Jam making is a good way to preserve a bountiful harvest, especially if you’re like me and consider jam to be a major food group. Making jam is also a good introduction to canning and preserving; due to the high sugar content it tends to be the easiest in regards to food safety issues. I love making jam it’s rewarding and the technique is straight forward. You start off with lots of fresh unblemished fruit, even more granulated sugar, some lemon juice and liquid or powdered pectin, depending on what type you are making. A quick cook on the stove (or a few stirs then into the freezer) and it’s ready to eat.
But that’s not the way that it’s always been done, historically most jams were made without any pectin at all. In fact commercial pectin like commercial gelatin is a relatively new product. Pectin is a natural substance and most fruit but not all contain enough pectin to “jel” or set on their own, if cooked for long enough. If a fruit is low in natural pectin, you can make your own using apples and lemon juice, cherries and pears are examples of low pectin fruit.
There are reasons why it seems like a good idea to use commercial pectin; it’s more convenient, it’s faster therefore easier, and using commercial pectin vs. a longer cooking time retains more of the fruit’s natural flavour and I’ve even read the argument that using commercial pectin and the quick cook method retains more vitamins.
This week, I made slow-cooked plum jam without pectin and while it obviously required a longer cooking time, it wasn’t hard, the flavour was intense, the colour was a deep purple like a good Cabernet and as far as the vitamins? Perhaps, I lost some in the cooking but I don’t eat jam for health benefits. The jam is thick and not at all gelatinous, I have to say that it’s the best jam that I’ve ever made. I’m on a roll now. This week, I’ll be making an apple jelly with vanilla which I can use as pectin for other jams if I choose.
Fruit varies season to season of course depending on the weather, so making good jam becomes an art like making wine. With time and practice, I hope to become more skilled in the craft of making jam, the old way, the slow way.
(Remember to wash and sterilize your jars, I use the oven method, and then I process all of my jams for ten minutes. Let the filled jars rest undisturbed for 24 hours to facilitate the gel, then label and store)
This recipe made 6 pints, maybe enough to last us until Christmas, but I doubt it.
Slow-Cook Plum Jam (Adapted from a Canadian Living Publication)
8 cups washed, halved and stoned fresh prune plums (use unblemished fruit)
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 whole vanilla bean, halved
1/4 cup cold water
In a large bowl, combine fruit and sugar, stir well and let stand for 1 hour.
Then, in a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven (when making jam, the fruit sugar mixture should never fill the pot more then half way) add fruit mixture, the lemon juice, vanilla bean and the water. Stir well, slowly bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook while stirring often until thick. After 2 hours, I used a potato masher to achieve a more even fruit consistency. Then I cooked it for about 15 minutes more, remove the vanilla bean, (discard it) then while the jam is hot, fill the jars. The plum flavour is intense with a slight caramel undertone. Process in a canner for 10 minutes.