Now that the strawberry season is here, my kitchen will be filled with the sweet aromas of bubbling pots of jam. Making fruit spreads is a relatively simple process that requires a large, heavy pot, a strong arm, and a good thermometer. The challenge is to find the right combination of fruit, sugar and cooking time that yields the perfect taste and texture.
The goal of cooking the fruit is to acquire the proper gel for the final fruit spread product. There are two ways to cook the fruit: the fast way, which uses commercial pectin, and the slow, “cook-down” method, which relies upon the pectin found naturally in the fruit being processed.
The pectin content of the fruit mix determines the amount of sugar needed for the fruit to gel. Adding commercial pectin to your fruit drastically reduces the cooking time, but requires a ratio of more sugar than fruit. Because my family prefers a jam that is more fruit than sugar, I have been experimenting with different cooking techniques and fruit combinations.
In my recipe, instead of specifying a cooking time, I cook the fruit until it has reached a temperature of 220 degrees, (or at least 8 degrees above the temperature at which water boils in your location.) If you don’t have a thermometer, another test can be made with a cool, metal spoon. Scoop up a bit of the boiling mixture, tip the spoon and let the fruit run off the side. When the jam separates from the spoon in a sheet, rather than in separate drops, or “rounds up on the spoon”, it is done.
Making your own jams and jellies from Maine fruits appeals to all the senses and allows for your creativity to shine. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few trials to master the technique, your jam will still be wholesome, healthy and delicious. Come next winter, you’ll be grateful for that taste of summer in a jar!
Please don’t hesitate to shoot me an e-mail with queries about your recipe or technique, and enjoy!