Jammin’July 3rd, 2009 by Diane Fish
The children’s book Jamberry riffs, “Raspberry, Jazzberry, Razzmatazzberry, Berryband, Merryband, Jamming in Berryland!” Lately, our house has been “Jamberry” central as I processed thirty-some-odd pints of strawberry jam over the last couple of weeks. This is just the beginning as I make lots of jam - strawberry, raspberry, peach, peach-orange-pineapple, strawberry-rhubarb – and we haven’t even gotten to the butters yet!
We do lots of PBJ and it is a quick and easy gift to toss in a basket with a loaf of warm bread. Jam is also the perfect way to flavor plain yoghurt – add some homemade granola for a quick and yummy breakfast or after school snack!
A couple of friends expressed interest in learning to make jam so I sent out an shout to the gals at church to come over to my house and learn the basics of freezer and cooked jams – expecting a couple people. By the time I had 8 replies in the inbox I decided to regroup. I picked a couple buckets of berries, scrounged around for some plastic containers, rounded up a couple of teens to keep an eye on the toddlers in the gym while we worked in the kitchen and we started jammin’!
We did two types of strawberry freezer jam and then I did a quick demo of an old family favorite, “Jiffy Berry Jam.” For the freezer jam I demo-ed the traditional, sugar-laiden, but never-fail fruit pectin recipe found in Sure-Jell . With a jaw-dropping 4 cups of sugar for 2 cups of crushed berries, it is sure-to-please the under 10 set and a tablespoon contains enough sweetener to handily flavor a cup of plain yoghurt. However, it could also put you in a diabetic coma! This is the jam of my childhood – packaged in an odd assortment of cottage cheese and cool whip containers saved through the years it graced the breakfast table every morning. The recipe, found on the insert inside the box, is simple, quick (once in the groove one can easily knock this out in less than 30 minutes) and bullet-proof.
The second batch was made with Ball Simple Creations No-Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin which uses 1 1/2 cup of sugar and 4 cups of crushed berries and unlike Sure-Jell which requires you to cook the pectin, only needs to be stirred for three minutes. Resulting in a slightly softer set jam, with a more natural fruit taste, this version of freezer jam is a winner in my book. Quick, easy, and lighter on the sugar!
There are several other brands of freezer jam pectin on the market – one made by Certo is similar to Sure-Jell but also requires the addition of corn syrup. This has never been a favorite of mine because, recent demonization of corn syrup aside, it represented an extra bit of fiddling around with an ingredient that I inevitably discovered that I was almost out of after I started the process of making the jam. Liquid pectin, sold in pouches, allows you to skip the step of cooking the pectin, but like Sure-Jell requires 4 cups sugar. All the varieties of pectin yield about 5 cups jam and cost about $2-3 per batch depending on whether you get a bargain on the pectin or not.
My final batch was Jiffy Berry Jam – a no-added pectin recipe that comes from my maternal grandmother. My mother always used this recipe for raspberry, blackberry and marion berry jam and while it doesn’t quite represent the instant gratification of the no-cook pectin jam it is the tops for taste! A few years ago my mother and I were cleaning out some boxes left over from my grandmother’s estate and we came across the remains of her recipe cards, including this jam recipe, mixed with some old papers and strewn in the bottom of a box. My mom, having her own box of tried and true’s, was ready to toss the entire mess when I jumped in and rescued them. She died when I was a teenager so my relationship with grandma hadn’t matured and I miss the opportunity to ask her about the challenges she faced growing up during the depression. Grandma didn’t keep a journal, we don’t have bundles of old letters, so all that remains are a few memories, stories passed down from my mother, and notes on some stained 3×5 cards like “needs more salt” or “good with pork”. Growing up in a meat and potatoes household, the ethnic roots in the recipes were a bit of a revelation as well. Eastern European, Northern Italian and German recipes, reflective of the diverse immigrant community in which my grandfather lived, apparently graced their table on a regular basis. When I asked Mom why we never ate Italian-style “Meat Gravy” with pasta growing up she simply replied, “Your dad wanted pot-roast and potatoes.” Here is the recipe – in the hand of Mildred Edna Calnan Toman.
I use a hand-held mixer to beat the hot sugar and berry mixture. It does splash a bit so I cut a lid-sized piece of cardboard out of the bottom of a pizza box and cut a hole in it for the beaters to pass through. This cuts down on the splatter and prevents the steam coming off the hot berries from cooking your fingers in the process.
The seeds in raspberries and blackberries are rich in pectin and the beating liberates it and gives you a firm set jam. You can either put the hot jam into hot jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes or let the jam cool slightly, put into plastic containers and freeze it. Alternatively, you can just put it in the fridge and eat warm bread and jam for every meal for the next week – which isn’t so bad either!