Jams Made Easy!

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by Sherry Kline

azfamily.com

Posted on August 25, 2011 at 3:07 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 10 at 10:34 PM

Have any of you noticed the great prices for fruit recently at your local grocers and farmers markets? Making jams is a nice way to take advantage of the abundance but it’s just too dang hot out there to be cooking the fruit and then boiling jars for canning. What I do is a quick jam that you can refrigerate for a couple of weeks or freeze for up to a year. If you want to go ahead with the canning, I have included some canning instructions at the end of this article.

Quick jamming doesn’t require sterilized jars or lids. In fact, any clean glass jar with a lid (old jelly, olive, pickles, and salsa) works fine. The recipes I make do not call for store-bought pectin packages but rely on the the pectin naturally found in the fruit. I also found some plastic jars and lids at the grocery store (in the same place you find the canning jars and equipment) that are made for freezing the jams. What a great way to have the freshest, cheapest fruit for later in the year.

If you find yourself with too little time and are not up to the effort, you can freeze the fresh fruit. This way you have the sweet fruit to use at your leisure for baking, jamming or both. My plan is to freeze some of this fruit and make jams for holiday gifts. I have also included instructions on how to best freeze the fruit to make sure it’s good for using later.

Some of the recipes I have provided relies on the natural sweetness of fruit, plus 100 percent apple juice concentrate and honey, which won’t mask the incredible flavors of herbs and fruit. These are recipes that are more about having a ‘fruity’ taste as opposed to a ‘sugary’ taste. Other natural sweeteners to use are 100 percent white grape juice concentrate and agave nectar.

Why not get creative with some of your jams? I found some fun combinations of fruit, herbs and spices. Some herbs to experiment with are: mint, basil, lavender, tarragon, rosemary, ginger, garlic, bay leaf, pineapple sage, hyssop, lemon balm and lemon thyme. Here are a few strategies to use to avoid having herb pieces decorating your or your family’s teeth:

 1.  Ground dried herbs: Add ground or powdered herbs directly to fruit mixture when simmering. These herbs will remain in the jam.
 2. Whole herbs: Place whole herbs (such as bay leaf, crushed cardamom pods or mint sprigs) in simmering fruit mixture. Remove when cooking is completed.
 3.  Tea infusion: Steep herbs in very hot water for 5 minutes or longer. Herbs can be fresh or dried. Strain and add herb liquid to simmering fruit mixture.

These are all great ways to get a small, extra taste added to your favorite fruit with very little effort. Have fun with it! These flavored jams can be used on soft cheeses to be served with crackers or as a glaze or delicate sauce for a savory meat, such as roast pork.

Finally, like in everything, doing this does not always end perfectly. There may be some adjustments to be made so it pleases your own palate. Here are some suggestions:

If too runny: Strain jam through a fine-mesh strainer to remove excess liquid. Or return jam to a nonstick pan and simmer over low heat to reduce excess liquid.

If too thick: Stir in a little more apple juice concentrate until you have the desired consistency.

If not sweet enough: These recipes tend to be on the tart side. To sweeten, return jam to a nonstick pan. Over low heat, add honey, apple juice concentrate (thawed) or your favorite natural sweetener. Simmer to reduce excess liquid.

If too sweet:  Return jam to a nonstick pan. Over low heat, add 1/2 cup fruit and a little lemon juice. Simmer to desired consistency and taste.

Once you're happy with the results, refrigerate your jam in a clean glass jar. Label and eat within two weeks. Enjoy!

Many thanks to the best magazine in the world for Do Stuff Yourself People like me, The Herb Companion, for some of the recipes and hints; especially Letitia L. Star.

