There’s so much fresh seasonal fruit — burgundy cherries, lipstick-red strawberries — at farmers markets and in Harris Teeter bins lately, it’s like an episode of “Eating Rainbow” out there. But if you don’t want to enjoy this bounty right away, then maybe you should make like Grandma and whip up some homemade jam or jelly. Sweetest of all, it’s not that tough.
Mallory Staley, executive pastry chef at 1789 (1226 36th St. NW; 202-965-1789), has been making jam since she was a little girl, when she helped her grandparents put in jars just-harvested peaches, strawberries and blackberries on their farm outside Frederick, Md. “I was always interested in the process,” she says. “Not that I had a choice. I was given a spoon and put to work.” Now she turns out sweet spreads at work, like her signature strawberry rhubarb, which accompanies 1789′s cheese platters.
The first step in making jam is picking produce that’s up to the job. And — surprise! — that’s not necessarily the same crops you’d choose to snack on. “I get the most flavor out of fruits that are almost rotten,” Staley says. “You want them to be super-ripe and super-delicious.” The riper the fruit, the more natural sugar will be present, so you won’t have to add much refined sugar to your recipe. If you’ve never jammed before, start with something sweet like strawberries so nature corrects beginner’s blunders.
To make sure your spread gels, Winifred Schulteis, co-owner and chief jammer at Quaker Valley Orchards, recommends adding a little natural pectin (brands such as Ball and Bernardin are at most grocery stores). “It helps it set faster,” she says. “And it helps retain more flavor of the fruit, because you’re not cooking everything out of it.”
You can also mix and match the unexpected. “I like apricots and rosemary, but most people wouldn’t think to make a jam out of these two ingredients,” says Stefano Frigerio, the owner of D.C.’s Copper Pot Food Company, known for exotic jams such as red beet with rhubarb, and white fig with balsamic vinegar. “Experiment a little, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.”
An easy way to add a new twist on a classic flavor is to incorporate herbs. “It gives you a little hint of something extra after you get past the fruitiness,” Staley says.
The final step is canning your creations. Start by washing your jars and lids in soapy hot water, then boil them for at least 10 minutes to sterilize them. Fill up your containers (leave an inch or two at the top), seal them, and submerge them back in boiling water to kill any lingering microorganisms.
The times vary depending on what you’re canning and what elevation you’re at, so check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website for full details. Let your jars cool first, but then feel free to crack one open so you can enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor.
Get to Pickin’
If you want the freshest fruit for your jams, take a trip out to one of these pick-your-own hot spots. Call ahead to make sure that the fruit you want is available.
Set the GPS for this sprawling Montgomery County farm for blackberries (now to mid-August), peaches (now to early September) and apples (late August through October).
» 15604 Sugarland Road, Poolesville, Md.; 301-977-3761, Homestead-farm.net
This family-run business is a good bet for blueberries (now to early August), blackberries (now through August) and raspberries (mid-August through September).
» 22200 Davis Mill Road, Germantown, Md.; 301-972-3299, Butlersorchard.com
For almost four decades, this has been a great place to handpick blueberries (now until late August), blackberries (throughout August) and yellow raspberries (late August until mid September).
» 2415 Woodbine Road, Woodbine, Md.; 301-854-6110, Pickyourown.com
» 2 cups chopped strawberries
» 1 cup chopped rhubarb
» 3 cups granulated sugar
» 1 tablespoon pectin
» 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Place the fruit into a pot. In a small bowl, place one cup of sugar with the pectin. Mix together to really coat the pectin (it will form clumps if this step is not followed). Add to the fruit. Stir in the remaining sugar and cook over medium-low heat for two to three hours. Make sure you stir the pot every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure it is not burning at the bottom.
Once the jam is to the desired consistency, remove heat and add in the lemon juice. Proceed as you would to can.
Written by Express contributor Nevin Martell
Photos by Abby Greenawalt