They say third time’s the charm and it was for me in my attempt at making jam. And, oh, what a jam! I made possibly the best-ever apricot jam.
The first time I tried making jam was last summer. I had a big batch of bruised strawberries and so I made a strawberry jam, following the directions on the pectin box. I must not follow directions very well because what I ended up with was a thick gummy blob. The flavor was good but the texture was just wrong.
So traumatized by my first-foray into the jam-making world, I didn’t gather enough courage to try again until a few weeks ago. This time, I followed a friend’s instructions for freezer jam with a huge haul of sour cherries. But again, I failed, as I let the mixture boil too long. After the jam cooled in the jar what I had was a rock-solid piece of candy, which wasn't very appropriate for spreading on toast.
I am not one to give up, however, and last weekend when I saw a gorgeous display of apricots at the farmers’ market, I decided to try making jam one more time.
I asked the farmer for advice on making apricot jam, and she told me that the key to making jam was to not over think it. I'm certainly guilty of over thinking things, so that was wisdom I could use. I then asked her if she had any other advice and she said, “People who don’t use Sure-Jell are snobs!”
Well, that was not what I wanted to hear! I have no problem with Sure-Jell, but after my pectin disaster last summer I wanted my jam to have a softer set, so I asked her if it was possible to make a decent jam without it. “Of course,” she replied. “Just make sure you have enough sugar.
How much is enough sugar? I heard everything from a one-to-one ratio of sugar to uncooked fruit to a 3/4-to-one ratio of sugar to uncooked fruit. Wanting to keep my jam slightly tart, I went with the latter.
After slicing my apricots and removing the pits, I measured how much I had and then threw them in a large pot. I added 3/4 cup of sugar for every cup of sliced fruit and one tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of fruit. To later test for doneness, I place a plate in the freezer.
I placed the pot on a burner, turned the heat to medium low and stirred the mixture every few minutes. It became juicy. And then the fruit began to turn to mush. There was foam, but I just kept stirring. After about an hour, the mixture was like a thick sauce, with a few small chunks of fruit but for the most part soft and smooth.
Thinking that the jam looked good and not wanting it to get too overcooked, I took out my plate from the freezer and plopped a dollop of jam on it to see if it was ready. After a minute, I turned the plate to see if it ran, and the jam did. So I cooked it for five more minutes and then repeated the frozen-plate test. This time, the jam stayed solid. The jam was done.
I packed it into sterilized jars, putting a chopped chipotle with one teaspoon of adobo sauce into one of the jars for the most incredible spicy-sweet jam, and then put my jars in the refrigerator. And the next morning I had the most beautifully set, tart and fragrant apricot jam to put on my peanut-butter toast.
Now, I’m sure that there are more scientific methods out there that employ thermometers and timers, but I found this method worked fine for me. But I’m still just a beginner, so please let me know in the comments what tips you have for making jam, so we can all become better at this age-old preservation process!
1 pound of sliced apricots, pits removed (4 cups)
3 1/2 cups of sugar
4 tablespoons of lemon juice (about one lemon) plus zest
Place the apricots, sugar, lemon juice and zest in a pot, and add a couple of tablespoons of water.
Place a plate into the freezer.
Turn the heat to medium low, and stirring every five minutes or so, let the fruit cook. It will first get juicy with the fruit intact, and then the fruit will start to disintegrate. As it cooks, there will be foam on top, but just keep stirring, don’t worry about skimming it.
After about an hour, the jam will be about two or three shades darker and will be smooth and thick, with a few lumps here and there. When it coats the back of a spoon, take out the plate from the freezer and place a dollop of the jam on the plate. If it runs, cook it for five more minutes and then test it again. But if becomes solid, then the jam is done.
Place in a sterilized half-pint jar(s).
When it comes to room temperature, put on the lid and then place in the refrigerator. After a few hours it will be more solid and ready for eating.
Makes about one pint.
Note: If you want to jazz up the flavor, you can add chipotle chiles in adobo, cloves, a cinnamon stick or a vanilla bean while it cooks.
The key, that I’ve learned, is to not over cook it. But if you do, and the next day you find that you have a jar of rock-hard candy instead of jam, all is not lost! You can place the jar into a pot of water and let it come to a boil. The jam will heat up and become liquid, and then you can slowly add more water to it until it’s more runny. Try the freezer test again and then repack it. (This is how I eventually saved my sour-cherry jam).