8.02.2013

My jam is jam

July must be my month for learning new tricks in the kitchen. This year, it was waffles. Last year, jam.

I’d put off learning how to make jam for a long time, mostly because it seemed somehow out of reach. Once upon a time, I’d felt that way about bread baking, too, and actually, there may have been something similar going on. Both bread and jam are made from the simplest, sparest ingredients, and I think that’s where the intimidation factor comes in. That flour and water become bread, and fruit and sugar become jam – it’s a lot to get your head around. It seems unlikely, to say the least. Of course, it’s just science, but it feels like magic.

The last week of July happens to be my jam-iversary. It was July 25th, to be exact, when I first jammed: an intended apricot jam to which I added too much lemon zest and left on the heat for too long. No harm done; I called it Apricot Lemon Marmalade and every jar was scraped clean. One trip around the sun later, I’ve done a fair amount of jamming: nectarine jam, multiple batches of Luisa Weiss’s plum butter, then Seville orange marmalade last winter. I told you about the plum butter last fall, but the seasons kept slipping by before I had a chance to tell you about the others. I’m here today because I don’t want that to happen again. So. Apricots, friends. I’ve come full circle. Only this time, my jam is jam. Really good jam, too.


The recipe I used this year comes from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. I am so inspired by this book. It’s lived mostly on the table over the last few weeks instead of its usual place on the shelf, and the other day while catching up on the phone with an old friend, I suddenly noticed that I’d been stroking it, like you would a small child, for who knows how long. It’s very beautiful – among the most beautiful books I own – but more than that, it is a brilliant and generous guide. Every time I open it, I learn something: the difference between jams, jellies, and marmalades; how to pick the right fruit for preserving; what the sugar, acid, and pectin, are actually doing there in that pot. There are a ton of recipes, then an entire section – over 50 pages! – about the fruits themselves with physical characteristics, flavor profiles, pectin contents, and best pairings for each fruit. It sounds like a lot of nitty-gritties, a lot of science, maybe too much information to take in.

And that’s what’s remarkable. It doesn’t feel that way at all. There is a lot to take in, but the way Saunders writes, she’s not instructing you as much as she is helping you hone your own instincts about what’s important and what’s not, how jam should look, and feel, and taste when it’s done. I’m grateful for that because, yes, jam making is a science, but it’s also very much an art. There’s an element of feel involved that can try one’s courage. This book makes me braver. Better still, it makes me make amazing jam.


I chose the plainest of the apricot recipes to start, one that’s just apricots, sugar, and lemon juice, infused with apricot kernels. (The kernels, in case you’re new to them, are the nut-like things housed within the apricots’ pits. They look like small, flat almonds, and smell like them, too, and are used to flavor amaretto cookies and liqueur.) This recipe is about apricots being apricots, apricots at their best. Sweet, tart, buttery, bold: I’ve already written multiple times on this site about the glory of apricots plus heat. This jam is that glory in its purest form. In her headnotes, Saunders calls the flavor “sumptuous,” and while I don’t think I’ve ever said that word out loud or in print, I think it’s exactly right.


One other thing I want to mention is Rachel Saunder’s canning technique. In the past, I’ve processed my jars in a giant pot of boiling water on my stovetop. It is my least favorite part of jam making. The pot is heavy; it crowds the stovetop, heats up the kitchen, and I’ve more than once splattered myself with boiling water while maneuvering jars in and out. Saunders has you sterilize and process your jars in a 250-degree oven, instead. The technique is simple: Place your jars and lids on a baking sheet (best to use one with a lip) and put them in the heated oven for at least 30 minutes. When your jam is ready, remove the jars from the oven, and fill. (Test first by pouring a spoonful of jam into one of the jars; if it boils, wait a minute before filling.) Once your jars are ready for processing, put them back into the oven for 15 minutes. That’s it. It’s easy, it’s fast, and I am never going back.

And listen, if you’d rather not process your jars at all, skip it. This recipe yields only five 1-pint jars (that’s 10 cups, total). The jam will keep in your fridge for at least a couple of weeks, so you can hold on to a jar or two for yourself, and give the rest away.


Enjoy this first weekend in August, friends. See you back here, soon.

