jamming with one foot in the past

strawberry jam

It started with a message.

“Do you want any free strawberries? We have a ton of pallets and I don’t want them to go to waste”

These are the best kinds of messages, the best kind of community, swapping things around and sharing the extras so nothing is wasted. Often fruit comes in loads and you must scramble against nature, jump to action before rot comes creeping through, a reminder that even the sweetest things die. Of course I took her up on the offer and last night we biked over to pick up a crate of berries, sweetly shiny and beautiful on the top layer, a few already having wept and met death on the bottom layer.

Of course I had to make jam. Jam was a part of my childhood as much as the olives, tomatoes, wine, and other pantry things my grandma preserved throughout the year, each one a little victory, extending the seasons a bit longer, a snapshot in time. She complained and protested when my Papa would come home gleefully bearing crates of fruit, often from farmers he knew or places he had been doing work. He was a lovely man, a botanist and avid naturalist, with sparkling blackest brown eyes, a handsome Roman nose, whose love for food colored their home and life and conversation, always the backbone for everything, staining me, too, with the same love forever.

strawberry jam

Back to the complaining, I suspect she secretly enjoyed it but always had to put up a good fight nonetheless, I think that’s how you have to be when you live with an Italian, otherwise you can tend to get railroaded. Fire and ice they were. But the jam. With the endless crates of fruit, some from the backyard trees, some from friends, jam was always made, lots of it. Plum, apricot, quince, cherry, marmalade, all sorts, lining the groaning wooden shelves alongside the tomatoes and olive oil, glistening jewels showing off amongst the brown wood. Some fruit got poached, lots found their way into pie (my mom claims my gram made a pie a day when they were kids), but the jam. Sticky sweet, slathered on hot and thickly buttered toast. Sourdough. When we made pie together, I remember she would always pass dominion over the trimmed bits of dough to me, would let me mold them into little shapes or pockets, which she would put a bit of jam in and bake them alongside the pie. I got to eat them straightaway after baking, and it was consolation for not being able to eat the real pie right away, which she would scold my papa away from cutting in too early, its heady scent sirening him to the kitchen every time.

When I left home I didn’t make jam, and I realized how I’d taken it for granted growing up, a pantry full of all homemade goodies. Store jam is often lackluster compared to homemade, although I’m not snooty about it, and often buy Bonne Maman apricot for myself (raspberry for the kids and Joel). A few years ago I started making my own jam, though, in small batches, generally when I’ve found myself with a glut of fruit. If you find yourself with a lot, there’s always jam tart/crostata, a more refined version of the little hand pies I used to make as a kid, which goes so well with a cup of strong tea or coffee. However you eat it, it will be your own, and there’s nothing more satisfying or delicious than that.

Some notes: if you’ve never made jam yourself before, it can seem daunting, scary, anxiety inducing- will it set or be a runny mess? Courage, you can do it. Also, runny jam is just the thing to go on yogurt, and I actually don’t like mine too thick. There’s also the trick of adding in a finely grated green apple, which melts in and adds extra pectin, as insurance. Prepare the jars ahead of time. I pour boiling water in, let it stand 5 minutes, then pour it out and turn them upside down on a cooling rack until ready to use. Some may be worried about sugar. Sugar works as both a thickening agent and a preservative. Traditional jam recipes call for a ratio of 1:1 fruit:sugar, so this is already reduced. I wouldn’t go lower if you plan to keep it long term (these will keep in the fridge up to 1 year). But if you plan to eat it fast, you could reduce the sugar more, or make a chia seed jam like this one for a less, alternative sweetener, or no sugar option. I don’t eat gobs of jam at once, so I don’t worry about the sugar personally, more of an everything in moderation approach I suppose.

strawberry jam

strawberry jam

2 pounds strawberries
1 pound sugar
1 unwaxed lemon, cut in half
2 sterilized jars, I used pints
a ladle + a canning funnel

Hull the strawberries, taking care to nip off any soft or questionable spots with a sharp paring knife, wiping with a damp cloth to clean (you don’t want excess water in your jam). Quarter them into a heavy bottomed pot as you go, layering over some sugar over each layer of fruit. Squeeze the lemon over the top and throw in the squeezed halves, too. Let it sit on the counter for 4-6 hours, this process lets the fruit macerate in the sugar, becoming more intensely flavored and fragrant.

Set a couple of small saucers in the freezer to use later on, and set the pot of fruit on the stove. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat and cook at a rolling boil for 10 minutes, then test the jam by spooning a little onto one of the saucers from the freezer. Place the saucer in the fridge for a few minutes and then push the jam with your finger. If it wrinkles, it is set and ready. If not, boil 5 more minutes and re-test, continuing until jam is set.

When jam is set, (carefully!) remove the lemon halves. Ladle hot jam into the prepared jars. Screw on the lids and either let cool before storing in the refrigerator or freezer for up to one year, or proceed with canning if you desire to keep it shelf stable.

jam tart

jam tart

sweet pastry crust dough (for a single crust)
jam of any sort, enough to fill
a tart pan

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Press the dough into a tart pan, so that it comes up the sides, keeping in mind it will shrink when it cooks. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes. Spoon the jam in and spread it completely over the crust. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until pastry is golden at the tips and jam is bubbly. Cool on a cooling rack at least 20 minutes before slicing and eating. Excellent with something bitter, like coffee or tea, or something creamy, like whipped cream or thick yogurt, to go alongside.

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