A tale of two jams

063I used to have a serious phobia about canning.  I was sure I might harm myself or others.  Happily, a friend of a friend was teaching classes so I signed up for one and spent a long day peppering the two instructors with about a gazillion questions.  I was going to make sure I knew what I was doing.

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My two jams: 3-day strawberry-rhubarb jam on the top and oven-roasted honey-balsamic-strawberry jam on the bottom.

That was in 2010.  I canned a lot.  A LOT.  I was canning so much jam and posting so many photos on Fbook that one of my friends asked for the full list.  Here’s what I made the first summer:

  • Blueberry Lemon Chili Pepper Jam
  • Blueberry Lemon/Blueberry Lemon Basil Jam
  • Old-Fashioned Raspberry Jam
  • Apricot Jam
  • Apricot with Raz El Hanout (Moroccan spice blend) Jam
  • Sour Plum Vanilla Bean Jam with Apricots (pictured below)
  • Spicy Peach BBQ Sauce
  • Amaretto Nectarine Jam (also known as “life is full of joy and misery jam”)
  • Peach Chutney
  • Ginger Peach Jam
  • Spiced Peach Butter
  • “Italian” Stewed Tomatoes
  • Blueberry Chutney
  • Spiced Peach Butter #2 (less sugar, brown sugar, more spices)
  • Vanilla Bean Pear Butter
  • Vanilla Bean Pear Butter #2
  • Lemon Ground Cherry Sauce
  • Spicy Tomatillo Chile Sauce/Chutney/Jam (not sure…)
  • Apple Cider Butter
  • Thicker Apple Butter
  • Stewed Tomatoes
  • Applesauce

I was pretty jam crazy each summer after that too until I realized that I don’t like eating jam.

That’s not entirely true, but I’m not a huge jam eater.  When I do put jam on my toast, I usually put a very thin layer of it on the bread or it’s just too sweet for me.  This created some problems since you’re supposed to eat things you can within one year of canning them.

I gave away a lot of jam.  That was pretty fun and people were happy.  That got me through most of what I produced the first few summer.  Last summer I decided to scale back the making until I could finally get rid of everything I had stored in my basement.  Recently my friends have been helping by eating stuff I canned in 2014.  It’s still safe.

All I have left now is canned tomatoes and tomato sauce and a few pickles so I felt I was safe going back to the kitchen.  And right as I was inspired, the Oregon strawberries arrived.  And rhubarb.  I’ve been wanting to do more with rhubarb so I was happy to contemplate a jam of strawberries and rhubarb.

Although I learned using pectin, I don’t really love making jam with it.  It sometimes makes it too thick for my liking (’cause sometimes my jam becomes sauce!) and I feel like it can mute flavors.  Whenever I can, I like to just have jams made with fruit, sugar, lemon juice, and any flavorings I think to add like spices and tea.

079I did a quick internet search and found an easy strawberry-rhubarb jam recipe without pectin.  What I liked about it was the technique which I think I can “steal” again for other fruits.  You start by sugaring the fruit and letting it stand 24 hours to get the fruit nice and juicy and instead of just boiling the whole concoction, you start by first boiling and reducing the sugary liquid and then adding in the fruit later.  This allows you to get thicker jam without cooking the fruit.  In the recipe’s technique, however, the person was willing to stretch this out to a 3, 4, or 5 day process:

  • Day 1:  add sugar to fruit
  • Day 2: drain fruit, boil down liquid for 15 minutes, add fruit, cook 15 minutes, let cool, put in refrigerator
  • Day 3:  heat mixture to boiling, cook 15 minutes, let cool, put in refrigerator
  • Day 4+: repeat until you get the texture you want

The idea is you take advantage of evaporation and reduction on the stove to thicken the jam without pectin.  I wasn’t fully willing to go that many days.  Instead I did the modified schedule:

  • Day 1:  add sugar to fruit
  • Day 2: drain fruit, boil down liquid for 30-40 minutes, add fruit, cook 30 minutes, let cool, put in refrigerator
  • Day 3:  heat mixture to boiling, cook 30 minutes, and can it up while hot

129I think I could have canned after day 2 but I was curious to see what the texture might be after being refrigerated one evening.  If I wanted less smooth jam, canning after day 2 would have been the best, but the results after day 3 were really good and it canned up delightfully.

In addition to the technique, I loved the use of lime instead of lemon.  In the finished product, it wasn’t so pronounced, but I realized that lime and strawberry is a really nice combination.  It would make a nice, fresh compote in summer!  This recipe couldn’t be simpler:

  • 2.5 pound of chopped rhubarb, 3 c. sugar, juice of 2 limes into one bowl
  • 2.5 pounds of whole or halved strawberries, 3 c. sugar, juice of 2 limes into another bowl

I did it this way because they did it in the recipe, but I’m not clear on why it was important to macerate the rhubarb and the strawberries in sugar in separate containers.  I think it all could have gone in one big bowl.

140On day 2, I was a bit bummed out that I wasn’t going to have jam for at least another day.  Not satisfied not to have anything to show for my efforts, I decided to make another recipe I had seen in my search for a oven-roasted strawberry jam.

Similar to the several day jam, what appealed to me was the relative lack of work on my part.  After washing and chopping the berries in half, most of the work is done by and in the oven as the mixture roasts and reduces.

In the original, they used balsamic vinegar, vanilla bean, and sugar.  It hinted at the use of honey and I remembered that I had some really flavorful olive honey that I thought might be good to use, especially if the flavor of the honey stayed pronounced in the final product.  I decided to give it a try, keeping the balsamic vinegar and deciding against the vanilla since it would compete with the honey flavor.

The ingredients were simple:

  • 4 pints of strawberries, washed and halved
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar

After everything is mixed, it just sits there in a broad pan (I used my 9 x 13 glass baking dish) while the oven preheats to 265 degrees.  According to the internet recipe, it should take 2 hours and you should periodically stir the mixture as it’s roasting.

My strawberries produced a lot of liquid and even though I was getting close to 90 minutes, I didn’t feel like I was going to be reduced enough in 2 hours and my bedtime was approaching.  At the hour mark, I upped my temperature to 300 degrees.  By the 90 minute mark, I was up to 350.  I would only recommend that if you’re close by to keep an eye on it.  The whole thing could have burned to nothing if I hadn’t kept my eye on things.

137I finally pulled out the jam when I felt is was reduced “enough” and I was ready to go to bed.  Instead of canning, I just put it into two really hot jars that I sterilized using the technique on the website (put the jars in the over with the jam for the last 25 minutes of roasting time).  I could have canned, but I let everything cool slightly and then I put it in the refrigerator.

It is a lovely thing.  Lots of berry texture — you can tell by looking that it is strawberry jam — and lots of juice.  It can be eaten on toast, but it’s been really tasty stirred into yogurt.  Or just eaten here and there.  The honey, because it was itself a strong flavor, is still strong in the jam.  It’s a very nice combination with the balsamic.  I am very glad I left out the vanilla.

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The next day I then finished and canned my 3-day strawberry-rhubarb jam.

It was 3 days and 2 jams.  Not a lot of work on my part — just time and patience!

Happy start of summer.

 

 

 

 

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