Tuesday Techniques: How To Make Jam

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Craig’s cousin Matt came to stay with us this past week and he and his friend (who also stayed with us) had a wild time. Out every night, hitting up the town, they’d wake up bleary-eyed every morning and ask me what Craig and I did the night before. “We, ummm, bought a keg and threw a block party,” I’d lie, ashamed of the truth: that I’d made dinner, we’d watched “The Wire” on DVD, and went to bed early.

And then any credibility I had as a vibrant young person went out the window when they came home one day to find me at the stove next to a pile of cherry pits.

‘What are you doing?” they asked, watching me sweat and stir.

“I’m making sour cherry jam,” I said.

They looked at one another and then back at me. “You’re making your own jam?” they asked, incredulously.

“Yes,” I said and suddenly felt my hair turn gray, my glasses slide down my nose, and my back hunch over. “Oh no!” I gasped. “Can it be? Do I have I.G.S.?”

I checked my symptoms online, consulted a web doctor, and my worst fears were confirmed: I’d caught the bug, and I wasn’t going to get better. Instant Grandma Syndrome. I was a hunched-over jam-maker, and “Golden Girls” reruns and early bird specials were to become my new way of life.

The blame SHOULD go to my far-flung Parisian friend with a spiffy new web design, David Lebovitz. When I came home from the farmer’s market with sour cherries (a prized fruit, one that Ruth Reichl and Mr. Lebovitz both urge their readers to purchase whenever possible) I decided I wanted to make sour cherry jam.

I went to a store on 7th Ave. and bought 8 jam jars (for this and future jam making). I also bought a cherry pitter to make my job easier and reader, believe me when I tell you: a cherry pitter is the greatest tool ever invented. Firstly, it does its job extremely well–your cherries will be pitted in no time. And secondly, it’s fun! It’s like a cherry pit gun. Do it the right way and those pits will go flying. Shoot your loved ones or your enemies or your cat. Ok, don’t shoot your cat.

Back here, I Googled “Sour Cherry Jam” and came to this post on David’s site. His technique for making jam is so awesome, so fool-proof it merits its own Tuesday Techniques post, and that’s what we’re doing today.

Here’s David’s process (and it applies to other fruit as you’ll soon see): Take your clean, pitted fruit, and put it in a pot with lemon zest and lemon juice from one lemon. Turn on the heat. Cook on medium heat until the fruit softens and gets wet and sloshy. Measure what’s there. Now, get out your calculator and multiply that amount by 3/4. Whatever number results, add that much sugar. Turn up the heat, stir, stir, stir, and let it foam up and once the foam subsides (a good 10 minutes or so) your jam should be set. To test, put a plate in the freezer when you start and at this point, drizzle some hot jam (careful!) on to the plate, put back in the freezer for a minute, and then test by pushing the jam with your finger. If it scrunches up, you’re done. If it’s still wet and sloshy, keep cooking. When set, pour into a jar, wipe off the lip, put on the lid and cool to room temperature. That’s it! You’ve got jam.

Now wasn’t that easy?

The only other tricky part is sterilizing the jars. But that’s easy too. After reading various techniques, here’s what I came up with: wash the jar and the lid with soap and water. Put in a pot or a Dutch Oven with hot water and bring to a boil. Let boil for 15 minutes, remove to towels with tongs and you’re done. Also easy!

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So here’s how the Sour Cherry jam went down. Here are the sour cherries, fresh from the farmer’s market:

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Here they are, washed and pitted and cooked in a pot for a few minutes:

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Here they are in a measuring cup after releasing all their juices;

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There were two cups of cherry slosh and that meant 1 1/2 cups of sugar. I added the sugar, turned up the heat, and stirred constantly with a rubber spatula until all the foam subsided.

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I turned off the heat, tested the jam on the freezer plate, saw that it was set and patted myself on the back. I ladled the jam into the jar, put on the lid, and smiled at my accomplishment while Craig’s cousin prepped for another night on the town.

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Then, on Saturday, I joined my friends Patty and Lauren for a fun jaunt to the Park Slope Farmer’s Market. There I found a rare supply of red currants at the bargain price of $10 for three cartons. I bought them up and here they are, beautiful in their bag:

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I e-mailed David to ask if I could use the same process on the currants and he said, “yes.” My favorite jam book, Mes Confitures, said I’d need a food mill but David said pish-posh. “You can use a food mill, if you taste it afterwards and it’s too chunky” (I paraphrase) “but it’s not necessary.”

So, once again, I washed and strained the fruit:

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I plucked all the currants off their stems (a long process, though a pleasant one) and placed them in a pot with lemon juice and some water (David’s instruction; about 1/2 a cup):

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I cooked until sloshy, measured (this time there was more: about 4 cups), added the appropriate amount of sugar (using up all my sugar, actually), and cooked until the foam subsided:

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Tested on a plate and it was done!

Oh, and the best part? Once it’s on the freezer plate you can taste it because it’s cooled down. And it tastes so, so, good. I stood there licking a plate as Craig’s cousin and his friend went out enjoying their youth.

But what’s youth next to a pot of jam? Sure, it’s fun to go out every now and then, but at the end of the night what do you have to show for it? Nothing, I tell you, except–maybe–a neon glow stick. With I.G.S. you stir some fruit and some sugar in a pot, and 6 months later you have jam to spread on your toast while you watch “Wheel of Fortune” and harass your grandchildren for not calling you. The choice is yours, reader: youthful exuberance or jam.

I choose jam. Now call your grandma!

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