Recipes
Strawberry/Rhubarb Jam
I found this recipe to make for Lisa, since it's her favorite fruit pie and assumed it would also be her favorite jam (fingers crossed!). This is made with granulated sugar so it is sweeter than the other recipes but the rhubarb keeps it from being too sweet. I used frozen rhubarb since it's too late in the season for fresh or it's way more expensive and not worth the price. I found it in my local grocers.
2 pounds chopped rhubarb (fresh, cut into large sugar cube sizes or frozen)
2 pounds strawberries, cleaned, whole or sliced if large
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 lemons, juice and retain peel and seeds

Method
Place a small plate in freezer (to test the jam consistency later).

After juicing lemons, cut peel in quarters. Wrap seeds in small square of cheesecloth, tying off with kitchen twine or place in tea ball. The peels and seeds provide a natural pectin to the jam.

Place fruit, sugar, water, and lemon juice, peels and seeds in a large bowl and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

Pour contents of bowl into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 15 minutes. Don't worry about any scum that rises to the surface while the jam is boiling; if you keep skimming it off, you'll finish with no jam at all! Instead, wait until you have a set, then remove the jam from the heat and stir n a small lump of butter, which will disperse the scum.

Drop the heat to medium. Hold the jam at a constant simmer, checking frequently to make sure the jam isn't scorched at the bottom of the pot. After 15 minutes, check to see if your jam has set by placing a small spoonful of jam on the plate from the freezer. The jam is set when it holds its shape on the cool plate. If it seems loose, continue cooking over medium-low heat until set.

Remove seed bag and lemon peels. Place jam in jars, wiping the edges before putting on lids. Label with date made, consume by date and place in refrigerator (for up to two weeks) or freezer (for up to one year).

Lavender-Peach Jam with Vanilla
2 cups peeled fresh or frozen peaches, thawed (a 1 lb bag is around 2 cups)
2 TBS fresh or dried lavender buds
1/2 cup water
2 TBS apple juice concentrate, thawed
2 TBS honey
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method
To prepare fresh peaches, wash and score an x on blossom end of peach. Plunge into rapidly boiling water for about 1 minute. Quickly transfer to bowl of ice water. Peel and pit.

Slice peeled peaches as thinly as possible. The thinner the better so they soften faster during the cooking process.

Combine lavender and water in small saucepan; bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep 5 minutes. Pour liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into a measuring cup. Reserve liquid and lavender buds.

Combine peaches, apple juice concentrate, honey, lemon juice, vanilla extract and reserved lavender liquid in a nonstick skillet. Add 1 teaspoon steep lavender buds, if desired. *NOTE The recipe I made, I chose not to put the buds in and felt the resulting taste was good enough. I didn't want to mask the taste of the peaches with too much.

Bring mixture to a boil over med-hi heat. Reduce heat and simmer 5-15 minutes, stirring constantly and mashing peaches with the back of a spoon until mixture becomes the consistency of jam. *NOTE I used a hand potato masher because I am impatient. *grin

Refrigerate jam in a bowl for about 1 hour until chilled. Conduct taste test and make corrections, if needed. Place jam in jars, wiping the edges before putting on lids. Label with date made, consume by date and place in refrigerator (for up to two weeks) or freezer (for up to one year).

Mint Blueberry Jam

This recipe is good with other berries, such as raspberries and blackberries. If using dried mint, reduce quantity to 2 teaspoons. The blueberry taste in this recipe is very, very BLUEBERRY! After a taste-test by my husband, I added another 2 TBS of honey-but he's always had a sweet tooth!

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
several sprigs of fresh mint (peppermint, spearmint, etc)
1/2 cup water
2 TBS apple juice concentrate, thawed
2 TBS honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Method
Rinse blueberries, drain. If using frozen, completely thaw.

Combine mint sprigs with water in small saucepan. Bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep 5 minutes. Pour liquid through wire-mesh strainer into measuring cup, discarding mint sprigs.

Combine blueberries, apple juice concentrate, honey, lemon juice, vanilla extract and reserved mint liquid in a nonstick skillet.

Bring mixture to a boil over med-hi heat. Reduce heat and simmer 5-15 minutes, stirring constantly and mashing berries with the back of a spoon until mixture becomes the consistency of jam. Potato masher works well here, too.

