Thursday, August 16, 2018
Cooking

Find your groove with jam

It took me an embarrassing number of years to overcome my (unreasonable) paranoia about making jam that would somehow give my friends and family botulism. The nasty, if rare, illness ó which can lead to paralysis, death, etc. ó is caused by a toxin generated by bacteria that can thrive in improperly canned food.

By the time I mastered canning and eventually slid into an annual routine, I had a baby and no longer had the time to go through the traditional water-bath canning process.

Thatís why refrigerator jam has now become my (sorry!) jam. Itís an easy, no-stress and quick method that bypasses the whole practice of having to sterilize and boil a bunch of jars.

"Thereís no judgment if you donít want to do the water-bath canning process," says Marisa McClellan, the three-time canning cookbook author who blogs at Food in Jars.

Refrigerator jam is not only a means to an end. It can help you manage your overflowing purchases of peak summer fruit that somehow managed to ripen faster than you could eat them, and therefore prevent food waste. Making small batches of jam is "just a fun way to beat the system," McClellan says. "Itís empowering. Itís a great way to buy low and sell high" on excess produce that is about to go.

Ready to try it? Hereís how to get started.

Pick the right fruit

In the height of summer, you canít go wrong with stone fruit. Peaches and nectarines are especially ideal because they tend to be cheaper and ripen quickly, McClellan says. You can use almost any fruit you like, though at other times of the year, you want to avoid very firm fruit such as apples or quince that wonít soften in the short cooking time. Aim for four cups of fruit cut in a moderate dice. Bigger pieces can be mashed a bit once the fruit starts to break down in the skillet. You donít have to worry about peeling most fruit, although McClellan suggests you do so with peaches since the skins donít break down particularly well. (The best way to peel peaches is to first boil them briefly until the skins begin to burst, then dunk them in ice water. The skins should slip off easily.)

As to the state of your fruit, very ripe is fine

But "truly rotten fruit ó turning it into jam isnít going to make it better," McClellan says. "It still has to be fruit youíre interested in eating." You can cut away dinged parts you donít want. If, however, the fruit smells boozy or fermented, toss it in the compost bin and not in your jam mixture.

Sweeten it

McClellan recommends going with a 2-to-1 ratio of fruit to sugar. So I used 4 cups of fruit and 2 cups of sugar for the jam I made. (The yield of the jam was about 2 cups.) If your fruit is very ripe and sweet, you can use closer to a 3-to-1 ratio. If you choose something like honey instead of granulated sugar, reduce the amount by a third, since it is a more concentrated sweetness, McClellan says.

Flavor to taste

You can certainly stick with the simplicity of fruit and sugar. Or you can start to experiment with different flavors. One of McClellanís favorite cheats is to use a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Itís a great way to use that jar you probably only pull out once a year anyway, plus it saves you the work of measuring out a bunch of different spices. Try a splash of almond or vanilla extract just before the jam finishes cooking. Alcohol ó bourbon or amaretto would both be lovely ó would work the same way. Put whole spices (cinnamon sticks, star anise) in at the beginning and remove once the jam finishes cooking. Incorporate crushed red pepper flakes before cooking if you want a jam that is sweet and spicy to, say, serve with cheese.

Get cooking

"The goal is hot and fast when youíre making these small batches of jam," according to McClellan. Using a wide skillet encourages quick cooking and evaporation of moisture. A stainless steel skillet is perfect. (She loves Revere Ware picked up at the thrift store.) Enameled cast-iron works well, too. Stay away from regular cast-iron, though, because it is "reactive," meaning it can impart off flavors to the jam. Nonstick isnít ideal either, McClellan says, because the coating can be prematurely aged by the heat at which you need to cook the jam.

What heat is that? Typically high, she advises, although if your stovetop is really powerful, you may want to dial the temperature back to medium-high or even medium. The amount of time you want to cook the jam will vary depending on the vessel, the ripeness and moisture content of the fruit and how much and what type of sweetener youíre using. A good rule of thumb is 8 to 15 minutes, though to be sure you should look for one major cue: The jam, when stirred ó a silicone spatula is a good way to go, McClellan says ó should create a trail that does not close up right away. My batch of peach, apricot and cherry jam took 15 minutes on the nose to set properly.

Store it

Thereís no need to sterilize whatever you want to put the jam in, as with water-bath canning, but it should be clean. Glass jars, the type you use for canning or even cleaned jars that previously held store-bought jam, are great. McClellan also likes lidded Pyrex containers. You can even use plastic so long as you let the jam cool first before pouring it in to avoid melting anything.