Apricot Jam
Adapted from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders

My first batch was with Blenheim apricots, as Saunders recommends, and the results were spectacular. This week, I used some apricots from our local farmers’ market, and while the flavor was different – a little less full, maybe – I was still thrilled with how it came out. The original recipe has you put half of the macerated fruit through a food mill for variation of texture in the finished jam. I skipped that step, but because this is a small batch that cooks quickly, I still had the occasional pleasant lump. Saunders suggests adding a split 1-inch piece of vanilla bean to the apricot kernels for a change. I tried it with my second batch, and honestly, the flavor was so subtle that I could barely detect it. I’ll either skip it the next time around, or try adding more.

Ripe apricots are very easy to prepare. You don’t even need a knife; just pull them apart with your fingers. Please note that the weight of the apricots, below, refers to pitted apricots. Buy an additional pound and a half or two to make sure you’ll have enough.

6 pounds pitted and halved apricots, 10 pits reserved
2½ pounds white can sugar
2½ ounces strained, freshly squeezed lemon juice

Prepare your fruit the night before: Take two large containers or pots with tight-fitting lids, and fill each one with 3 pounds of apricots, 1¼ pounds of sugar, and 1¼ ounces of lemon juice. Stir well. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the mixture, smoothing to minimize air bubbles. (The idea is to keep the fruit from browning as it macerates.) Snap a lid on each pot, and let macerate in the refrigerator overnight.

On jam day: Place five metal teaspoons on a small plate and put into the freezer. You’ll use the frozen spoons for foolproof jam testing later on.

Heat the oven to 250°F.

Wrap the apricot pits in a dish towel – an old one is best; it may snag or tear a bit – and tap with a hammer (I used a meat pounder, pictured above) until they crack. Remove the kernel from each pit and discard the shells. Coarsely chop the kernels, and place them in a fine-mesh stainless steel tea infuser with a firm latch. Put the vanilla bean in there, too, if using (see note, above) and set aside.

Transfer both containers of macerating apricots to your preserving pan. (The fruit will have shrunk considerably.) Be sure to scrape in all of the sugar. Submerge the tea infuser in the mixture.

Place five 1-liter jars (or the equivalent) and their lids onto a baking sheet, and put into the oven. Bring the fruit and sugar mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently with a large heatproof rubber spatula. Boil, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and skim the foam from the top of the mixture with a large stainless steel spoon. Return the jam to a boil, then decrease the heat slightly and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the jam thickens. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your spatula frequently and keep a close eye on the heat. You’ll want to turn the flame down gradually as the moisture cooks out of the jam. When you’re getting close – say, the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking – slowly stir the jam to keep it from scorching.

Now it’s time to test the jam for doneness: Transfer a glob of jam to one of your frozen teaspoons and put it back in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes. Feel the underside of the spoon; it should be neither warm nor cold. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs. If it runs very slowly and has thickened to a gloppy consistency, it’s done. If it’s still watery, cook for another few minutes, and test again.

When your jam is done, remove the tea ball, and skim the remaining foam from the surface of the jam. Pour the jam into the sterilized jars, wipe the rims with a damp cloth to remove any spilled jam, cover with the lids, and screw the rings on just until they are snug. Put the filled jars back in the oven for 15 minutes, then place them 1-inch apart on a drying rack to set overnight at room temperature. They will seal as they cool. (If you have any that don’t, store in the refrigerator and eat within a few weeks.)

Yield: 5 1-pint jars

25 comments:

Kate said...

Jam has been on my mind lately, too, especially apricot jam, because it is my favorite. Unfortunately, I think I missed the blenheim boat out here in California.

My family recipe is for apricot vanilla bean jam: into each jar, put half a sliced vanilla bean, fill with jam, and process as usual. The jam is infused with the scent of vanilla and it is heavenly! And a little pricey, if you're making a large batch, but absolutely worth it in my book.

Amanda Niehaus said...

Inspiring, Jess. I've been buying too much jam lately ... need to get back in kitchen and make some. I always do the oven jar-sterilising and it works a charm. I've had mango jam last 2 years after doing it that way :)

And I love Kate's suggestion of popping a vanilla bean into the jam jar before filling! Axx

kimberlypeck said...

