With the CSA boxes overflowing with fresh fruit and herbs this summer, it is time to start making jam. There is no better way to preserve the taste of summer and have the most amazingly stocked pantry all winter long. Whether you are a seasoned jam maker, a novice, or somewhere in between, there are a few easy-peasy tips for turning out perfect jam every time.
The best jam comes from the best produce. Before you begin any kind of cooking pick through your produce and discard anything that appears rotten or underripe. Wash your fruit carefully in order to rinse off any bugs and debris that might have come in from the field.
Line up your equipment before you cook to make sure everything is ready to go. Once you begin the process of making jam, it is hard to stop mid-way through. Jars can be sterilized in the dishwasher and allowed to drip dry on a tray covered with a clean cotton towel. Lids should be sterilized in a large pot of boiling water. Additional necessary equipment include: a long-handled spoon, jam pot, rubber gloves for handling the ladle when the jam is hot, a ladle, and a pot for processing jars (if desired).
Heat is perhaps the most important variable when making jam. If the jam gets too hot, it will scorch. If it doesn't warm up enough, it won't gel. Many jam recipes come with temperature notes. If you have a candy thermometer, use it to follow along with the recipe. If not, adjust the heat in small increments to achieve the desired bubbling point. Avoid great fluctuations in heat and be patient in letting the jam set.
There is no more accurate test I've ever found to determine whether jam is done then the chilled plate test. Place a porcelain plate in the freezer before you start cooking the jam. When you think it is done, remove the plate from the freezer and drop a small dollop of jam on the plate and tilt the plate 65 degrees. If the jam runs down and drips off the plate it still needs to cool longer. If it slowly dribbles down and takes more than 2 seconds to drip 2 inches, then it is finished. At this point you can remove the jam from the heat and begin canning it.
Once your jam is made, there are a few ways you can store it. First, if you make a large batch and want to preserve it until winter, you can ladle it into sterilized jars, close with a lid and rim, and process in a hot water bath according to recipe directions. If you make a small batch you plan to consume immediately, ladle the jam into sterilized jars, close with a lid and rim, and allow to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.