Getting into a jam that's hard to get out of

Amanda Riley
Special to The Black Mountain News
Homemade fruit jam will help you remember summer all winter long.

Looking back through my summertime photos from recent years, it is quite clear that, in my mind, summer means flowers and fruit and swimming and gardening and Popsicles and jam.

Lots of jam.  Jam to be eaten all year long. Jam to be given as gifts. Jam to savor after popping open the lid of a jewel-toned jar in the middle of a cold, grey winter day.

This year so far I've made strawberry jam, raspberry jam, rhubarb jam and blueberry-rhubarb jam.  I don't get particularly fancy with my jam, but I do have a strong preference for making low-sugar jams because, well, because I want to taste the fruit more than anything and I find most fruit is already quite sweet and doesn't need much sugar to yield a tasty spread for toast and yogurt and beyond.

To make making low-sugar jams easier, I generally use Pomona's Pectin (which can be found, quite conveniently, at Roots & Fruits Organic Market in Black Mountain). I start with the freshest fruit I can get (blueberries, strawberries, any berries, peaches, plums, rhubarb), then mash it up and go from there, often just following the directions on the insert that comes in the Pomona's box.

Right now, local farmers markets are full of fresh fruit waiting to be turned into jam.

My favorite jams to make are strawberry, blueberry with a touch of lime juice and peach with a hint of lavender.  Certain lower-acid fruits require the addition of a bit of lemon or lime juice to make them safer for processing, so if you plan to process the jam for later use, be sure to pay attention to which do and which do not.

Here is a basic jam recipe, taken from the Pomona's box, that you can fiddle with (for instance adding a bit of vanilla, ginger, lavender, cardamom) to make it just right for you. The recipe yields 4-5 cups.

Ripe fruit mashes easily even for little hands eager to help.

Your basic, delicious fruit jam

4 cups mashed fruit

¾ to 2 cups sugar (I often find ¾ cup is plenty) or ½ to 1 cup honey

2 teaspoons pectin

2 teaspoons calcium water (made by mixing a calcium powder, found in the Pomona's box, with water)

¼ cup lemon or lime juice (use only for low-acid fruit such as blueberries, sweet blackberries, peaches, apricots, figs, or plums) 

Mix fruit and lemon/lime juice, if using, into a saucepan. Add calcium water and stir well. In a separate bowl, mix pectin powder into sugar or honey. Bring fruit to a full boil, add pectin and the sweetener mixture and stir vigorously to dissolve. Boil 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

If you are not planning to process the jars for later use, simply pour the mixture into jars. Refrigerate when cool, share with friends and enjoy within 3-4 weeks. 

If you are processing the jars for later use, you will need glass canning jars and new lids and rings.  Wash and rinse the jars, lids and rings and then sterilize in water brought to a boil with the jars in them or in a 250-degree oven (brought to temperature with the jars in them) for 30 minutes. 

Once your jam is ready, fill the jars, leaving ¼- to ½-inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean and screw on the two-piece lids.  To avoid contamination, make sure  all utensils that come into contact with the jam (and any towels you use to wipe the rims) are clean. Boil the filled jars in a water-bath canner for 15 minutes, then remove jars and let cool.  As they cool, the lids will "pop" or seal. If any do not seal, place them in the fridge and enjoy those first.  

If you don't have a water-bath canner, you probably know someone who does and if you are nice to them and promise them jam, they will probably let you borrow it.  If not, you can use a large stockpot with a round metal cooling rack at the bottom (to keep the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot).