“You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves.”
-Robert Frost, “Blueberries” (1915)
Jam-Filled Pastry, Part 1: Making Homemade Jam
I may be new to the pastry world, but as anyone who knows me can testify, I am no stranger to the practice of jamming.
Jam, jelly, preserve, conserve, confit, chutney, fruit butter, fruit spread, fruit curd, and marmalade: these are all terms for various combinations of fruit and sugar that are cooked down and usually canned or sealed for long term storage. Yes, they really are all different: for instance, marmalades use peels, confits use meats, conserves use whole fruits, and curds use eggs. I’m most frequently asked to explain
the difference between jelly, jam and preserves: for jelly, the fruit is completely juiced, for jam, the fruit is finely crushed or pulped, and for preserves, the structure of the fruit remains partially intact so that the fruit is suspended, or “preserved,” in the gel.
If forced to name an official summer jam flavor, blueberry-peach would be, in my opinion, a prime contender (actually, an Arizona summer might taste more like a hot pepper jelly). I love making peach jams, largely because of the satisfaction I get from using the old canner’s trick for skinning a peach: first, boil the peaches in hot water, then, toss them into a freezing bath, and finally, score and squeeze them. Their silky little skins slide off so easily: peachy liberation!
Pectin is what causes most jams to “gel.” All fruits contain some natural pectin, but not enough for a jam to easily gel; for this reason, most canners add commercial pectin to their jams (a fine powder created from citrus fruit extractions).
I don’t use commercial pectin in my jams for two reasons: 1) it’s pricey, especially when you make jam often, and 2) it slightly distorts the flavor of the jam. If you don’t use commercial pectin, you have to cook the jam much longer and add a bit of high-pectin citrus juice (usually lemon). Some people argue that the short cooking time allowed by using pectin creates a fresher flavor, but I actually like the rich, fruity, caramelized flavor that a long, slow cook creates. Plus, making jam without pectin isn’t exactly easy, and I do love a good challenge.
Jam “jams” (i.e. gels) at around 220 degrees Fahrenheit. When your probe thermometer (an instrument with a long cord between the thermometer and the digital read-out) breaks, testing for temperature involves scalding your paws while you hold a candy thermometer into a cast-iron pot filled with ridiculously hot boiling sugar. It’s as fun as it sounds. Once you hit your temp, you skim the jam if needed, pour it into sterilized jars, and then process (boil) the jars for 5-7 minutes. This kills any bacteria that could potentially cause Botulism in the stored jars.
Food-born botulism, caused by ingesting a nerve toxin, can lead to paralysis or even death. Thankfully, botulin spores are killed by the acidity of the fruit, so feel free to jam at a very, very low risk. We’ll be putting this beautiful jam to use sometime in the near future.
“And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,
While he forth from the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.”
- John Keats, ”The Eve of St. Agnes” (1820)