A few years ago when I moved to Virginia, my friend Laura (Hi Laur!) got me back into a family tradition that had gotten lost somewhere on the way out of childhood: berry picking and jam making.
Though we didn't know each other then, we each grew up in Massachusetts, spending June mornings picking berries and making jam with our moms and aunts. It's been a lot of fun carrying on the tradition in our own way, as adults, each with our childhood memories in hand. Strawberry season here comes a bit earlier, and this year with our particularly warm March meant jam making before Memorial Day. Unprecedented!
Laur and I start the day niiiiiice and early, aiming to get to the farm (Butler's Orchard) before the crowds and before it gets too hot, then we head home to spend the afternoon jamming. Sometime in between there's lunch and a couple of beers. Beer drinking makes jam making even more fun. Fact.
This year in a little over an hour the two of us picked four full flats; about 40 pounds. That's a lot of crouching and squatting and sore arches and berries crushed on the seat of your pants, but man is it ever worth it:
I've lost count, but we made somewhere around 6 or 7 batches of jam with this. The rest of the berries were frozen or eaten out of hand. We made four different kinds of jam.
Up first: A few batches of Classic Strawberry Jam. This is the recipe inside the powdered pectin box and it's a good one to master because once you do you can start playing around with different flavors (more on that in a minute). For my palate it tends to be too sweet (you'll note that there's more sugar than fruit in most jams) so to one batch I added about a 1/4 cup of lemon juice and, toward the end of cooking, the zest of a lemon. It balanced it nicely and kept it bright while still being plenty sweet. I'd like to play around with even more zest and juice to see what would happen.
Up next: A variation on the Classic Strawberry: Strawberry Orange Black Pepper. We used the original recipe as above and at the start of cooking added the juice of one orange, 1/4 cup lemon juice, the zest of 1.5 oranges, and 1 T black pepper.
Tweaks: I'd like it to be a bit bolder on the pepper and the orange zest. Next time I'd do zest and juice of both oranges, and add them closer to end. I'd increase the black pepper to 2.5 or 3 T, and probably grind it a bit finer too. An easy shortcut with this one though: Add more pepper when I open a new jar.
Experimental batch number three was this recipe for Strawberry Jam with Balsamic and Thyme. I'd been wanting to make a strawberry balsamic jam for a few years and was excited to try this recipe. I used half lemon thyme and half regular thyme because I have both in my garden. I tasted it about halfway through cooking and it didn't have enough acid or balsamic taste for me so I added another 1/4 c of balsamic vinegar.
Verdict: Yum. Though it doesn't taste particularly balsamic-y or thyme-y, there's a nice balsamic note somewhere in the finish. Balsamic changes so much while you cook it (ie: what it looks like when you start a reduction vs. what you finish with) and I think adding it at different stages helped give it a nice round flavor profile. This jam has a beautiful rich, deep, dark color from the vinegar and I'd love for the taste to match that.
Tweaks: I'd add another generous 1/4 cup of balsamic at the end of cooking. I'd also spend more time chopping my thyme very, very finely to try and get all the flavor out of it. I like the taste of thyme, but I loathe working with it's tiny little leaves.
Finally, we made this Strawberry Jalapeño Jam.
I haven't tried it yet, but I have high hopes. Two years ago I made an Apricot Jalapeno Jam (aka ApriHot) that has been a big hit. Jalapeños just have such a wonderful flavor that goes so well with fruit!
Other Jam notes:
- Laura and I have sworn off liquid pectin. Even when following the recipe for liquid pectin batches, we never seem to have any luck. Laura was able to succesfully rebatch one of her regular Strawberry jams that didn't set using this recipe for Liquid Cement. It uses liquid pectin, I know, but she said it worked and I'm planning on using it on a rebatch this weekend.
- I enjoy savory jams on bagels, toast, English Muffins, and all the places you'd traditionally use jam. I also like it as an accompaniment on a cheese plate or served with baked brie. I know some people like spooing it over cream cheese and serving that as a spread for crackers. They're fun to play with in cooking as well, used in glazes for chicken or pork.
Have you made jam before? Do you have a favorite jam recipe? A recommendation for using a savory-sweet jam?
All Photos by Me