Oh how i love her book as well! I first used it two years ago, to wonderful results, then this year made strawberry, raspberry and a new one for me, the blueberry mint jam. heavenly! thank you for sharing ~ jam on toast sounds pretty perfect right about now...

thoroughlynourishedlife.com said...

I cannot wait until the summer months to make some jam. I have never attempted it before, but always wanted to. I might have to invest in the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook and teach myself. It might take me the rest of winter and spring to psych myself up!

Nishta said...

1) I love apricots as much as you.

2) I love that your jam-iversary is also Jill's birthday!

3) I don't remember the date, but also celebrate my overcoming fear-of-jam-making, because it's the best.

4) holy cow, that oven-processing technique is going to change my liiiife!

Hannah said...

I've had her jam (you can buy it around here - there too?) ... now I feel like I want her book! I'm slowly learning the process too, but have yet to venture out much "on my own" - or in my own kitchen. This alternative canning technique might be just the thing though.

Kristin said...

Happy (belated) jam-iversary. ; ) I really like these photos, with the whites and oranges and yellows and the glimpses into your home, which looks like such a warm place. Hope you're enjoying the summer, Jess. Sounds like you are.

Jess said...

Kate - First things first: I love your vanilla bean technique! As I mentioned above, placing the split vanilla bean in the tea ball didn't yield much vanilla flavor at all. I'd thought about putting the split bean directly into the pot the next time around, but I don't want to do anything that might muddy the jam's brilliant color. Yours is the perfect solution. Thank you! And yes, I think the Blenheims are indeed over this year. I special-ordered a flat from your part of the world back in early July, and I wish I had ordered even more. But the last of the local variety here are lovely, lovely specimens themselves, so I can't complain.

Amanda - Mango jam? Oooo, would you share your recipe? Miss Mia has just recently discovered the joys of mango, both fresh and dried. She'd go nuts for jam.

kimberlypeck - Thanks for sharing the other recipes you've tried from the book. I'm trying to decide what's next for me. It's raining blueberries around here these days, so maybe I'll try that blueberry mint...

thoroughlynourishedlife - You can do it! The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook is such an excellent resource. Another book I recommend is Marisa McClellan's Food in Jars. It's a slimmer volume with simple, straightforward recipes (not just jam) and lots of great, reassuring information. It's the book I started with, and perfect for the beginning jammer.

Hannah - Yes, I've seen her jam here on the shelves at Formaggio Kitchen, but I've never tried it. You have me sitting here wondering why not... As for the book, you would love it. But wait, didn't you just recently make a gorgeous batch of bitter orange marmalade?

Thanks, Kristin. Orange is a major feel-good color for me. It's no wonder I blew through half a roll of film on apricots and this jam! Happy summer to you, too. Enjoy those long, beautiful Seattle nights...

Hannah said...

Jess - the marmalade had an alternative technique as well! Sit the jars upside down overnight until they seal. I've yet to water process anything in my kitchen ...

Jess said...

Ah, I see. I think Luisa Weiss does it that way, too. Try the oven processing. It's a piece of cake. xo.

Miki and Valerie said...

I have a jam-unrelated question: am totally in love with your picture wall in the last shot. How did you fix the clips to the wall? Thanks. Oh and just had baked apricot oatmeal for breakfast. Glorious! Thanks so much for the inspirations:-) Valerie

Jess said...

Nishta - Your comment was stuck in my spam folder for some reason. Sorry! And Happy birthday to Jill! The 25th is an auspicious day, indeed. Oven-processing: riiiight?!

Hi, Valerie. We just hammered small nails into the wall then hung the clips on them. If you click on the photo in this post, you'll see a very blurry head of a nail sticking through the back part of the clip. That's all!

merry jennifer said...

I first made jam last summer too -- fig jam from the overflowing bags of brown turkey figs someone at work brought me. I loved the method of it, the science behind it, but I hated (really, HATED) the boiling water part. Same as you. Thanks for introducing me to the oven technique. Might have to add that book to my collection...

Katherine said...

I love making jam! It feels so wholesome. I trawled the London markets for apricots and strawberries early in the week and now spend a lot of time stroking the resulting 8 jars.
I don't know whether you have Little Grey Rabbit in the States, but I always feel like her as I stir the cooking jam!

