I’ve been exploring jam ninja Linda Amendt’s Blue Ribbon Preserves. As she tells it in the back of the book, Linda won 618 awards over 11 years of competition, including 315 first-place ribbons, before retiring from competition in 2000. Yowzah. I picture her as the reigning Iron Chef of preserves, furrowed, sweaty brow hovering over a stovetop of simmering pans of fruit mixtures and a jar-filled boiling water bath canner, struggling to make a jam, jelly, chutney, preserve and coulis in just one hour, with something ridiculous like durian. Linda could nail it. She’d even throw in some candied peel.
I decided to start with what’s plentiful at the market these days: delicious, juicy stone fruit from Ontario. So I attempted the peach jam and apricot-plum jam. I like Linda’s pro-liquid pectin stance. She argues eloquently that liquid is the way to a softer, more tender and consistent set, that the flavours develop better when the fruit and sugar are combined first, as opposed to with powdered pectin where pectin and fruit are combined first and the sugar is added later. Butter is added to cut down on foam (air bubbles).
But here’s the thing: I never want more sugar than fruit. Can’t deal with that tooth-searing sweetness. So, where Linda calls for 4 cups of fruit and about 7.5 cups of sugar, I went for 4 cups fruit, 4 cups sugar. And guess what? They’re still super sweet. For my tastes, anyway. But you still get that juicy, prime-of-the-season fruit-forward flavour. I’ll just make sure to eat the jam within six months, rather than a year (given I’ve lost the preservative effects of the omitted sugar). Linda also recommends removing the skins of stone fruit and the red stringy parts of peaches, but I dig these supposed imperfections that provide visual specks and textural flecks (I always leave skins on in mashed potatoes), so I left them in. Alas, my jams are not destined for blue ribbon fame and fortune! I think I’ll live.
The plums were a little sour and provided a lovely tartness. Both jams have gorgeous colour (see pic below), golden-orangey and jewel-like, the peach being slightly darker. I added a little rosemary to the apricot-plum batch (half a branch-sprig), but the flavour was undetectable, so will add more next time, maybe two entire branches? Also: used more plums than apricots because that’s what was on hand, so really, it’s a plum-apricot jam.
Plum-apricot jam (with rosemary, if desired)
1 1/2 cups apricots, chopped and crushed
2 1/2 cups plums, chopped and crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp unsalted butter
1 pouch liquid pectin
1 branch of rosemary (or two? depends on how partial you are to rosemary)
Combine mushed fruit (I chop mine, then crush gingerly with a potato masher) with lemon juice and sugar in a stainless steel pot, cover and let stand for about 30 mins. Uncover (you can add rosemary now, sprigs tied tightly with kitchen string, or in a herb bag or tied in some cheese cloth), bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Boil for two minutes, stirring gently. Remove pan from heat, skim foam, return pan to heat, boil again for one minute. Remove pan from heat again and skim foam. Stir in the butter, then once again bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Add pectin, return to boil for one minute, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and skim any foam off one last time. Remove rosemary, if used.
Allow to cool for five minutes, then stir to re-distribute fruit bits. Ladle jam into hot jars (this worked out to about six 250-ml jars for me), leaving 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) head space. Wipe jar rims then add hot lids that have been sitting in simmering water, screw on ring bands and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (at sea level – more time for higher altitudes).
4 cups peaches, chopped and lightly crushed
¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
½ tsp unsalted butter
1 pouch liquid pectin
Combine peaches, lemon juice and half the sugar, cover and let stand about 20 minutes. Remove cover, add remaining sugar and the butter, allowing it to dissolve over low-medium heat, then bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and skim foam.
Return to heat, bring to a rolling boil then stir in pectin. Return to boil, boil while stirring continuously for one minute. Remove from heat and skim any remaining foam. Allow to cool, then stir to redistribute fruit bits. Fill and process jars as above.