Nothing tastes better on a summer morning than home-made jam on a warm, freshly baked biscuit. And despite everything you may have heard, making jam is easy and extremely satisfying.
If you’ve never attempted to preserve your own jam, frightened off by all those bottles to sterilize and seal, you are not alone; it feels like very risky business. But there’s a better way. If you come home from the farmers’ market laden with beautiful fruit, you can make jam in small batches and simply store it in the refrigerator. Nothing to sterilize, nothing to seal. But there are a few things to keep in mind, starting with age-old advice from the inestimable Fannie Merritt Farmer:
1. “It must be remembered that all fruits contain one or more acids, and when exposed to air and brought in contact with an iron or tin surface, a poisonous compound may be formed.”
Modern day cooks rarely have to worry about cooking in iron or tin, but they do have another consideration: keep away from flimsy pots. You want to use the heaviest pot you have, which will keep the fruit from scorching.
2. “Preserving fruit is cooking with from three-fourths to its whole weight of sugar. By so doing much of the natural flavor of the fruit is destroyed.”
One of the great things about making a jam that you are not trying to preserve for the far future is that you can safely cut down on the sugar; just use enough to make the jam delicious, and still taste like the fruit.
3. “Where failures occur, they may usually be traced to the use of too ripe fruit.”
Take her advice here: you don’t want overripe fruit, which has lower levels of pectin and acids, meaning that it won’t set as well. Bruised fruit is more likely to harbor bacteria or mold. And with a simple jam like this one, the better the fruit, the better the jam.
Fresh Apricot Jam
You can also use this recipe for peaches, nectarines or plums (although I’d peel them). But as different fruits have different levels of pectin, it may not work if you venture too far from stone fruit.
Makes 2 pints
¼ cup water
1¼ cups sugar
2 pounds apricots, including skin, pulled apart, divided
1 vanilla bean
½ large lemon, juiced
Make a syrup: Stir the sugar and water together in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring until clear, 1-2 minutes.
Add half the fruit: Add half of the pulled-apart to the syrup. Simmer until they disintegrate, stirring, for about 10 minutes.
Add the remaining fruit: Slice the vanilla bean the long way, and run a knife along the inside edge to remove the seeds. Stir the seeds into the jam and add the pod. Add the remaining apricots, along with the vanilla bean, and stir for another 5-7 minutes, until the apricots soften. Remove the vanilla pod.
The final touch: Add the lemon juice and cook for another 3 minutes. The jam will last for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator; mine never lasts that long.