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Why should anybody yet working too many hours during the week start cooking jam?
My trusted food store presents long shelves filled classic & exotic jams of different producers from national as well as foreign countries – ranging from cheap up to very expensive. (… & I’m sure your trusted food store will as well!) So why did I – years ago – decide to invest in this time-consuming & exhausting activity of classic housewives (i. e. general assumption & prejudice!).
Once upon a time in the 80s …
My former partner’s parents (i. e. the parents of my ex) owned a small garden filled – amongst others – with some red & black currant bushes as well as a blackberry bush. Each summer several (small) buckets got filled with berries – more than a single, small household could manage to process.
On the other hand my ex went wild for pineapple jam, however, often complained about industrial pineapple jam failing his anticipated quality standard.
Both facts led us start studying the art of jam cooking.
After having amassed some experience with the enormous leftovers from the garden, fancy ideas concerning exotic jams & simply working with a great many of fruits we had gained some insights:
- Preparing the fruit can be very time-consuming, e. g. when having to clean each single black currant from its little stem or when pitting morello cherries piece by piece (attention: intensive fruit colours cause intensive stains on light T-shirts!).
- There is flavorful fruit to be processed easy & fast into more flavorful jam – and there is fruit resulting only in a very sweet mess.
- Vanilla & cinnamon are wonderful spices to create jam variations (we never tried anything with ginger – so far!); rum, brandy & whisky didn’t work at all – at least for us.
- Stay simple – for the sake of fruit processing efforts.
- Fruit mixtures can result in an optical mess, however, the taste may compensate.
- Sugar may be used the classic way (= 1000 g fruit & 1000 g preserving sugar) or – more for the light life – may be reduced in relation 2:1 or even 3:1 (attention: artificial preservatives necessary!).
- Be sure to weigh fruit & sugar exactly: too much fruit will result in a runny jam.
- Always make sure you’ll have enough clean jam jars before starting buying – or harvesting – any fruit.
… & last, but not least:
- Home-made jam tastes always somewhat better!
- Home-made jam will always make an extraordinary small present!
Now something about success & failure!
(in alphabetical order)
Don’t try it! It sounds quite good, but it doesn’t live up to the promise.
Recently I discovered in my trusted food store special jam editions with apples as an additional ingredient combined with oranges, pineapples, plums etc. I never worked with such varieties because of the effort!
Apricots … the jam always turns out perfectly smooth & sweet with a full-bodied flavor. Vanilla goes well apricots.
Black Currant Jam
What a taste! What a time-consuming fruit preparation. The pits are much smaller than the red current pits – so you can leave them in the jam.
Although there is always plenty of red currants during summer back currants are less popular & much more expensive. You are lucky if there is a black currant bush in your (or your family’s) back garden.
In short: either lots of work or lots of work and expensive! (Think about twice before planning black currant jam!)
Also: what a taste! I recommend to use the 1:1 sugar option because blackberries can be a little acid.
Maybe about 10% water will be necessary to smoothen the berry-sugar-mess (don’t forget the additional water when weighing!).
Blackberries are as rare as black currants & even more expensive. (Also: think about twice…)
I love marmalade – each version, but we never succeeded!
Point #1: Back in the late 80s resp. early 90s it was a real challenge to acquire organic oranges.
Point #2: How to manage cutting the oranges accordingly?
All our experiments failed – we never managed to produce a nice marmalade.
Since then I buy delicious marmalade in my trusted food store.
Very sweet – too sweet!
Morello Cherry Jam
Morello cherries are only available for 2-3 weeks in summer. The biggest challenge is to remove the pits – yes: I know there are professional kitchen appliances for solving the problem, but … we hadn’t got one! And I didn’t intend to buy one – an appliance I’d use once a year or maybe less which would clutter the kitchen, using storage space …
Nevertheless we produced successfully some morello cherry jam: keep in mind to use the right amount of sugar (1:1) because morello cherries can be really sour!
… & what about sweet dark cherries? The cherry jam was just very sweet.
I never understood where all the flavor of ripe peaches disappeared …
At 1st you’ll need very ripe pineapples. If you cut the pineapple into small pieces there should be lots of sweet & sticky juice around your fingers. It is useful to put about the half of the fruit in a blender to crush the fruit pieces – as a result you can use 100% fruit for the jam.
… and well: I learnt that the most ripe & juicy pineapples come to Europe in winter (January – March).
Yes – there is something like plum jam. I’m rather sure you won’t find it on the shelf in the food store because here only the 24h-cooked version of plum butter rules. However, you can also prepare plums – just remove the pits & half the plums – add some water (covering the bottom of your pot for some millimeters – remember weighing this water!), add the sugar & add cinnamon. As soon as the cooking starts the plums will fall apart & a wonderful creamy jam with bits of plums evolves.
So: Plum jam is rather easy to produce & somewhat extraordinary.
