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Prepare fruit now for jam later
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Prepare fruit now for jam later

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Prepare fruit now for jam later

This time of year brings in a lot of produce all at once. Split up the work by freezing batches of fruit now to make into jam later. (Stock Exchange)

What began as an act of desperation — flinging a batch of prepped fruit and sugar into the freezer to cook into jam during a less chaotic time — has evolved into my summer modus operendi.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised that it took me so long to arrive at this solution. Summer months are always intensely active. A good thing, but tremendously unfair when it comes to capturing the harvest. So many good things to eat and preserve, so little time to do so.

I really think mother nature has it backwards. She should provide the fruits of, well, summer, at a time when we can focus on such a gift.

Say, winter? Which is why I took matters into my own hands: these days I freeze the various fruit mixtures as the season presents them, and make jam at my leisure, which is months and months down the road.

Still need to be convinced? Here’s what brought me along: one year I prepped 3 batches of my favorite apricot jam recipe (the recipe follows). I had washed, quartered and pitted 12 pounds of the apricots — no small feat! — divided them between 3 large bowls, added the 6 cups of sugar and 1/3 cup of lemon juice to each bowl, and set them aside so the juices could develop for an hour or two. Then I had to leave town unexpectedly. Before heading out I spread a layer of plastic wrap down on the surface of each batch, then added extra layers of plastic wrap and foil around each preparation and put them in our chest freezer. I was pretty sure I’d be able to get back to the process in a couple of weeks.

Well ... I didn’t thaw the mixtures until the following spring. With fingers crossed I proceeded to make the jam, and it turned out fabulous!

Even the color was vivid and beautiful. My only quandary was how to label the jars. Should it state the year of harvest or the year it became a fabulous treasure for my family’s toast?

Convinced? Here are a few more tips:

• If you plan to tackle large quantities of fruit, better to use a scale instead of a measuring cup. Everything goes so much faster. You’ll notice in my recipes that I’ve provided the weights for you. Perhaps this is the time to buy that kitchen scale you’ve been coveting?

• The volume of fruit and sugar in some recipes is small enough to store in reclosable freezer bags. Other recipes (such as my apricot jam), will require a larger freezer container, so keep that in mind.

• As I’ve already stated, you can also turn individually quick frozen fruit into jam at a later date, as long as you know the weight of the fruit. When you get around to making the jam, simply weigh out the frozen chunks of fruit, add the appropriate amount of sugar and lemon juice, and let the mixture thaw and become nice and juicy. Then simply cook and pour into appropriate sized jars.

• Need a basic example? For jam recipes such as my Jan’s Ultimate Apricot Jam as shown below, where commercial pectin is not used, measure and prepare the fruit according to the recipe, then combine with the measured amount of sugar and lemon juice. Store in air-tight freezer containers or plastic pouches, clearly marked with the date frozen, contents (1 batch of jam, with sugar and whatever else is called for in the recipe). Make a note of what steps will need to be taken once the mixture is thawed. In most cases, all you will have left to do is scrape the thawed mixture into the preserving pot, bring to a boil and proceed to make your jam.

• For jam recipes using commercial pectin, I recommend freezing the fruit alone and adding the pectin later on when you’re ready to make the jam. Just remember, freezing alters the volume of fruit (it expands when frozen, and collapses when thawed), so you need to pre-measure the amounts of fruit to coincide with your jam recipe, then clearly mark the amount on the package. If you don’t pre-measure prior to freezing, and don’t have a scale to weigh the frozen or thawed fruit, it’s better to at least measure the fruit while it’s still frozen and then do a little guess work. For example, if the recipe calls for 3 cups of berries or cut-up fruit, figure on each cup being a “heaping cup.”

