Friday, September 17, 2010

Making Jam


Several times a year, I like to make jam.  Usually when I make it coincides with some special occasion involving my husband's father.  His Dad is a wonderful gentleman, and quite a character too.  The special event this time is his 85th birthday.

I've been giving his father homemade jam for YEARS.  I can't remember when I started, but it was early in our marriage or just before we married, so that puts it back 15 years or so.  Each time I give him several jars of jam, and he faithfully washes and returns the jars when he's done so I can use them again.  Usually I make red raspberry jam, but in the past I've also made strawberry, black raspberry, mixed berry, and orange marmalade (it didn't set - I want to try it again).  This time I made red raspberry, but I also tried making something new - pear jam, and spiced pear jam.  I've wanted to try making that for years, ever since my friend Jenine game me a jar made from pears grown on her own tree.  It was totally divine, absolutely the most wonderful jam I've ever tasted, so I finally tried making it for myself.  It turned out really well, although the spiced pear could use a little stronger hand on the ginger and cinnamon.  It was my first try, so I didn't want to overdo it.

I use the inversion method of canning, where you fill the sterilized jar with boiling hot jam, seal it with a sterilized lid, then immediately invert it on a towel for five minutes or so.  The heat from the jam helps further sterilize the lid and seal the jar (if the lid doesn't seal properly, use the jam right away).  It's not safe for canning veggies or any tomato products (so please don't try it), but for sugary jams and jellies that will be used up within a matter of months, it's reasonably safe and effective.  (Keep in mind, the jam I make doesn't sit in a pantry for a long time - I think the longest I've ever had jam hang around the house is 4 months before being used up.  So, I am NOT recommending this method for people who want to preserve their food for long-term storage.  I know the jam I give my husband's father is used up within a couple months.)

I follow the directions in the package of Sure-Jell and measure the sugar carefully, but vary the fruit amount slightly depending on how much moisture is in the fruit I'm using.  The pears I used yesterday were quite juicy, and the jam is soft set now, so next time I'll know to reduce the amount of fruit slightly.  Also, rather than using fresh raspberries (have you looked at the price of fresh raspberries?  Eeep!), I use three and a half 12 ounce bags of commercial frozen ones.  Four bags gives a very soft set; 3 1/2 is perfect.  I've learned how far I can twiddle with the fruit-sugar balance before I end up with sauce instead of jam (but since the sauce is amazing on ice cream, it's really a no-lose situation).

I usually give my father-in-law biscotti to go with the jam.  I hope I'll have time to make those tonight.