Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jam Session

“Over the bridge and over the dam, looking for berries, berries for jam”

Jam sounds complicated and fancy to make but in reality it is really very easy.

Don’t buy fruit right from the grocery store though. Especially if you want to make berry jam, which would be too expensive. Buy it fresh but on sale, frozen, or buy it bulk. Or even better, get it straight off the tree or bush. Which I didn’t do here, I got a crate of strawberries from my co-op.

Just chop up your fruit in small pieces, the smaller the easier and the faster it will cook. Unless, that is, you like chunky jam. Some fruit keep their consistency better than others. For example, strawberries will stay firm whereas blueberries or peaches will mush up more.

Also stay with the basics, I wouldn't go for kiwi jam on your first try. I wouldn’t mix fruit either, except for berries. Some people are more creative than I am and incorporate flowers (lavender), spices (cinnamon), or even interesting ingredients (dandelion jam, yes it’s good!).

Weigh the fruit and put it in a large pot. Recipes usually call for the same amount of sugar as fruit. I try and put less and for this batch am doing about 30% sugar and 70% fruit. It doesn’t have to be an exact science.

Word of warning, as you pour the sugar in the pot with the fruit it will look like an insanely huge amount of sugar and you will think -for sure that Sarah chick is out of her mind, that can’t be right. But it is.

So in terms of quantities, I am doing two small batches. It’s easier and faster to cook. So about 3 lbs of strawberries and 1.5 lbs of sugar for each batch. When you put it in jars, a good rule of thumb is one pound of fruit will make one medium-sized jar of jam.

By the way, since I was all for honey earlier and refined sugar is probably not the best thing, you can make jellies and jams using honey too. Actually it would be a pretty good combo with peaches for example. However, you have to take into account changes in density, flavor, and more importantly acidity. I’ve never tried it myself but here is a good link to explore.

So just mix in the sugar with the fruit until it boils, and then simmer your concoction for a little over one hour for 3 lbs of fruit. Just make sure you stay close and stir it often or it will cake at the bottom and burn.

The mixture might look a little watery at first but as it simmers it will thicken. Also, don’t worry about the foam that develops, it will just mix itself into the jam.

By the way, there is always the fear of sterilizing and canning food the wrong way and getting food poisoning. Which is something you must be careful about if you are canning veggies, tomato sauce, etc. But for jam, all you need to do it rinse out and scrub your jars thoroughly and rinse them in very hot water, then let them sit to dry. Try to use smaller jars, it is easier to use and it won’t get as sticky.

Once you pour the jam in the jars, make sure you wipe the edges of the glass before you screw on the lid so no jam gets stuck or dries in the cracks. Let it cool; store in a cool, dry place, and enjoy!

The jam will be fine for several years. Sometimes you can get a small film of mold or white stuff at the top of the jam when you open it, it looks funky but just scrape it off and the rest is completely fine.

Then the fun part is to make cute labels so you can feel a sense of pride and kick-assness because damn it you did indeed make jam.

Why is homemade jam eco-logic?
1. You recycle your glass jars. Especially for us, since there is no glass recycling in our town (more on that later!)
2. You chose your ingredients. So you know exactly what is in it (organic, local, etc).
3. It’s healthier. In this case there is a lot less sugar.
4. It’s cheaper than store-bought. Here is the breakdown:
Strawberries, I bought 8 lbs $11.50 and used 6 lbs, so about $8.60
Unrefined sugar Cane sugar $1.79. Total: six jars for roughly $10.50 dollars.
5. It’s educational. My 4 year old son “helped” me, I like that he is interested in food, wants to learn about how food is made, and where his PB&J comes from!

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