Jan’s Ultimate Apricot Jam

Makes 7 to 8 half-pints of jam

When I worked out the method to make this jam a few years ago, I was aiming for an offering that would be richly flavored, with the barely-soft consistency that lingers between a true preserve containing visible chunks of fruit, and a jam, which is more of a thick-textured puree. Because there is no commercial pectin added to the jam, the gel is a result of the interaction between the pectin inside the fruit, the fresh lemon juice, and the granulated sugar. So unless you want to end up with apricot syrup, do not reduce any of these components. It might seem like a lot of sugar, but really, by traditional jam-making standards, it is completely appropriate.

4 pounds of ripe apricots (see NOTE ON APRICOTS below)

6 cups (2 pounds, 8 ounces) granulated sugar

1/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons butter (reduces foaming during cooking)

• Candy thermometer,

8 half-pint canning jars with 2-piece lids

Halve the apricots and remove their pits. Cut each half into quarters.

Layer the apricots in a large non-aluminum bowl with the sugar. Drizzle on the lemon juice, then gently stir and toss the mixture using large spoons or a rubber spatula, to thoroughly disburse the sugar into the apricots. With the help of the lemon juice, the apricots will begin to release their juice and the sugar will begin to dissolve.

Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to several hours, stirring occasionally to encourage the sugar to dissolve.

IF PREPARING FOR THE FREEZER: Scrape the mixture into an appropriate sized freezer container, label carefully (noting amount, when frozen and any other instructions you need to finish the jam) and freeze. When ready to cook into jam, simply thaw and proceed as directed below.

TO PREPARE THE JAM (EITHER FROM FRESH OR THAWED STATE): When ready to proceed with the recipe, wash 8 half-pint jars. Keep them hot until needed. (I place a clean kitchen towel on a baking sheet in a 170-degree oven and store the jars there until needed.) Prepare 2-piece canning lids as manufacturer directs (If using Ball canning lids, this means that you place the rings and lids in a pot, cover with water, and heat just below the boiling point. Let stand in the hot water until ready to use.).

Scrape the apricot mixture into a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pot . (My pot is 12-inches wide and 5-inches deep, which is just about perfect.

You want a pot that is wide enough to encourage rapid evaporation of the water in the fruit and deep enough to tolerate a vigorous rolling boil. Add the butter and bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the heat to a hearty simmer that can’t be stirred down and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring almost constantly with a teflon spatula or flat-ended wooden spoon to keep the jam from scorching on the bottom. Don’t worry about all the foam that’s produced during this phase, most of it will disappear toward the end of the cooking, thanks to the butter. Whatever foam remains when you’re ready to spoon the jam into the jars you can simply scrape from the surface with a spoon.

After the 15 minutes of cooking, you have to use a bit of judgement so you can determine if the jam is reaching the “jelling point,” which is the point where jam turns from fruit in sugar to a substance that will thicken when cooled and stay thickened. For this particular apricot jam, I’ve found the jelling point to be about 218 degrees (at sea level). So once the surface begins to look very “glisteny,” and the bubbles seem larger, thicker, and shiny, stick your candy thermometer into the mixture and start monitoring the temperature. You’re looking at another 2 to 7 minutes of cooking, depending on how juicy a mixture you started with, and how rich in natural pectin the fruit is.

When you’ve reached 218 degrees remove the pot from the burner and let the preserves sit for about one minute if there is any foam remaining on the surface of the jam. Most of it will be absorbed back into the jam.

Skim off any foam that has not settled back into the mixture.

Ladle the hot preserves into 1 hot jar at a time. Wipe rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid and ring, turning firmly for a good seal (the jar will be very hot, so use a pot holder or towel where your hand comes in contact with it).

At this point, the jam can be stored in the refrigerator (after an over-night cooling session on your counter) for up to 12 months without the quality suffering.

For long-term storage at room temperature, you will need to process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes (at 1,000 to 3,000 feet, process for 15 minutes; for 3,000 to 6,000 feet, process for 20 minutes; above 6,000 feet, process for 25 minutes). Using a jar lifter, remove the processed jars from the boiling water and let cool on the counter, undisturbed, overnight.

