Old-Fashioned Jam

'Tis the season for preserves. Between deals on fruit at the grocery store, fruit stands, and berry bushes on the property of anyone willing to let you pick them, there is plenty of sweet goodness going around right now. And despite the heat, I am determined to keep some of it to be available during the long winter months.

Last week, when I pulled out my supplies to make jam of the black currants and apricots I had on hand at the time, I realized I didn't have a key ingredient to use my "No-Sugar-Added" pectin, which is fruit juice. I had no intention of making a special trip to town for it, but knew I needed to get those babies taken care of that day. So, with the guidance of the "Whole Fruit Jam" recipe in "Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques" and a little survey of recipes online, I got brave and decided to make jam the old-fashioned way, allowing the natural pectin in the fruit to do the work. And, to make it even easier, I used my slow cooker for the Apricots.

 The apricots (6 lbs.) got pitted and blended roughly in my blender, then cooked for hours on "High" with a 3" section of cinnamon stick. After they had reduced to my desired consistency (about half the original volume), I gave them the taste-test, puckered so hard that my lips touched my uvula, and added about 3/4 cup of whole sugar. That made them still tart, but delicious.

The currants (about 3/4 gallon) were washed, blended a bit, then done on the stove on medium-low. Cooking with a vanilla bean gave a marvelous smooth flavour to the jam. When they had reduced to a consistency that stuck to the spoon, I added about 1/2-3/4 cup of honey (didn't measure, just taste-tested until I liked it) and hot-packed them into hot jars.

Hot-packing using jars scalded in the oven without heat-processing afterward is my preferred method for canning. This helps prevent nutrient loss (which, unfortunately, the long cook time of this jam-making method negates the benefits of), creates less heat, and with the excessive iron content of my water, means that I don't have rusty iron scale inside my jars when I go to use them.

To prepare jars this way, simply wash and dry them, then put them in an oven that is at least 250 degrees F (I usually use 275F) for a minimum of 10 minutes. Soften the wax on your snap lids by pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit in it for a few minutes before sealing your jars. Place hot preserves in jars, leaving about 1/4" of head space, centre lids, tighten rings, and turn upside-down. Leave undisturbed for 24 hours before moving into storage--can also be stored upside-down.

I haven't had anything go bad yet. However, I mostly use this method with preserves that have high natural amounts of preservatives in them--either vinegar, sugar (natural or added) or honey. I do heat-process my canned fruit (halved peaches, etc.) for a short amount of time after packing. From the above-mentioned book I made a Sweet and Sour Plums recipe that required no heat-packing at all. The vinegar and sugar in the sauce have kept the plums for almost two years, now. (The sauce was heated several times during the process and re-poured over the fruit to soak before sealing.)

Pros to the "Old-Fashioned" jam-making method:
  • Don't need to buy pectin and fruit juice
  • Simpler

Cons to the "Old-Fashionied" method:
  • Nutrient loss due to prolonged heating
  • Takes a lot longer
  • The flavour of the fruit changes--doesn't taste quite as "fresh", which is okay, as long as you appreciate the flavour that is there
  • Less overall volume of preserves when finished

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Cherries! Yum!

Regardless of these cons, I have since done a Cherry Preserve/Jam this way, and currently have some blueberries in the slow cooker, too. (I recommend adding 1-2 tbsp. lemon juice to these sweeter preserves for a little "kick.")

It's kinda fun knowing I can preserve food the Old-Fashioned way--it's one less thing I have to rely on modern technology for. (Just in case it is ever unavailable.)