A refrigerator jam isnít going to last forever. While you donít need to worry about botulism (the bacteria only thrive in an anaerobic, or oxygen-free, environment), mold is a possibility, as with any open food. As long as you are scrupulous about not getting other food or "nasty bits" in the jam, McClellan says, it should last a month in the refrigerator. For long-term storage, you can freeze the jam, making sure you leave sufficient space at the top of the container to account for expansion as the water in it turns to ice.

Enjoy in many ways

You can obviously use jam as, well, a jam ó spreading on toast, waffles, English muffins, scones and what have you. McClellan also suggests using it in a homemade vinaigrette and as part of a marinade or glaze for meats. Spicy versions can be substituted for tomato sauce on a pizza. You can even toss the fruit for your favorite cobbler with a mixture of jam and granulated sugar, instead of using all sugar.

And with all that under your belt, who knows what will be next. Small batches of chutney? Refrigerator pickles?

"Once you start dipping your toe into this small-batch preserving world," McClellan says, "you start to wonder, ĎWhat else can I do?í?"

Comments
Expert advice on baking classic French tarts: recipes, tips and tools

Expert advice on baking classic French tarts: recipes, tips and tools

BELLEAIR BLUFFSTim Brown was dead right. It was time for tough love, right at the beginning of class: Most of us entertain, most of us can get our act together with some hors díoeuvres, an appetizer and an entree with appropriate side dishes. But whe...
Published: 08/15/18
It wonít take long to fall in love with this fool

It wonít take long to fall in love with this fool

"Fool" might be an odd name for dessert, but it has been served for centuries, and no one is quite sure why it is called that. Making it, though, is a pretty smart thing to do considering how easy it is and the reward of doing so: a delightfully crea...
Published: 08/15/18
Put old bread to good use in a Peach and Mozzarella Panzanella Salad

Put old bread to good use in a Peach and Mozzarella Panzanella Salad

It was a pilgrimage I had long wanted to make, but the timing was never right: Saturday mornings at Born and Bread Bakehouse in Lakeland. I had tried Born and Breadís bread once before, slathered in some house-made ricotta cheese that sent me on a ri...
Published: 08/14/18
Taste test: Texas toast

Taste test: Texas toast

Texas may have invented extra thick and buttery toast, but plenty of us enjoy the slathered slices with our own barbecues or Italian night dinners. Our judges like the addition of cheese to the toast, browned in the oven with a few herbs dotting the ...
Published: 08/13/18
Find your groove with jam

Find your groove with jam

It took me an embarrassing number of years to overcome my (unreasonable) paranoia about making jam that would somehow give my friends and family botulism. The nasty, if rare, illness ó which can lead to paralysis, death, etc. ó is caused by a toxin g...
Published: 08/08/18
Five ideas for cooking with watermelon

Five ideas for cooking with watermelon

Watermelon has always felt indulgent to me: a staple of backyard Fourth of July celebrations, a respite from the summer heat. The last time I had it, I was sipping a watermelon-mint cooler in a Brooklyn cafe, trying to escape the sweltering air that ...
Published: 08/07/18
Grits make a compact cushion for spicy shrimp in this recipe

Grits make a compact cushion for spicy shrimp in this recipe

By Leah EskinGrit is grainy and annoying, as in: Whatís that grit on the countertop? Itís grating, as in: Scrubbing the countertop makes me grit my teeth. It honors pluck: That girlís got grit. Perhaps it could also pinpoint one speck of the breakfas...
Published: 08/07/18
Roasting tomatoes is a delicious way to use them at their summer peak, like in this steak recipe

Roasting tomatoes is a delicious way to use them at their summer peak, like in this steak recipe

Sometimes I spend hours in the kitchen working on new recipes, starting with a kernel of an idea and playing with it a bit, adding stuff here and tweaking stuff there. Other times, I shamelessly steal recipe ideas from my friends. My husband and I we...
Published: 08/07/18
Taste test: Ginger salad dressing

Taste test: Ginger salad dressing

After years of enjoying Japanese restaurants, I have tried numerous times to re-create a delicious ginger salad dressing. Every time, though, I fall short of that tangy-sweet balance and chunky gingery mixture that perks up even a plain, green salad....
Published: 08/06/18
10 ideas for no-cook summer meals

10 ideas for no-cook summer meals

Now that summer is in full swing, the oven roasts my apartment along with my food. Even turning on the stovetop is risky, dooming me to sticky misery for the sake of a single tortilla. Iíve started eating cereal for dinner.Weíve got a couple more mon...
Updated one month ago