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Small Batch: Mixed Stone Fruit Jam

mixed stone fruit jam

About a week ago, I had three peaches going mushy, a handful of soft apricots and a flat of sugar plums all competing for my attention. Knowing that I couldn’t ignore all that overly ripe fruit a day longer, I peeled and chopped the peaches and diced the apricots. The plums were promised to another project, so I couldn’t pilfer too freely. I liberated just enough to bring the volume in my measure to up to three cup mark.

This all happened just before I went to bed, so I combined the fruit with a scant two cups of sugar and poured the whole mess right up to the rim of a wide-mouth quart jar. Into the fridge it went.

The next evening, after the dinner dishes were done, I poured the prepared fruit into my small batch cooking pot and prepped three half pint jars, hoping that I’d lose that final half pint during the cooking process. I added no additional pectin, choosing instead to cook the jam up to 220 degrees and hope for the best. I added the juice and zest of one lemon towards the end of the cooking. The fruit itself was so sweet, tart and flavorful that it didn’t need an additional things in terms of spices (although a bit of vanilla or cinnamon would be lovely).

It hit 220 degrees easily and as I filled the jars, I was happy to discover that I had exactly enough for the three half-pints (I promise, this exactitude rarely happens to me). I processed them in my handy asparagus pot for ten minutes and had pinging lids very soon after that.

Less than an hour of time invested (over the course of two nights) yielded three half pints of truly tasty jam, as well as the satisfaction of rescuing good food from a certain, moldy fate.

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Canning 101: How to Ensure That Your Jam Sets

temperature test

One of the trickiest things about making jam is achieving the set sweet spot. Cook it too long and you worry about the integrity of your cutlery as you reach in for a spoonful. Cut the stove time short and when it comes time to eat, the jam threatens to run off your toast in sticky rivulets (do know that jam this consistency is still amazing on pancakes or in yogurt. Call it a rustic syrup or old fashioned preserves and your friends will still be wowed).

plate test

First off, know that even the most experience jam maker has an off day here and there. The same recipe can yield a perfect set on Saturday and make an unfortunately sloshy batch on Sunday. Jam is influenced by the width of the pot you use to cook it, the ratio of sugar to water in the fruit, the amount of pectin in the fruit (as well as whether you add additional pectin), the elevation at which you’re cooking and even the amount of humidity in the air.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to make a batch of jam…

  • As I mentioned above, the width of your pot can influence the set of your jam. Always choose the widest pot you have at your disposal that also has enough height to let the jam boil vigorously. More surface area means faster evaporation and ample height means you can crank the heat and let it boil. Getting the water evaporated out of your cooking jam at a speedy clip is integral to having a nice, spreadably sticky jam.
  • Take the jam’s temperature. Jam making is much like candy making in that you’re applying enough heat to the fruit and sugar to raise the temperature over the boiling point of 212 degrees and alter the structure of the sugar. The jam reaches its ideal set point at 220 degrees, so keep careful watch. Know that if you reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe too drastically, you may not be able to get your cooking jam up to the set point.
  • Before you take the jam off the heat, try the plate test. At the beginning of cooking (or even before) stash a couple saucers or sandwich plates in your freezer. When you believe the jam is cooked, grab one of the plates and plop a small spoonful at the center. Let it sit for a minute or two and then gently prod the puddle of jam with your finger. If it’s formed a surface skin and seems to be developing a certain solidity, it is done. If it is runny and saucy, give it a few more minutes.
  • Another test is the sheet test. Here, you stir a spoon through your jam and the remove it from the pot. Holding it over the cooking jam, watch as the remnants on the spoon drip back down. Do they fall back in runny drips, like rain on a window? If so, it’s not quite done. However, if they seem thick and run together in more of a sheet, your jam is finished.
  • Cooking times are estimates. When the recipe gives an amount of time for you to let the jam cook, know that that is only an approximate time. The recipe writer doesn’t know how hot your stove cooks, whether you’re in arid New Mexico verses sticky Philadelphia or what size pot you’re cooking the jam in. Use your judgment.
  • Additional pectin can help improve set, but it isn’t always a panacea. I’ve had jams that included additional pectin end up runny and then made others with no additional pectin that have firmed right up. Additionally, I’ve found recently that my beloved Certo liquid pectin isn’t working as well this year as it did in years past. I don’t know if they’ve changed the formula, but it’s thrown me off and made me remind myself of the basics of set all over again.

What are you tips for making sure your jam sets well?

