Nothing tastes better on toast or English muffins than a spoonful of homemade jam, rich with fresh fruit flavor. So be thankful that jam making has become a lot less tedious than it was in grandma's or even mom's day - when you stick with the no-cook, freezer varieties.
Stirring up a batch of freezer jam is quick and easy. Because these jams are uncooked, they retain a fresh flavor and bright color, and there's no fooling with paraffin seals or canning jars.
These jams keep well in the freezer for a year or even longer and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month. because they're a bit softer than cooked jams, they're easier to spread thinly - if you're counting calories.
Freezer jams can be packed in a wide variety of small containers, as long as there's a tight-fitting lid. Baby food and instant coffee jars, soft margarine and purchased freezer containers, as well as plastic cups with tops, are all suitable. It's best to use sizes of no more than a pint, so that jam stored in the refrigerator will be finished up soon.
To prepare containers, simply wash in the dishwasher or rinse out with boiling water and dry thoroughly. Be sure to date and label them after filling, so you'll know which jam you're using and when it was made.
For best results, do not double recipes. If you want to process additional fruit, make another batch.
This easy recipe uses a technique that is basically the same for all pectin-based, no-cook freezer jams. The pectin can be purchased in individual 13/4 ounce packages at the supermarket.
VERY BERRY OR CHERRY JAM (About 5 to 6 cups) About 1 quart fully-ripe strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, or sour cherries 4 cups sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 package (13/4 ounces) powdered pectin 3/4 cup water
To prepare berries, crush fruit, a layer at a time, in a large bowl. For cherries, pit and grind fruit. You should have 2 cups prepared fruit after processing. Add the sugar and lemon juice, and stir well until the sugar is incorporated. Continue stirring slowly for about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Put the pectin and water in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook at a full rolling boil for 1 minute. (A few sugar crystals may remain, but they will not affect quality.) Remove from heat and immediately add to fruit mixture while stirring. Stir vigorously for an additional 3 minutes. Quickly ladle the jam into small containers and cover tightly.
Let stand at room temperature until set (up to 24 hours). After jam is set, freeze or refrigerate.
If jam fails to set or it is too soft, bring it to a full boil and it will thicken on cooling. Conversely, if jam seems too firm, simply stir to soften.
Variation: For an interesting but subtle change in flavor, add 2 tablespoons of any compatible liqueur or sherry to the crushed fruit. Then proceed as above.
PERFECT PEACH JAM (About 5 to 6 cups) About 2 pounds full-ripe peaches 3 tablespoons lemon peaches 5 cups sugar 1 package (13/4 ounces) powdered pectin 3/4 cup water
Peel, pit, and chop peaches. If skins are hard to remove, blanch in boiling water for 1 minute; then plunge into cold water. You should have 21/4 cups prepared fruit. Stir in lemon juice and sugar; then process exactly as above in Very Berry or Cherry recipe.
Variation: For Spicy Peach Jam, add 3/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice and cloves to the prepared fruit. Then proceed as above.
PINEAPPLE-COCONUT CONSERVE (About 5 to 6 cups)
A conserve is a jam made from more than one kind of fruit (often including one from the citrus family). Usually some additional nuts and/or raisins also are added.
1 large, fully-ripe, fresh pineapple 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orang-flavored liqueur (optional) 1 or 2 oranges 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts 1/2 cup flaked or shredded coconut 5 cups sugar 1 (13/4 ounce) package powdered pectin 3/4 cup water
Peel, core and finely chop pineapple. (You can use a blender to help, but do not puree the fruit.) Measure 2 cups of the prepared fruit into a large bowl. Add the Grand Marnier, if desired.
Wash oranges, then grate rind from 1 orange into the pineapple. Squeeze the juice from both oranges into a separate container until you have 1/2 cup, then add juice to pineapple. Stir in the nuts, coconut and sugar. Then proceed exactly as above in the Very Berry or Cherry Jam.
If the abundance of fresh fruit available tempts you to try some homemade jam, but you'd like to avoid the high sugar content, there is an alternative available - a low calorie jam using unflavored gelatin as the thickening agent. While not as sweet as ordinary jam, it does make a good diet substitute.
Follwing is a recipe for strawberry jam adapted from "The Knox Gelatine Cookbook." The jam contains only 15 calories per teaspoon. It can be stored in the freezer for up to one year and in the refrigerator for four weeks. Pack in small labeled and dated jars (4 to 8 ounces) with tight-fitting lids. No need to seal with paraffin.
STRAWBERRY JAM (About 21/2 cups) 4cups sliced strawberries 1/3 cup sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 1/2 cup cold water
In a medium saucepan, combine strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, crushing berries slightly. Bring to a boil; boil rapidly, stirring constantly, three minutes.
In a small bowl, sprinkle unflavored gelatin over cold water. Let stand one minute. Add to strawberry mixture and heat, stirring, until gelatin is completely dissolved, about three minutes.
Let jam stand five minutes. Skim off foam with a spoon. Ladle into jars. Cover and cool slightly before refrigerating.