In the middle of July, when the berry season is in full force, I prefer to eat as many of them fresh as I can. But they come fast and don't last long, so I always find myself putting up jams for next winter. Even in summer's heat, stirring the bubbling fruit, pouring it into jars, and standing back to survey the finished product are rewarding activities, and I can congratulate myself on a job well done. The best part, though, is spreading my jam on a piece of warm buttered toast or a homemade scone.
For many cooks, jam making holds a certain amount of intimidation. However, watching my mother, Elsie Mahan, make jam helped me overcome this fear. Her jams are consistently bright-colored and delicious, capturing the essence of fresh fruit and summer's bounty. Next time you have guests over for brunch, include an assortment of homemade jams in your menu. They also make welcome gifts through the year.
Our recipes use a short-boil method with liquid pectin because it offers greater ease of preparation than powdered pectin does, and is more foolproof than the traditional method using just fruit and sugar. Also, you don't have to stir the boiling jam frequently if you use liquid pectin. Look for pectin in the grocery store.
Note: If instructions on the pectin package differ from the ones here, use them instead: Each brand's method is slightly different, and it's important to follow the package exactly. Never double the recipe; the amounts of fruit, sugar, and pectin called for determine jelling. In addition, cooking times increase, the pan can scorch, and it's about as quick to make successive batches.
If you wish to use just fruit and sugar (the proportion of fruit to sugar is higher, and the fruit flavor is much stronger than with pectin), consult a good basic cookbook, such as The Joy of Cooking (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1995, $26).
The most important piece of equipment for making jam is a heavy-bottomed stainless steel or copper-clad pan large enough (an 8-quart capacity at least) to cook the fruit and berries without boiling over.
First, Sterilize the Jars
To sterilize the jars, put the jars, lids (use only new ones), and screw bands into a large pan of water and bring to a boil. (Or follow manufacturer's instructions for sterilization.) Boil them for 10 minutes, then keep them in the hot water until you're ready to use them. Or, sterilize the jars and tops in the dishwasher-just be sure to use them while they're still hot.
Three Favorite Recipes
Red Raspberry Jam
Rinse the raspberries lightly (be careful not to bruise them), and drain them. Cut away any damaged portions of fruit. In a bowl, crush berries lightly with a potato masher; you should have 4 cups. Then place the mashed berries in an 8-quart pan. Add the sugar, and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
Cut open the pectin pouch, and stand it upright in a cup until ready to use. Bring the raspberries and sugar to a full rolling boil over high heat. Stirring vigorously, pour in the pectin all at once. When the mixture again reaches a full rolling boil, stir it for 1 minute.
Remove the pan from the heat, and skim off any foam with a spoon. You may wish to move the pan to the sink to do this. Using tongs, remove the jars, lids, and bands from hot water. With a measuring cup or ladle, fill the jars to about 1/4 inch from the rim. Wipe the jar rims with a damp cloth. (The rims of the jars must be impeccably clean, or they won't seal properly.) Place the lids on the jars, and screw them on tightly. Set the jars upside down on a dry towel for 5 minutes, then turn them upright again. Let cool. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate them after opening. This recipe makes 7 half-pints.
This blend of fruits combines two summer flavors beautifully.
Rinse plums, cut them in half, and remove pits. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor; chop fine (you should have 2 cups). Rinse raspberries lightly (be careful not to bruise them) and drain them. Cut away any damaged portions of fruit. If you prefer a smoother jam, crush the berries slightly with a potato masher.
Place the plums and raspberries in an 8-quart heavy-bottomed stainless steel or copper-clad pan. Add the sugar and lemon juice, and mix thoroughly.
Cut open the pectin pouch, and stand it upright in a cup until ready to use. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat. Stirring vigorously, pour in the pectin all at once. When the mixture again reaches a rolling boil, stir for 1 minute.
Remove the pan from heat, and skim off any foam. With tongs, remove jars, lids, and bands from the hot water. With a measuring cup or ladle, fill the jars with jam up to 1/4 inch from the rim. Wipe the jar rims with a damp cloth. (The rims must be clean to seal properly.) Place lids on top, and screw them on tightly. Set the jars upside down on a dry towel for 5 minutes, then turn them upright again. Let cool. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate them after opening. This recipe makes 6 half-pints.
Follow the recipe for red raspberry jam, but use 7 1/2 cups sugar and 4 cups crushed olallieberries. Makes 7 1/2 half-pints.
Sharon Kramis is a Seattle-area culinary consultant and the author of Berries: A Country Garden Cookbook. Copyright 1994 by Sharon Kramis. Adapted by National Gardening with permission of the publisher, Collins Publishers, San Francisco.