The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.—Paul Kurtz
As we experience yet another deep freeze here in Ottawa we turn to the comfort of the wholesome and hearty bounty of the harvest. For me this is the absolutely satisfying experience and decadent combination of soft set jam of a thick slice of homemade bread. The perfect accompaniment to tea on a day such as this. Jam that pops in your mouth with the perfect balance between sweet and tart. The markings of fruit that was picked at the peak of perfection in summer and preserved for enjoyment throughout the winter.
When making jam there are a few essentials that you should keep in mind:
The fruit should be dry, fresh, and at their peak ripeness or a little bit under. You do not want to use over ripe fruit to make jam. It is lower in pectin (i.e the jam wont set) and acid which are two important factors in jam making.
The amount of pectin in a fruit determines whether a jam will set or not. For example, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, and nectarines are low in pectin while black currants, cooking plums and apples are high in pectin. If you use a fruit that’s low in pectin you need to add a fruit that’s high in pectin or a liquid or powdered pectin to get the jam to set.
Fruit also contains acid which helps release the pectin but also helps to balance the flavour.
Sugar preserves fruit and allows jam to keep. It also helps the pectin to gel and stops it from breaking down while the jam is boiling. But it also inhibits the initial release of pectin so it should not be added until after the first cooking when the fruit is soft.
Traditionally, equal amounts of sugar to fruit would be used but if you prefer a jam that’s less sweet you can make a soft set jam and refrigerate it after opening. The later is my prefered type of jam and the recipe I’m going to share with you today.
Now a few preserving tips for making preserves:
It is important to keep everything CLEAN. All utensils and jars need to be sterilized. This can be most easily done by putting them through a dishwasher cycle and using them soon after or washing in hot soapy water and placing them in the oven at 340F.
You want to put the jam in the jars while they are still hot so it is important to time this part right just right. This helps to create an inhospitable environment for bacteria that could get in and wreck your preserves. It is also important to store your preserves in a cool dry place. This will help to protect them against UV degradation and allow the maximum taste and nutrient content to be maintained. Once you’ve opened the jar you’re exposing it to the threat of bacteria and need to store it in the refrigerator to keep them from making a home in your jam and ruining it for you.
Here is my recipe for strawberry rhubarb jam. This is a soft set jam that has a delicious balance between the sweetness of the strawberries and honey contrasted with the tart rhubarb. You will have to refrigerate this jam once it’s cooled to extend it’s life because it does not have the level of sugar to allow it to keep for a long period of time.
2 ½ cups strawberries
1 cup rhubarb
¼ cup honey
- Place strawberries, rhubarb and honey in a saucepan and heat on medium stirring from time to time.
- Coarsely mash the fruit with a fork so that you end up with a mixture that is part puree and part chunks. There should be a lot of syrup at this point. It should take about 20-25 minutes to mke but be careful not to let the pan burn.
- Pour mixture directly into jars and seal. This jam won’t set but is a lovely chunky, fresh – tasting puree
I often enjoy this jam with toast but it also pairs delectably well with yogurt or soft fresh goats cheese. Bon Appetite!
*For more information of preserving check out Diana Henry’s book “salt, sugar, smoke” it’s a new favorite addition to my cookbook repertoire!