For as much as I love jam, I hate jamming. And by jamming, I mean making jam. It’s a hot, sticky proposition – literally – and one not to be undertaken lightly. So when Thad said he wanted to make jam a few weeks ago, it was with a heavy sigh that I agreed.
Now, Thad didn’t want to make just any jam – he wanted to make Garrett’s jam. My lovely coauthor had sent me home with a jar of strawberry-cranberry jam a few months ago, and its bright, bursting flavor captivated the thoughts of my dear boyfriend long after he’d polished off the jar.
After putting off the ordeal for a few weeks, we dug out my copy of the The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, a goliath tome that by all accounts is the Bible of Jam Making. (Seriously – if you are at all interested in jam, you need to have this book. And Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber) After re-reading the basics, because it’s been a while and jam is one of those things you really don’t want to screw up, Thad and I set about gathering the proper equipment.
I texted Garrett to find out his strawberry to cranberry ratio, and he replied that he’d used equal parts of both. After some thinking, I decided that I wanted a little less oh my god, my face is turning inside out… cranberry tartness and a little more yay yay ya end of summer strawberries! sweetness. Thad and I opted for a 4:3 ratio, favoring the sweetness of strawberries. At this balance we would still have plenty of natural gelling action from the high-pectin cranberries, and I calculated that we would not need to use any boxed pectin at all. Win! Garrett also referred me a similar recipe on his site for more information – and his method for making jam was far less overwhelming than any other jam recipes I’d found. Maybe it’s because I’m a stressed-out simpleton and he just uses far fewer words to describe the exact same process, but reading his recipe for jam actually made me look forward to finishing the project. He also mentions adding vanilla to create a balancing sweetness to all that cranberry tartness, but let’s face it: Garrett like adding vanilla to everything. Hence the name of his blog.
Garrett also mentioned was that I should use a small amount of butter in the jam to keep it from foaming. Apparently this was a trick he learned from Elise’s mom, and you know what? It really works. That’s one of those little bits of information I’ll file away forever. Thanks, Garret and Elise’s mom!
A few days later, we got to jamming. Being Thad’s first canning experiment, I wanted to make sure he got the full experience (heh) so I sat back and watched him go about prepping and stirring. He was having a great time until the inevitable stage where the cooking fruit bubbles and leaps from the pot in huge blobs of napalmy goodness, but not one to be deterred by a few measly blisters, he persisted. A little while later we were filling jars and setting them to process in a large pot of boiling water.
The final verdict? Sweet. Tart. Perfectly gelled. Generally amazing.
So, maybe making jam isn’t so bad after all.
If you like this recipe, you might be interested in the following resources:
- Jam lovers must have this book – Rachel’s flavor savvy is incredibly impressive: The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook
- If you’re interested in making some really interesting jams, I highly recommend Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber. Try Mirabelle Plum and Chamomile. And Orange and Early Grey Tea. Or how about Green Tomato and Pumpkin? Yes, seriously.
- New to canning? Here’s a great free beginner’s guide from the Ball jar company.
- Amazon sells many simple canning kits. Some even include a huge pot for the water bath.
- 1 pound cranberries, frozen is fine, as long as they’re defrosted
- 3 pounds very ripe strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
- 1 pound + 1/4 cup sugar, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon butter
- In a blender or food processor, pulse the cranberries until they are coarsely chopped. You do not want to puree them or chop them too small, as the goal is to maintain some of their firm cranberry texture. At this point, place a small plate in the freezer so you can test the jam for proper thickness later.
- Add chopped cranberries to a deep, heavy-bottom pot and toss them with 1/4 cup of sugar. Allow to sit for 1 hour. Stir in strawberries and let sit for another 15 minutes. Make sure your jars are sterilized and ready to go, and start a very large pot of water to boil on the stove for processing your filled jars. Keep the pot of water covered tightly.
- Mash the fruit slightly with a potato masher to break up the strawberries a bit. Add remaining ingredients to the pot with the fruit, stirring well to combine. Cook over medium heat until the fruit begins to bubble and spit furiously. (this is why you want to use a deep pot!) Skim off any foam that forms with a skimmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the jam from burning to the bottom of the pot.
- After 20 minutes, begin testing the jam. Spread a 1/2 teaspoon of cooked jam on the cold plate and set it back in the freezer. Wait 30 seconds, then run your finger through the jam. Is it thick enough to maintain the path made by your finger, or does it run all over the plate? If you’d like thicker jam, cook for another 4 minutes and test again. Repeat until the jam is as thick as you’d like, but don’t cook too long or you’ll drastically alter the taste of your jam.
- Working quickly, ladle jam into sterilized 8-ounce canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Carefully wipe the rims of the jars to remove any clinging jam before you screw on the tops and rings – only screw them to finger-tight or you will hinder the vacuum process that seals the jars. Process in the large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes to guarantee sterilization and to ensure a good seal.
- Fold a large towel in half and lay it on the counter. Carefully remove jars from hot water using a jar lifter (I ADORE this spring-mounted model, which allows you to use only one hand) and set them on the towel. Allow the jars to sit undisturbed until they’ve reached room temperature, ideally overnight. Make sure not to jostle or bump the jars while they are warm, lest you break the seal. After a while, you’ll notice a very satisfying “ping” sound coming from the jars as the vacuum sets and the indentation on the lid pops inwards. If any jars have not sealed once they are completely cool – signified by the indentation in the lid not having popped down – store those jars in the refrigerator and eat within 2-3 weeks.