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Small Batch Canning and Sour Cherry Jam

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Although I’m not as diligent about it as some people, I’ve always been one to steer clear of kitchen tools that offer little in the way of flexibility or range. This is why I’ve avoided things like egg poachers (a simmering pan of water works just fine for me) and yogurt makers (milk* in glass jars + small Playmate cooler + warm water + eight hours = yogurt). However, I recently found myself madly coveting one of those tall, skinny pots that were designed for steaming asparagus.

You see, I had a funny suspicion that the asparagus pot, with it’s slender styling and interior rack, would make a most convenient small batch canner. So, when I encountered one with a mis-matched lid at a thrift store, I determined that I could risk the $4 to see if my hunch was correct.

small batch set-up

Now, at this point in my little tale of asparagus pots, you might be asking yourself why I’d even need a pot to process small batches of jam. And it’s true that my kitchen is well kitted out in just about every pot and pan you could imagine. Thing is, the idea of pulling out the big pots is sometimes enough to deter me from cooking up a batch of jam.

If it’s 9 o’clock at night and the kitchen’s already been put to bed for the evening, the last thing I want to do is stir everything up again and create a whole sink’s worth of dishes. I hate to admit it, but there have been times when I’ve let a pound of berries or a cluster of peaches go bad because I couldn’t summon up the energy to create and then clean the mess necessary to preserve them.

sour cherry jam wreckage

For instances, when I picked up my CSA share last Thursday afternoon, included in the bounty was a quart of glowing sour cherries. There weren’t any additional cherries at the adjacent market, so I couldn’t pick up more in order to have enough for a full batch of jam. What’s more, my charming husband doesn’t eat fruit or the many desserts that are crafted from them, so I couldn’t make a small pie or tart, unless I wanted to eat the whole darn thing (and while my inner seven year old rejoices at the idea of a whole pie for dinner, the 31 year old that I am knows just how sad my belly would feel post-indulgence).

So Sunday night, after a long day errands, gardening and picnicking with friends, I took my little $4 asparagus pot on a test drive with those sour cherries. After pitting, I had approximately 1 1/2 pounds of cherries, which I combined with 3/4 a pound of cane sugar and one packet of liquid pectin (cherries are naturally low in pectin, so even small amounts of jam need a little boost). I cooked them down in a two-quart pan, which proved to be just the right size (although I did need to watch carefully for bubbling over).

two 12-ounce jars

While the jam cooked, I filled that tall little pot with water and brought it a boil. When the jam was ready, I filled my clean jars (I got two 12 ounce jars and one 4 ounce jar out of this batch), applied the lids and rings and processed them in succession (10 minutes per jar). While that’s not a USDA-recommended procedure, the jars sealed firmly and I feel comfortable storing these on the shelf. The final 4 ounce jar got tucked into the fridge.

I’m sure that some of you are wondering why I’d even go to the trouble of processing such a small batch of jam. Here’s the thing. I have limited refrigerator space. (Actually, make that limited kitchen space. I imagine that some of you have pantries that are larger than my entire kitchen.) Any time I can process something to be shelf stable and keep it out of the fridge is a good thing, even when it’s a micro-batch such as this. Also, as you may have noticed, I make quite a lot of sweet preserves and at any given time, have at least half a dozen open jars hanging out on the right-hand door of the fridge. I just don’t need to add to the open jam/butter/curd queue at this time.

So, if you’re like me and want to process even the smallest batches, without hauling out your big old canning pot, consider putting an asparagus steamer to work.

*Milk simmered to 180-190 degrees, cooled to 110-120 and combined with some plain yogurt or powdered yogurt starter.

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May Can Jam: Orange Rhubarb Butter

rhubarb ends

Last summer, I made more batches of jam than I can count. I used more than fifty pounds of sugar and filled hundreds of jars (admittedly, I was doing this in part to have plenty to give away at my wedding). Even with all that giving away, I still had a whole lot of leftover jam to consume throughout the year.

chopped rhubarb

Now I like jam as much as the next girl (or maybe even more), but that’s a whole lot of jam, particularly when I’m the only eater of sweet spreads in our household. Couple that with the fact that I’m trying not to eat tons of sugar (not that you’d pick up on that fact from reading this site), it means I move through my jam quite slowly. What’s a dedicated preserver to do?

