Clockwise from top: strawberry-red currant, wild raspberry, cherry-rhubarb, gooseberry-elderflower, and black currant
I have a friend with a truly amazing garden that I swear should be in ads for Miracle-Gro. There are cascades of red and black currants, a plethora of perfect cherries, gargantuan raspberries, and substantial globes of red and green gooseberries. It’s like the whole garden is on steroids. Still to come are pears, apples, and plums. I can’t wait.
I was at her house for a berry-picking pool party, and three days later I was back again to help her with the overabundance of summer. She says she doesn’t know what she did to deserve such an amazing garden, but I maintain it’s karma because she shares everything so freely. When I stepped in-between some bushes to gather some red currants, I was almost giddy when I saw the masses of berries hanging heavy on the bush. I seriously got a bit of an adrenalin rush. My containers filled up so quickly and my mind was swimming thinking about what I was going to do with all of this!
But that doesn’t stop a berry picking addict like me for a moment. I channel my inner Scarlett O’Hara and tell myself “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” By the time I ran out of containers and my fingers were well stained it was time to stop. But then tomorrow came and what to do with all of the bounty? Although I’m not a big fan of jam I decided that would be an expedient way to make use of at least part of the boon and be able to share it easily as well. In the end, I learned that I am a jam fan…if it’s homemade. Store bought can’t hold a candle to what you can make yourself, and it’s simple and fun to do.
One of my favorite food blogs is written by David Lebovitz, an American pastry chef living in Paris. I found his No-Recipe Cherry Jam and used his basic principles to make three different jams…wild raspberry, strawberry-red currant, and gooseberry-elderflower (that last combination was inspired by a Delia recipe). I also made a black currant jam using a different recipe and included it below. David’s explanations and photos on his blog are excellent for diving into the world of jam making without fear and with great success. With his method you can use whatever amount of fruit/berries you have. I only had two cups or so of wild raspberries and ended up with one divine jar of jam that is disappearing quickly. That and the black currant are my new favorites although I’m still really fond of the cherry-rhubarb spread I posted recently. What a nice dilemma to have in the morning…”Hmmm….which scrumptious jar am I going to grab and slather onto my morning toast?”
For the wild raspberry and strawberry-red currant jam I followed David’s no-recipe jam making principles quite literally using equal amounts of red currants and strawberries. The lemon juice and zest have natural pectin that will help the jam to set and you can do a taste test to see if you want to add more sugar if your jam ingredients are tart. Use your best judgement on the amount of lemon juice and zest to add. For instance, I only had two cups of wild raspberries so I only added the juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon. For the gooseberry elderflower jam I followed the same directions for the no-recipe jam. I used red and green gooseberries and added elderflower cordial (3 tablespoons for each pound (kg) of gooseberries I started with) after removing the jam from the heat and it had passed the nudge test.
No-recipe jam (adapted from David Lebovitz’s No-Recipe Cherry Jam)
1. Wash, pit, and de-stem the fruit/berries.
2. Add the juice and zest of 1-2 lemons and cook over high heat until completely soft.
3. Once cooked, measure the amount of fruit/berry matter you have and add at least 3/4 of the amount of sugar and up to an equal amount of sugar (if you have 4 cups of fruit matter, add at least 3 cups of sugar and up to 4 cups).
4. Put a small white plate in the freezer.
5. Stir the fruit/berry matter and sugar in a large pot over moderate to high heat and stir occasionally.
6. When it stops bubbling up and the jam looks like it’s beginning to gel, remove it from the heat and put a small amount on the frozen plate. Return the plate to the freezer for a few minutes and then do the nudge test to see if it is ready. If the jam wrinkles and follows your finger when you nudge it, it’s ready to jar. If it isn’t set, put it back on the heat and keep re-testing until done.
7. Stir in a dash of kirsch (clear cherry brandy) if you have it to enhance the flavor (I didn’t have any and was still really happy with the results).
8. Ladle the hot jam into clean jars (make sure they aren’t cold or they will break), put on the lid, and turn them upside down to help seal them. Cool the jars to room temperature and store in the refrigerator for several months. You could also store them in the freezer if you leave some space for expansion in the jar, about 3/8 inch (1 cm). If you are interested in trying traditional canning which won’t require your jam to be refrigerated, you can check out www.freshpreserving.com for tips.
For the black currant jam I did things a little differently based on a recipe I found on the Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture site. I didn’t have enough lemons so I used some orange juice instead and was really happy with the result.
Black currant jam
1 pound (1.1 kg) black currants
1/2 cup (120ml) fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup (120ml) fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 1/4 cups (500g) sugar
1. Place a small, white plate in the freezer
2. Combine everything in a large, non-reactive pot and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and let cook undisturbed for five minutes.
3. Remove from heat and skim off any scum. Put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate. Return the plate to the freezer for a few minutes and then do the nudge test to see if it is ready. If the jam wrinkles and follows your finger when you nudge it, it’s ready to jar. If it isn’t set, put it back on the heat and keep re-testing until done.
4. Ladle the hot jam into clean jars (make sure they aren’t cold or they will break), put on the lid, and turn them upside down to help seal them. Cool the jars to room temperature and store in the refrigerator for several months.
A word about pectin
Different fruits and berries have varying levels of pectin which is the naturally occurring ‘glue’ that helps jam to set. If you want to avoid using commercial pectin in your jams and jellies, it’s helpful to have a basic idea of the pectin content in your ingredients so you can judge accordingly and come up with your own flavor combinations. Here is a quick, basic reference list:
High pectin content – limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, cranberries, loganberries, red and black currants, quinces and apples
Medium pectin content – blackberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, apricots, passionfruit, blueberries, gooseberries, boysenberries, and guava
Low pectin content – figs, cherries, nectarines, pears, strawberries, elderberries, rhubarb, grapes, and tomatoes