There are a few common misconceptions about jam-making that I don’t quite get. And I’d like to clear some of them up now, if possible.
1) you must make an enormous batch, requiring pounds of fruit, the biggest pot you have, and every square inch of counter space available.
2) you must use proper canning equipment, buy jars with seal-able lids, and process your jam at so many pounds per inch for a precise length of time, lest you give someone botulism.
3) you must buy packaged pectin, be exact with your measurements, have more than a basic knowledge of chemistry and still feel some degree of panic over the possibility that your jam might not set.
4) it will take you all day, or at least most of the afternoon.
Really guys, it’s just not that big a deal. Jam is just fruit cooked down with sugar and acid (ie. lemon juice) until it’s thick and jam-like. So why can’t you just mash up a pot using whatever fruit is ripe and waiting, and simmer it while you do other things? What’s wrong with making a cup or two at a time, enough to last the next week or so, instead of needing to fill a dozen jars and stock your pantry shelves for winter? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You make plenty of friends that way.)
I had a big bowl of strawberries left over from a recent event, and even the boys barely made a dent in them. They were on the verge of composting themselves right there on the countertop. I have zero freezer space left I doubt I’d find room for even a single strawberry so jam seemed as good a solution as any.
I hulled them while talking on the phone, mashed them with a potato masher and threw them in my cast-iron skillet.
The advantage of using a skillet vs a pot: more surface area, so the fruit cooks far more quickly. I added about a half cup of sugar (you could add more, but I like jam not overly sweet, and for the flavour to come through) and squeezed in the juice of half a lemon, and it came to a simmer quickly. It cooked for ten minutes; I stirred it now and then more often as it got thicker, breaking up the bigger chunks of berries a bit with my spoon and when it was thick enough that it a) looked like jam, and b) left a trail when I dragged the spoon through it, it was done. It took approximately 15 minutes.
Now you could fancy this up with a splash of balsamic at the end, but I was in the mood for something more friendly and comforting like vanilla. I stirred a bit of the good stuff in (pure extract brought back by friends who recently visited Mexico) as I took the jam off the heat. See? You can make jam yourself. Even while you’re cooking dinner.
Skillet Strawberry Jam with Vanilla
1 L strawberries (4 cups), hulled
1/2 cup sugar
juice of half a lemon (about 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract (optional)
In a bowl, roughly mash your strawberries with a potato masher (you may need to lean into it at first, to get them going) or squeeze them with your fingers. Put them into a large skillet (cast iron is perfect!) with the sugar and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often and breaking up large chunks of berry with your spoon, until it thickens and your spoon leaves a trail across the bottom of the pan. (It should take about 10 minutes.) If you like, stir in the vanilla. Cool. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.