NOTE ON APRICOTS: Pectin is a naturally-occurring substance in fruit.

There’s more pectin in under-ripe than ripe fruit. So for jam-making purposes, it’s helpful to include some under-ripe apricots.

Exquisite Berry Jam

Makes 4 half-pints

This recipe works for several varieties of berries, including strawberries, raspberries, Marionberries and blackberries. I’ve included weights so that you can work with frozen fruit.

This is a simple method for turning out luscious preserves through a fast-cook procedure. The resulting preserves are what I would describe as a “soft” gel, so if you really desire a very firm jam, this isn’t the one. But its luscious, with no commercial pectin giving the jam an unnatural firmness. And it’s full of fresh Oregon berry flavor. All that and only a few minutes of cooking.

The secret to perfection is the brief, fast cooking in small batches (this recipe cannot be doubled). A wide, shallow pan (a 12-inch skillet is perfect) is essential, and it’s important to make sure that about 1/4 of the berries are slightly underripe (there’s more natural pectin in underripe berries, so this helps the jam gel).

1 pound, 6 ounces (4 heaping cups) washed raspberries, Marionberries, blackberries, or hulled strawberries

1 pound, 7 ounces granulated sugar (31/2 cups)

1/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon butter

If using strawberries, coarsely chop them first (if the strawberries are frozen, let them sit at room temperature for a few minutes, which will make them easy to chop). Otherwise, you’ll work with whole berries.

In a large bowl, combine the berries with the sugar and lemon juice.

Gently stir the mixture using a rubber spatula until the sugar is evenly distributed and the juices have begun to flow; let the mixture stand, stirring gently every 20 minutes or so, for at least 1 hour; if longer than that, then refrigerate (up to 24 hours)

IF PREPARING FOR THE FREEZER: Scrape the mixture into an appropriate sized freezer container, label carefully (noting amount, when frozen and any other instructions you need to finish the jam), and freeze. When ready to cook into jam (up to 12 months later), simply thaw and proceed as directed below.

TO PREPARE THE JAM (EITHER FROM FRESH OR THAWED STATE): When ready to proceed with the recipe, wash 4 half-pint jars. Keep hot until needed.

Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.

Scrape the mixture into a 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet or cast-iron pan. Add the 1 teaspoon of butter (this controls the production of foam). Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly with a straight-ended wooden or nylon spatula. Adjust the heat downward to keep it from boiling over, and cook at a hard boil.

After about 7 minutes of cooking, you have to use a bit of judgement so you can determine if the jam is reaching the “jelling point,” which is the point where jam turns from fruit in sugar to a substance that will thicken when cooled and stay thickened. For this particular berry jam, I’ve found the jelling point to be about 218 degrees (at sea level). So once the surface begins to look very “glisteny,” and the bubbles seem larger, thicker, and shiny, stick your candy thermometer into the mixture and start monitoring the temperature. You’re looking at another 1 to 3 minutes, depending on how juicy a mixture you started with, and how rich in natural pectin the fruit is.

When you’ve reached 218 degrees remove the pot from the burner and let the preserves sit for about a minute if there is any foam remaining on the surface of the jam. Most of it will be absorbed back into the jam.

Skim off any foam that has not settled back into the mixture.

Ladle the hot preserves into 1 hot jar at a time. Wipe rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid and ring, turning firmly for a good seal (the jar will be very hot, so use a pot holder or towel where your hand comes in contact with it).

At this point, the jam may be stored in the refrigerator (after an over-night cooling session on your counter) for up to 12 months without the quality suffering.

For long-term storage at room temperature, you will need to process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes (at 1,000 to 3,000 feet, process for 15 minutes; for 3,000 to 6,000 feet, process for 20 minutes; above 6,000 feet, process for 25 minutes). Using a jar lifter, remove the processed jars from the boiling water and let cool on the counter, undisturbed, overnight.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or read her blog at www.janrd.com.

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