I've been jam crazy this week. Seriously. I've got a dozen different jams I'm selling at the flea market this weekend. We have little bowls in the fridge of the remains of the jams that didn't quite fill up the pint jars. For lunch today I had toast with three different kinds of jams, to taste them "in context". They were all good.
First, lets talk about the difference between jams, jellies, preserves, and marmalades. All are made pretty much only from fruit and sugar. Some have butter, some have spices, some have pectin (which comes from fruit), some may have other things. Jellies are when the fruit is crushed or chopped, and cooked down, the pulp is strained out, and the juice is cooked with sugar until it reaches the jelling point. The jelling point is when the mix starts to thicken, this can be tested various ways, including putting some on a frozen plate and seeing if it holds together or runs, seeing how it coats a dry sterling silver spoon, or with a candy thermometer. Jellies, at least homemade ones, are thick, and in my experience, hold shape pretty well when cut with a knife. Jams are made by preparing fruit (skinning, removing the pit, sometimes chopping) and cooking it down with sugar until it jells. They still have hunks of fruit in the finished product. A marmalade is a jam usually made from citrus, with small pieces of the rind. Preserves are whole pieces of fruit suspended, or cooked in a sugar syrup. This week, I've made at least one of all of these.
All these fruit things need to be packed in hot, sterilized jars and then processed in a hot water bath. The easiest way to sterilize jars (always use canning jars! Never reuse jars that you're not sure about, they might break) is to pop them, after washing and drying, into a 200 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. To process in a hot water bath, get a big pot that big enough to cover the jars by about an inch or two with water. First you have to raise them off the bottom of the pan, using a rack or a steamer tray or something similar. Fill the pot with water, and keep it boiling, covered, while your jam finishes cooking. Fill your hot jars with the hot fruit, leaving 1/4 inch headroom. Go around the inside edges of the jar with a spatula (I've been using wood skewers) to release air bubbles, then clean the lip of the jar with a damp, clean paper towel. Put the lid on, then the screw part, and tighten. Don't kill yourself tightening, or the lid will never come off. Of course, none of this is necessary if you plan to eat the jam right away, in which case just put it in a clean jar and stick it in the fridge for a few weeks to about a month. Maybe more.
So far, I've made the following:
Fig and plum jam
Spiced orange plum jam
Spiced plum jam
Orange peach marmalade (see picture above)
Spicy orange fig jam, the recipe which came from Elise
The spicy orange fig jam is the only one I tried to make in the microwave. It's super super easy, but I like the control I get from using the stove. After one or two jams, I figured out the jelling point and how to sense if something is close. Once you get around there, if you keep cooking, your jam or whatever you are making will be so thick you have to eat it with a spoon. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It just won't spread on toast. With the microwave, I tend to forget that I'm making something. It's black, I can't really see into it, I can't stir it and taste it every 30 seconds.
The recipes for all these things were almost all made up, or based out of the Joy of Cooking. The peach-orange marmalade, which gave me the most filled jars for the smallest amount of fruit, was great. I needed 6 peaches and an orange to get 3 pint jars of marmalade. The grape jam recipe I made needed 3 pounds of grapes and I got a little more than one pint. Strawberry jam needed more than a pound for one jar.
As an example, I'll post the recipe for plum jam, which I based most of the other jam recipes I made off of. I'm still learning about jelling and pectin and what fruits need more to make more jam, so check out older cookbooks for ideas or look on the internet.
2 pounds plums, washed and pitted, and chopped if you want.
2 - 2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice (something with the acid in the bottled lemon juice helps fruits set)
Mix everything together in a large saucepan. Crush the fruit a little as it cooks. Stirring frequently, boil to the jelling point, remove from heat, skim off foam, and ladle into hot jars. process in hot water for 10 minutes.
For more information on canning, check out:
The National Center for Home Food Preservation