I really enjoy your blog, by the way.

Katherine

Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm really intrigued by the idea of oven processing for jam. Just to be sure, do you mean 250 F or 250 C? Thank you!

Jess said...

Merry-Jennifer - There's a recipe in the book for Brown Turkey Fig Jam with Sherry & Fennel. Saunders writes: "This gentle jam is particularly good on turkey sandwiches or with soft cheese and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts for dessert." How good does that sound??

Katherine - Like Little Grey Rabbit! I love that! I actually had to look up the reference - we're more familiar with Peter Rabbit on this side of the sea - but I know what you mean. For what it's worth, when I eat marmalade, I feel like Paddington Bear!

Anonymous - Ooo, that's important information, indeed. I apologize for not specifying. It's 250°F. I'll fix it up above right away.

Gemma said...

I haven't made any jam yet this year. I usually make a batch of strawberry jam but looks like it will have to be blackberry this year or maybe blackcurrant... We don't use water baths for jam here - most recipes just have you fill warm sterilised jars which you seal, leave to cool and that's it, the jam will be fine kept sealed at room temperature for about a year. I'm never very sure whether we use more sugar in jam here to make that okay or whether it's just diffferent practices in different countries...

alexandria said...

I've felt so timid in attempting to make jam on my own, but I have many good memories of helping my mother make it as a child. The jam book you suggested looks like the perfect one to buy and ease my way into making jam. Thank you!

Chelsea said...

I've been, as many point out here, totally intimidated by jam (and I used to be by bread, too! I totally get that), even after Hannah's encouragement and upside-down processing alternative. But this oven technique - this sounds like something I could actually do! Thanks so much for sharing the process.

Jess said...

Gemma - Yes, I think it is just a matter of different practices. The recipes, as far as I've seen, are the same. The water bath or oven processing must be an extra level of caution that we crazy Americans throw in! I love the thought of blackcurrant jam. My mind immediately goes to roast turkey...

alexandria - Ah, but it sounds as though you have jam making in your blood! Nothing to fear. And for the photos alone, I think you would love this book.

Chelsea - So glad to hear it! Wishing you much happy jam making.

Kasey said...

The Blue Chair Jam cookbook is my go-to. I feel like it's so approachable (even for those of us who know jammin' is not in their wheelhouse). I made a riff on this recipe last summer and this is a great reminder to try my hand again. Perhaps August should be my jam month :)

Katrina said...

I have had this apricot jam and it is the best jam ever given to me. It is little house on the prairie perfection. It is the kind of jam that Anne of Green Gables had when she moved out of Green Gables and lined up the jewel-like jars on her pantry shelf. Thanks again, Jess.

Bookdwarf said...

I'm obsessed with jam making and just made Peach Marmalade also from The Blue Chair cookbook. I need to try the oven method. The boiling pot of water is really irritating.

So far we've made strawberry jam, blueberry jam with gin, methley plum jam with star anise, shiro plum jam with riesling, agrodolce onions, pickles of various varieties.

You should check out a book called Saving the Season by Kevin West too. It's the best.

Jess said...

Kasey - You know, I think I remember that post of yours! I can't wait to dip into Saunders's book again this month. I'm thinking peaches...

Katrina - Well, lady. That is the best and most flattering compliment that my jam has ever, and probably will ever, receive. I'm so glad you love it!

Bookdwarf - Wait a second, how did I not know that you are a canning maniac?? And kind of a fancy-pants maniac, at that! Every one of your jams sounds amazing. Tell me more about these pickles. I've only ever pickled hot peppers in a plain, not-at-all-spiced brine, but I picked up a giant sack of pickling spices when I was in Cape Cod last spring, and I'm itching to spread my pickle wings. Do you know of a book like The Blue Chair Cookbook, but for pickles? I just clicked through the Amazon preview of Saving the Season and it looks incredible. Thanks for the recommendation, Megan.

Martha said...

Thank you so much for the oven technique. The reason I don't make any jams here in the land of over flowing, practically free fruit is that I don't want to be in an un-air conditioned kitchen boiling water. Might make something with blood oranges soon. Thanks