rhubarb butter, from above

Well, I can tell you what this canner’s going to do. She’s going to declare this the summer of fruit butters! Butters cook longer than jams do, meaning that they need less sugar for palatability and can achieve a spreadable texture through the evaporation of liquid. The reduction of sugar does mean that butters don’t last quite as long as jams (sugar is a preservative), but since they’ll have less sugar, I’ll feel better about eating them more regularly, making it possible for me to work my way through my stash at a speedier clip. I do believe everyone will win (and when I say everyone, I mean me).

rhubarb butter

For my first foray down this path, I offer this Orange Rhubarb Butter. It tangy, spreadable and so concentrated in flavor. It would be brilliant on scones or stirred into yogurt. I just have one word of warning for you. It cooks down significantly. I started with six cups of raw ingredients (rhubarb, orange juice and sugar) and ended up with a single pint of product. This is the one downside of making butter instead of jam. But it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

Recipe after the jump.

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April Can Jam: Rosemary Rhubarb Jam


Despite having known about the April Can Jam challenge for more than a month (I helped pick the topic, after all), I still waited until the VERY last minute to make my jam. What can I say, I’m motivated by deadlines (although I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a bit of daylight with which to take my photos).

rhubarb stalks

Happily, all the time I invested in delaying the actual making paid off, because when I finally went to the kitchen, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Rhubarb. Rosemary. Sugar. A bit of lemon. Oh yes.

I’ve been smitten with the flavor of rosemary since I was in high school. We had several large bushes in our front yard and I would often grasp one of the fragrant fronds as I walked down the driveway on my way out of the house, to carry the scent with me. I’ve often wished that I had followed the lead of our neighbor, who would snip an armful to float in her bathwater.

squeezing lemon

I know that a lot of people struggled with this particular challenge, because it was at once very specific and yet totally open. However, I’ve loved seeing all the ways that people have applied herbs to their pickles and preserves. I do hope this will lead to further herbal experimentation (pure thoughts, kids) as we move into the heart of the canning season.

jarred jam

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Charoses Inspired Jam for Passover


A couple of weeks ago, I got the most inspired idea from a reader. Knowing that Passover is around the corner, she wondered whether it would be possible to make a jam based on charoses (also spelled charoset), one of the traditional components in the Seder meal. It’s a dish traditionally made from chopped apples, nuts, honey, cinnamon and wine, and it on the table to represent the mortar that Jews used when laying brick, during their days of slavery in Egypt.

eight cups chopped apple

Though my mother is Jewish, we didn’t observe many of the holidays when I was growing up. In fact, the bulk of my experience with the ceremony of the Seder came from gatherings in our Unitarian Universalist church parish room and my repeated readings of the All-Of-A-Kind Family books.

1 1/2 cups grape juice

However, since moving to Philadelphia in 2002, I’ve attending at least one family Seder every year, and have come to really appreciate the yearly ritual, and the ways in which it celebrates the struggle for freedom.

toasted and chopped almonds

As far as food and Jewish holidays go, Passover is somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of delicious. You’re instructed to surrender leavened items for the eight-day period. But even in with the restrictions, one can find moments of culinary joy. Personally, I find a lightly buttered and salted piece of matzo to be pure bliss. Add a scoop of charoses and a dollop of horseradish (another traditional Seder plate player) and I’m a happy girl.

juicing a lemon

In thinking this particular batch of jam out, I knew it wouldn’t be an exact replica of what is essentially an uncooked apple-walnut salad. But I did want to create something that would be somehow similar and familiar. Apples were a given, as was honey and cinnamon. I used grape juice in place of the wine and added a bit of lemon juice to balance things out. And I chose to use almonds in place of the more traditional walnuts, thinking that they would retain their crunch better.

a cup of honey

Initially, I was uncertain about the addition of the nuts in the jam, as I wasn’t sure how they would effect the pH level of the jam and thus its safety. However, after doing some research, I eventually came across this recipe for Apricot-Orange Conserve that used similar proportions to what I was planning. If the National Center for Home Food Preservation could comfortably include some nuts in a batch of jam, I knew I could too.

stirring in almonds

I am really pleased with my initial attempt at this recipe. It’s thick, spreadable and not too sweet. Some might call it more of a chutney than a jam, because of the texture that the chopped nuts lend. However, since it doesn’t include a savory component, I’m going to keep calling it a jam (unless someone has a better name for it). Making this had also had me thinking about other ways that Seder elements could be transformed into preserves (Apple Horseradish Jelly, perhaps?).

finished jam

I’m thinking that this jam might make for a nice gift if you’re having friends over for a Passover Seder and want to send them home with something delicious and thematic. Passover starts on Monday, March 29th this year, so you’ve got just under a week to whip up a batch!

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