Refrigerate jam in a bowl for about 1 hour until chilled. Conduct taste test and make corrections, if needed. Place jam in jars, wiping the edges before putting on lids. Label with date made, consume by date and place in refrigerator (for up to two weeks) or freezer (for up to one year).

Raspberry & Cardamom Jam

When I first read this combination, I couldn't help but think, 'Huh?' But after making it I have found it to be just heavenly. The cardamom is 'there' when you taste it but very light and alluring.

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, thawed
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2-3 TBS apple juice concentrate, thawed
2-3 TBS honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Method

Rinse raspberries.

Combine raspberries, ground cardamom, ginger, apple juice concentrate, honey, lemon juice in a nonstick skillet.

Bring mixture to a boil over med-hi heat. Reduce heat and simmer 5-15 minutes, stirring constantly and mashing berries with the back of a spoon until mixture becomes the consistency of jam. Potato masher works well here, too.

Refrigerate jam in a bowl for about 1 hour until chilled. Conduct taste test and make corrections, if needed. Place jam in jars, wiping the edges before putting on lids. Label with date made, consume by date and place in refrigerator (for up to two weeks) or freezer (for up to one year).

Twelve Golden Rules for Canning
(Thanks to Paulette Zwirn)

Canning methods have changed dramatically since Nicholas Appert first experimented with preserving foods in glass bottles for Napoleon’s army, back in 1809. Safe, tested recipes are available in the Ball Blue Book, from U.S. Department of Agriculture Web sites, or from University Extension Services. Have dial gauge accuracy checked annually.

Use standard Ball or Kerr tempered canning jars, in all sizes from quarter-pint to one-quart capacity. Do not attempt to can in larger jars, as safe processing times are not available. Avoid antique closure types such as glass lids with metal bails and the old zinc lids, as their seals are not dependable and the rubber replacement rings are almost impossible to locate.

Use caution with imported odd-sized jars, as our recipes are tested using U.S. standard measures. Use only modern metal two-piece lid and ring closures.

Twelve golden rules for safe home canning should be understood and practiced, and here they are:

• Use ONLY modern tested recipes from reliable sources, and use the size jar specified.

• Never reuse jar lids. Used lids aren’t reliable for staying sealed. (Bands are reusable until rusted or bent.)

• Don’t use antique or French-type jars. They aren’t as safe as modern jars and processing times have not been established. Use those for decoration or storage of dry products.

• Use water-bath method only for high-acid foods. Vegetables, meats, fish, stews must be processed using a pressure canner for the specified length of time without deviations.

• Check jar rims carefully for nicks, as even the smallest imperfection may prevent sealing.

• Raw packing certain low-acid foods is not safe. Precook all greens, squash, white potatoes, okra or okra/tomato combinations, and stewed tomato combinations.

• Always allow the correct headspace between food/liquid covering it, and the jar lid to ensure good seal.

• Don’t begin counting the processing time until after the water covering the jars comes to full rolling boil when water-bathing, or until after steam has vented 10 minutes when pressure canning, and then has reached specified pounds pressure.

• Process full length of time specified. If boil or pressure fails at any point, you must start time over.

• Lift each jar individually (not inside rack) using a jar lifter; keeping jar upright and not tipped.

• If a jar didn’t seal, discard the lid, wipe the rim and use a new lid to reprocess OR refrigerate or freeze.

• Read instructions/recipes thoroughly before beginning, and do not take shortcuts.

How to Freeze Berries
(Thanks to PickYourOwn.org)

These hints are good for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, tayberries, loganberries, strawberries, saskatoons, cranberries, marionberries, boysenberries, etc.

If you like berries in the winter, for muffins, pancakes, cobblers, pies or just in a bowl; just imagine how good it would taste if you had picked a couple of quarts fresh or bought a them from a farm stand and then quickly froze them at home!  It is also one of the simplest ways to put up a fruit for the winter.  Your own frozen berries will taste MUCH better than anything you've ever had from a store. I'm using blueberries as an example, but this same process works exactly the same for any other berries listed above.  Strawberries are different in that you must remove the hulls (the green cap) after washing, but otherwise the same.

