Jam-Making Observations and a Recipe
I know what you’re thinking–Not another blog post about jam! Well, I’m sorry, but sometimes I get on these little obsessions and the only thing to do is to just let it work itself out of my system. So, if you’re tired of jam posts, feel free to come back another day. If I haven’t bored you yet, keep on reading.
I have started to make up my own jam recipes lately with stuff I have on hand. Jam is really easy to make. All you need is fruit, sugar, and lemon juice. The lemon juice provides acidity to keep it fresh and sugar helps the mixture to gel, along with any natural pectins that are in fruit. I know that you can go buy pectin in the store and that make really good jam, but I am a little obsessed with doing things myself, if I can, without any additives. If you want to read more about pectin, go here.
Like any cooking, it is always good to taste as you go along. I have discovered through looking at lots of jam recipes that the ratio of fruit to sugar in jam should always be at least 2:1 by weight, more if you think it tastes better that way. The amount of lemon juice you add is variable. For a small batch, a good rule of thumb is half a lemon’s worth of juice per pint of jam. I have seen recipes that call for a lot less, like a whole lemon for 3 pints, so I think it is more a matter of taste. You want it to have a little acidity, a certain amount of brightness, but not necessarily be really lemony. Since there is so much sugar in jam, there is less need for acidity than if you were canning, say, vegetables.
Lately, I have been testing out runnier jams and I like them, especially if they are berry jams. But, I wanted my peach jams to be a little stiffer and I think I succeeded this time. With peach jams, you have to boil them for a long time because peaches have a lot of water and not a lot of pectin. I also wanted to boil mine a long time because I did not peel the peaches and I wanted to be sure the peels cooked until they were really soft. Why didn’t I peel the peaches, you ask? Laziness and prudence. Peeling peaches is a pain and most of the pectin in a fruit is in the peel. Leaving the skins on would give the jam a little extra pectin (peaches don’t have a lot of this to begin with) and help it to gel up more. For these reasons, the recipe has a longer than normal boil time.
Also, try to use the biggest, widest pot you have for jamming. It helps with the cooking time. I used my 9 quart enamel cast-iron pot for this and I was glad, because the mixture foamed up and rose almost to the top of the pot, but did not boil over. For smaller batches, (5 cups or less), I use a 12 inch wide, 5 quart pot.
Ever since I made a jam last year that called for real vanilla beans, I’ve been putting vanilla beans in some of my jams. It gives the jam an amazing aroma, heightens the sweetness, and somehow smooths all the flavors out so that they blend together better. I highly recommend you trying it.
Booze is also always a good addition to jam. A tablespoon per pint isn’t much and a lot of the alcohol evaporates, leaving behind an additional flavor dimension, but you can leave it out, if you wish.
There really is no reason not to make jam. It doesn’t take much time. I berry jam can take less than an hour and if you don’t feel like bothering with the canning part, just freeze it. It will keep just as long and taste just as good. I did this last year with me peach butter and when I opened a container last week, it tasted just as fresh as I remembered.
Peachy Cherry Jam with Vanilla and Kirsch
4 ¼ pounds peaches after pitting, quartered and sliced thinly
1 ¾ pounds pitted bing cherries, roughly chopped
3 ½ pounds sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and halved, seeds scraped out.
Juice of 2 ½ lemons
zest of 2 lemons
2 ounces kirsch
Place a couple of saucers in the freezer. Toss fruit with the juice of half a lemon in very large pot (at least 8 quart). Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sugar, vanilla bean, and vanilla seeds. Simmer for 30 minutes on med-high, watching and stirring occasionally. Add remaining lemon juice and zest. Simmer for another 15-20 min until thickened a little. The jam should be pretty dark. Spoon a little of it on one of your frozen plates and return to the freezer for a couple of minutes. If the jam does not run all over the plate when you turn it sideways, it is done. It’s ok for it to move slowly in a blob, but it shouldn’t be thin or syrupy. Just before turning off the heat, add Kirsch and let boil for a minute. Turn off heat and let sit for a couple minutes to settle. Skim off any foam. Distribute among jars and can it or you can freeze it for up to a year.
About 4.5 pints.