Main problem are the little pits: raspberries have lots of them & they cause trouble. In addition raspberries are rather expensive. My recommendation: either start sieving or – better – use raspberries as an add-on to other jams (like strawberry jam!) & learn to live w/ the pits.
Red Currant Jam
This is one of my favorites: the little berries can be cleaned w/o any extraordinary effort. You can mash the fruit with sugar & just wait an hour or so for the mess to get juicy.
The only disadvantage are the little pits – if you don’t like them in your jam you’ll have to mash the fruit, sieve the fruit & then add the sugar: here it gets heavily strenuous. So either learn to like pits or do w/o red currant jam.
This is my absolute favorite jam: it’s easy to make (no lengthy fruit preparation!) & simply delicious. Always try to get most ripe fruit! Vanilla is perfect for strawberry jam.
I’m not sure if I covered all our jam experiments, but I think you got the point: If you once start producing home-made jam you cannot stop because of the wonderful flavors despite all failures! As a results for many years we had a rather large variety of jams for us, for friends & guests.
I’m always happy to produce strawberry & apricot jam because these simple jams are my all-time favourites.
… & sometimes I try something new!
Strawberry jam is the most simple & delicious jam you can imagine. Basis are fully ripe & flavorsome strawberries – all somehow suspicious looking buddies should not end in the jam pot.
Hull & clean the strawberries thoroughly. Put the strawberries as a whole or in halves resp. quarters in a big pot (attention: don’t forget to weigh accurately!) & mix with the preserving sugar. Afterwards let it work for about an hour: the strawberries will swim their own (sugar) juice afterwards.
For apricot jam I started with wonderful French apricots. Cleaning the fruit is a rather quick affair – there is no need to deal with the skins. Just cut them in halves & remove the pit. Weighing is also simple … However, if you put the apricot halves in the pot together with the correct amount of sugar – then you’ll have to wait rather long until there is enough juice to start cooking the jam.
What to do?
We don’t have any time to waste while waiting some hours for any progress …
The solution is to start with some additional water & mash half of the fruit in an electric blender.
Attention: Don’t forget to weigh the fruit together with the water!
At once you’ll get enough “juice” to start cooking after about 1 h. The remaining half of the unprocessed fruit will care for some nice bits in the jam.
Now it’s time to think of the jam jars: ensure that enough jam jars with twist-off caps are ready to be cleaned in (almost) boiling hot water & dried with a fresh tea towel – and just do this! I always use the jam jars I bought (filled) in my trusted food store. If you set them aside during the year & take care that they are cleaned carefully I’m sure you’ll get enough jam jars over the years. You can use these jam jars for 3-4 fillings before the twist-off cap weakens.
Finally the strawberry mess resp. the apricot mess is ready for cooking. If you opt for vanilla (i. e. sliced vanilla pods) add them before starting the cooking. Don’t be afraid of the foam – it’ll vanish later.
After the cooking – about 3/4/5 … min of briskly boiling (refer to the instruction on the package of the preserving sugar) – the jam has to be filled immediately into the jam jars (make sure in advance that you’ll have a gravy ladle ready & some towel to grip the hot-hot jam jars). Close the jam jars immediately & turn them upside down.
… & just let them cool!
You may store them somewhere in your pantry, preferably in the dark i. e. no need for the fridge before opening a jam jar.
For the record:
It’s always the same jam process … be sure! Independent of the type of fruit …
The famous gelatinize test is always recommended … I skip it always: if you stick exactly to the amounts (e. g. per 1000 g fruit (& water) it is 1000 g preserving sugar by 1:1 method … & respectively for any other type …) it will work out as wished. Well … maybe you should be more careful when doing jellies or when mixing fruit with alcohol or when trying some very new combination of fruits you never did before …
It’ll be some work to be done, but the result will be enough for a year! Let’s try!
- 1000 g strawberries (hulled, cleaned, trimmed)
- 1000 g preserving sugar (1:1)
- 2 vanilla pods
- 950 g apricots (cleaned, trimmed, pitted, roughly chopped)
- 50 ml water
- 1000 g preserving sugar (1:1)
- 2 vanilla pods
- a big pot (5-6 l or even more)
- electric blender
- Hull, clean & trim strawberries; if there are big strawberries, cur them into halves or even quarter them.
- Mix strawberries & preserving sugar in a pot of enough capacity & leave it for about 1 hour.
- Clean the apricots, cut them into halves & pit them. Afterwads chop them roughly.
- Add 50 ml water to your electric blender & add about the half of the chopped apricots. Blend into a mess.
- Mix chopped apricots & the apricot mess & preserving sugar in a pot of enough capacity & leave it for about 1 hour.
- Prepare the jam jars (cleaning with hot water & drying with a clean tea towel).
- Slice the vanilla pods lengthwise & add to the fruit & sugar mess.
- Heat the mess; it shall be cooked for at least for 3/4/5/6 ... min (pls refer to the preserving sugar instructions for details).
- Discard the vanilla pods.
- Fill the hot jam at once into the waiting jam jars, close the lid & turn them upside down.