Hopkins and Food and Wine Magazine:
Makes 3 Pints
Juice of 2 lemons, strained
4 1/2 cups of sugar
2 pounds small to medium strawberries, hulled
In a large, deep skillet, pour the lemon juice around the sugar. Leave it alone and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until most of the sugar is melted. At this point, you can stir it gently with a wooden spoon until all the the sugar is melted, all the while brushing the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to keep sugar crystals from forming (because really, who wants crunchy jam?).
Add the strawberries to the melted sugar and kick the heat up to medium high, mashing the berries gently with a good old potato masher until the temperature reaches 220 degrees (or 8 degrees above boiling, depending on altitude). This should take about 10 minutes, but I had to increase the heat at that point for about three additional minutes to get it up to temperature. Once you hit 220, continue to boil until the preserves are thick, about four more minutes. You can test the jam on a plate at this point if you want to.
SKIM ANY FOAM OFF OF THE JAM AT THIS POINT! Then spoon the preserves into three hot one-pint jars (a MacGyvered funnel made of aluminum foil saved me here) leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top and close with the lids and rings. I used six, one-cup self-sealing jars instead.
To process the jars, boil them for 15 minutes in your huge pot with a metal rack set in the bottom (I actually forgot to buy a rack and again MacGyvered my jar processing by placing a heat-proof plate upside-down in the pot instead. A little extra rattling ensued, but all was well.)
Remove the jars with the tongs (this is scary-stuff–be careful!!) and set them aside to cool at room temperature. Serve after two days or store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year if they’re around that long (yeah, right, I buckled after 36 hours and opened the first jar–still awesome, though). Refrigerate after opening.
So I’m sure you would’ve loved some photos taken during the jam making process, and I’m sorry for not taking any–I decided it was a little dangerous balancing scalding hot, liquidy fruit and a digital camera, you understand, right? But here is the delicious finished product:
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