This also works for cherries, but you may want to pit them before freezing them.

Ingredients and Equipment:
• fresh berries - any quantity
• Vacuum food sealer or "ziploc" type freezer bags (the freezer bag version is heavier and protects better against freezer burn.
• a pan or tray that will fit in your freezer
• a strainer or colander 

Instructions
Step 1 - Get your berries!
Start with the freshest berries you can get.  Look for plump, full berries with a good color. I've used blueberries as an example, but these directions would equally well for any other berry (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.).

Step 2 - Wash the berries (EXCEPT for blueberries)
Just rinse them gently in cold water.  I put a colander or strainer in a large bowl, fill it with cold water and swirl the berries in it with my fingers.  That avoids breaking them and dirt either floats, which I pick out, or sinks and is removed when I lift the strainer out of the bowl.
NOTE about blueberries: Do not wash blueberries. According to U.Ga, and Clemson University extensions, washing results in a tougher skinned product. (Frankly, I've never noticed a difference, but I use frozen blueberries in cooked pies, anyway).  They say to wash them after you remove them from the freezer to use.  This only applies to blueberries and saskatoons. For those, just pick the dirt out, and wash them later when you thaw them

Step 3 - Drain the berries:  Use a large sieve or colander to remove as much water as possible.  I usually let them sit for about 10 minutes in the colander. What you may want to do to guarantee they are dry is lay paper towels or a large cotton kitchen towel on the counter and spread the fruit in a single layer. Proceed once the fruit is dry.

Step 4 - Spread the berries in a pan
There are two ways of doing this.  If you have space in your freezer, spread the berries out in a large baking sheet with a lip or ridge.  Put enough on to make 1 layer.  This way they will freeze quickly and not be frozen together in a lump, so later you can remove only what you need without thawing the rest.
If your freezer isn't that big, just drain as much of the water as you can, then put them into whatever container will  fit in your freezer.  After they are frozen, they may stick together a little bit, but should break apart fairly easily.

Step 5 - Put them in the freezer
Pop them into the coldest part of the freezer, or the quick freeze shelf, if your freezer has one!
I leave them in the freezer overnight, to get completely frozen.

Step 6 - Bag the berries
I love the FoodSavers with their vacuum sealing. I am not paid by them, but these things really work.  If you don't have one, ziploc bags work, too, but it is hard to get as much air out of the bags.  remove the air to prevent drying and freezer burn.  On the left is the bag with frozen berries before vacuum sealing, and to the right is the same bag after vacuum sealing. Of course, you can use ziploc bags (see below), but they leave a lot more air in, which allows some freezer burn.
Note: I typically write the labels on the bags with a Sharpie permanent marker BEFORE I fill the bags (it's easier) rather than after)
A tip for a low budget vacuum sealer:
To remove the excess air from a ziploc bag, put a straw inside the bag and zip it closed as far as possible. Then suck the air out of the bag, pinch the straw shut where it enters the bag and pull it from the bag and quickly zip the bag the rest of the way.

Step 7 - Label the bags
Of course, you'll want to label them with the contents and date, or all this work could be wasted if you can't identify them later, or don't know how old they are.

Step 8 - Done!
Pop them into the deep freeze, or in the coldest part of your regular freezer!
When you are ready to use the berries - Thaw, wash and sort the berries. 
To thaw them, just set them in the fridge overnight, or on the counter for a couple of hours.  I wouldn't recommend the microwave unless you are planning to cook with them!
Note (again) about blueberries:
You can wash the frozen blueberries in a bowl of plain cold water. Then you need to pick out and remove any bits of stems, leaves and soft or mushy berries. It is easiest to do this in a large bowl of water and gently run your hands through the berries as they float.  With your fingers slightly apart, you will easily feel any soft or mushy berries get caught in your fingers

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