In this week’s Martin & Sylvia: More Adventures! story "Jam Poetry," Martin and Sylvia’s neighbors, the Browns, happily discover that their three apricot trees have produced a bumper crop this year! They invite brother and sister to help harvest the fruit and make apricot jam. The children learn to put words to the amazing tastes of both fruit and jam, with the help of Mrs. Brown, and a little jam poetry is born!
I think Mrs. Brown and I would get along well, because I believe there’s a little poetry in every jar of homemade jam. It’s like taking all the very best of summer and putting it away in a little time capsule, which you can then open up on the bitterest, darkest winter morning when you’re in desperate need of the sun. Every time I put away a jar or two, I feel like the wisest little squirrel.
While canning jam to make it shelf stable is less difficult than you think, if that feels intimidating with you, begin with refrigerator or freezer jam.
So named because it must be kept in cold storage, “fridge jam” leaves out the last step in traditional canning — the boiling water bath to seal the jar. Further, because you’re keeping the jam cold, you can also play a bit faster and looser with the ingredients without worrying about things like acidity and botulism. Want to add a few sprigs of lavender? Go ahead. Have a bumper crop of strawberries instead of blueberries? Use those.
That being said, don’t cut down the amount of sugar in the recipe. I know that it looks like a ton — although most commercial jams have even more — but it’s necessary for the jam to set up properly.
I choose to make blueberry jam because that’s the fruit that looked best at our market on jam making day, but — as I said — feel free to sub other favorites. The set of the jam may vary depending on the pectin in the fruit you use, but at worst you’ll end up with a fruit topping for your ice cream and pancakes.
Refrigerator Blueberry Jam
(makes ½ pint with a little leftover for immediate snacking)
2 cups (about 1 pint) blueberries
1 ½ cups sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
To start, put a clean plate in the freezer. Then, after giving the blueberries a quick rinse, dump them into a wide skillet. Mash them for about 30 seconds with a potato masher, then add the sugar and lemon.
Stirring almost constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. The cooking time will depend on your berries, but plan for a ball park of between 10 and 20 minutes.
When your spoon starts to leave a clear wake as you pull it across the pan, pull your cold plate out of the freezer and drizzle a few drops of jam on top to test the jam’s set. That sounds complicated, but basically, however much the jam firms up on the plate is about how much you can expect it to firm up in a jar. Cook for a few more minutes if necessary, then carefully funnel the hot jam into a clean jar.
Label the jar with the contents and date — I use a simple sharpie on the lid for this — and store in the fridge for several weeks or in the freezer for up to a year.
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred year old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two pre-schoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion--showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun--in her weekly Sparkle Kitchen posts.
When Meryl isn't writing for Sparkle Kitchen, you can find her on her personal blog, My Bit of Earth, where she writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day.