This post is the next installment in my sponsored content partnership with Craftsy. This time, I took Jam & Marmalade: The Blue Chair Way, taught by Rachel Saunders.
I first met Rachel Saunders in the fall of 2010. It was in San Francisco, at the first ever Good Food Awards judging. Rachel and I were assigned to the panel that was judging the sweet preserves. We spent a day sitting around a table with a handful of other jam obsessives, tasting jar after jar, and talking about our impressions.
All the judges had a deep understanding of what separated a good preserve from a great one, but Rachel was one of the few who could explain what was happening technically or scientifically that led to either good or great (as well as truly mediocre).
I left that day impressed with her expertise and ordered a copy of her beautiful cookbook (then brand new) as soon as I got home. To this day, I turn to it when I’m hunting for jammy inspiration and fresh flavor combinations.
Recently, I spent a few hours immersing myself in Rachel’s approach to preserving when I took her class on Craftsy. Called Jam & Marmalade: The Blue Chair Way, it is an exhaustive introduction to the art of preserving with just fruit and sugar.
After a brief introduction to Craftsy and Rachel, the true meat of the class begins with a primer on equipment. For seasoned canners, this section might feel a little unnecessary, but there were several good reminders in this lesson, including remembering to make sure that when you prep your fruit, you take care to find a clean cutting board that has not been used for garlic or onions.
One thing to know about Rachel’s approach to jam and marmalade making is that she is devoted to the French-style copper preserving pan. These very beautiful and highly conductive pans are a joy to cook in (I treated myself to one some years back) but are very expensive.
Rachel’s alternative suggestion of an 8 quart or larger Dutch oven is one to consider, as it is still a very good vessel for jam making and will have many more uses in a regular home kitchen.
The next two lessons focus in on jam making. First is a quick, simple blackberry jam and the second is a strawberry jam in which the fruit is macerated in sugar and lemon juice for seven days before cooking.
Lessons five, six, and seven are all focused in on marmalade making. Rachel’s technique is meticulous and produces a very beautiful product.
Part of her secret is that in addition to prepping, simmering, and softening the fruit that will go into the marmalade, she also simmers a second potful of lemons in order to create a flavorful, pectin-rich liquid to add to the cooking fruit. This ensures that she has ample jelly in the finished marmalade and is a technique I plan on using during next winter’s citrus season.
The final lesson in the course is the one in which Rachel shares her technique for processing the jars. She uses an oven method as opposed to the boiling water bath. This is a somewhat controversial method in canning circles, because while it is not approved for home use by the USDA, it is one that is commonly used in commercial production.
My feeling is that as long as the preserve being bottled is one that is high in sugar, the risks are minimal.
Despite the fact that I’ve been making jam for most of my life and have written two cookbooks on the topic, I still felt like I gained something of value from this course. It was useful to hear the ways in which Rachel explained certain principles of jam making (I appreciated seeing her explain her frozen spoon method of testing for set, as I’d never quite understood it before) and I am so impressed by her marmalade process.
Whether you’re looking for a thorough introduction to home preserving, or you want to brush up your skills, I wholeheartedly recommend Rachel Saunders’ course.
Official disclosure statement: This is sponsored post from Craftsy. I was compensated for this post. However, all opinions remain my own.