Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Jam Packed Saturday

For years we were terrified to make jam. So many horror stories of having to spend hours stirring mindlessly, and so many reports of saucepans being horribly burned in the process. It seemed much easier and safer to buy store jam.

If, like us, you tend to prefer less rather than more sugar, some day you'll look at the ingredients of any purchased jam, and faint.

Did they really need to include that much sugar?
What about preservatives?
What about pectin?
We decided to find out. The results were startling.

We enjoy blueberries a lot, so it made sense to start with them. They can be quite on the pricey side but it is still cheaper than store jam.

I washed them in a colander/pasta strainer, put them in a large bowl, and jumped up and down on them. No, not really. I had a trusty potato masher, thankfully. I hammered away at them for about ten minutes until they were all crushed and my biceps were bulging.

It is important not to smash them into puree, though, or you will not get any bits of blueberry in your jam, which I quite like.

I should say at this point that I am not into measurements; you should use whatever amounts look reasonable to you for your serving size.

I put the blueberries into a large saucepan and added about one cup of water- again, the amount doesn't matter since your amounts of fruit will vary, but add barely enough water to make the mixture a liquid. Once that has come to the boil, turn down the heat, simmer gently and add about a quarter of a cup of sugar. One recipe I read asked for six (yes, 6) cups, the cost of which would negate the value of making your own jam. Super-sweet jam aside, that is a problem.

Once the sugar is mixed in, keep the berries at a low temperature, enough for a gentle heat.

I stood at the cooker for about an hour and fifteen minutes stirring every two minutes; in between stirrings, it began to coagulate and turn into a gel. Keep rubbing the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon, or the mix will stick and burn the pan.

It helped that as I was making the jam, I was reading Annie Dillard's “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek."

It is so thought provoking that I can only read a few lines before a profound paragraph makes me stop reading and gaze into space; before I return to the book I look around, recall that I am in the kitchen making jam, and I stir again. Another kind of book would not work for me; if it's a mystery story or novel of any kind, the pan is as good as burned already. It might appear I am drifting off on a tangent but I honestly feel it was advantageous to have a book in hand as I stood there stirring and dreaming.

The jam is done when you can scoop some on a metal teaspoon and when you turn the spoon the jam does not fall off. Well, we all know what jam looks like so it should be instinctively obvious when it is jammy enough.

After the said hour and fifteen minutes (for me) and spoon test I turned off the heat, removed the pan to a cooler part of the stove, and let it sit for about half an hour. On returning, the mix had congealed even more.

We did not intend to keep our jam for very long so I skipped the whole thing about sterilised jars, lids, this and that. It was intimidating to read how much was necessary before you could make jam, but I avoided it and didn't suffer as a result. I washed out a used Horlick's bottle and carefully slid the jam into that.

It stayed good for about two months until it got all...well, eaten. It was delicious. Truthfully, I could have added less sugar. It was a perfect consistency and spread on bread excellently.

What fun making it and glorious smells of fruit filled the kitchen for hours. It is time consuming to be sure, but well worth it, as you know just what went into your jam. For us, it is clear: we will not ever buy store jam again.

"Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you"- Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

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