Ever look at the ingredients list on a jar of jam assuming it will consist of fruit, pectin and maybe some lemon juice only to discover there are preservatives, food colorings and high fructose corn syrup? Fear not crunchy wheat toast, nook and cranny filled English muffins and toasty warm bagels…there is hope and it’s as simple as 1-2-3!
First, let’s break down the intricate tapestry of spreadable fruit toppings since there are so many from which to choose.
Preserves – The main category under which falls jam, jelly, etc.
Jam – Contains pulp/flesh and juice from one or more fruits/vegetables, cooked with sugar and water.
Jelly – Typically made with juice from one or more fruits/.
Conserves – A type of jam where the fruit is stewed in sugar with short cook times.
Marmalade – A type of preserves made using citrus fruit peels, sugar and water.
Fruit Spread – Jam or preserve with no added sugars
For delicious tasting, homemade jam the grocery list is quite short – fruit, sugar, lemon juice, jars and lids, almost all of which can be picked up at a local Tom Thumb, Market Street or Kroger’s. Dance a bit in the Slow Food circles and visit a local Farmer’s Market for in season fruit that comes from Texas.
What kind of fruit or vegetable is good for jam? The sky is the limit including strawberries, bananas, blueberries, onions, raspberries, plums, peaches, watermelon, pumpkin, cherries, tomatoes, apples and pears. What other flavors go well with those fruits? Think about cakes, tarts and other sweets – vanilla, ground toasted almonds, walnuts, almond extract, balsamic vinegar and liqueurs are all friends with fruits and can enhance their natural flavors. Why not have some fun and try strawberry basil, 4 fruit combos or cherry almond with some freshly minced rosemary? That way the jams can move from the breakfast table to the lunch pail as a sandwich spread for ham and cheese or a chutney for that roast duck or turkey that is only a few months away.
Be sure to read instructions carefully on preparing your jars, lids and seals as it is always a good idea to wash them with soap and water and then let them take a bath in some boiling water to sterilize them. The next step is to get out a big soup pot and dump in the washed fruit, a bit of sugar (taste the fruit first…it may not need a lot), a little bit of lemon juice (the tart, acidic juice will emphasize the sweet fruit flavors) and let it sit on a medium heat uncovered for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Leaving the lid off allows any water content in the fruit to evaporate and that will concentrate the fruit flavors even more. Evenly divide the hot jam into the clean, dried glass jars leaving a ½ inch gap. Place the seal on top, screw on the lid and submerge the jars in boiling water for about five minutes. Using jar tongs, remove the jars and place on a cookie rack or tea towel on the countertop to cool. Within minutes the sound of “POP”, “POP”, “POP” will fill the kitchen as the seals set and suction closed. The unopened jars can be stored at room temperature for up to six months but remember to refrigerate once opened.