Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jam success

A couple of years ago I posted about my disastrous attempt to make strawberry-rhubarb jam in my slow cooker. I put the ingredients in and, after waiting around for several hours, left them to finish cooking overnight. It was soup when I went to bed and fruit leather when I woke up—and a major disappointment all around.

Well, a lot of jam water has flowed under the bridge since then, and I’ve learned a few things that I didn’t know then about jam making. And last Sunday, a little more than two years after my initial attempt, I gave strawberry-rhubarb jam another go. I got a knockout deal on strawberries (USD $0.99/lb, limit 4 lb/customer) and had the last bag of last summer’s farmer’s market chopped rhubarb in the freezer. I decided it was time to the lay the ghost.



I didn’t make it in the slow cooker though. I don’t think I’m going down that road again. I’ve found so many other things that the slow cooker is admirably suited to make, and I’m pretty sure jam isn’t one of them. And it’s not worth waiting for when the skillet method is so quick and delicious.

Skillet strawberry-rhubarb jam
Adapted from dinner with Julie
If you’re at all apprehensive about attempting jam-making, I can’t recommend strongly enough clicking through to Julie’s post on this. It debunks all the intimidating popular mythology and mystery surrounding making jam, and has given me the confidence first to tackle making it again and now, to experiment.

1 lb/450 g strawberries (weighed after prepping)
½ lb/225 g rhubarb (ditto)
6-8 oz/180-240 g sugar*
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to ensure mixture doesn’t stick. When mixture is bubbling energetically, continue stirring often; lower the heat if necessary to keep from bubbling over. Mash cooking fruit with a potato masher to break it up if desired.

When you can see that the mixture is starting to cook down, use your stirring implement to draw a line across the bottom of the pan and note how long it takes to fill in again. Continue stirring and monitoring, and try this test every couple of minutes. When the line drawn on the bottom stays clear for 2-4 seconds, turn off the heat but leave the pan on the stove. The mixture will continue cooking as it cools, and the residual heat should get the jam to a loose but still jam-like consistency.

You can can this by following the usual method and processing in boiling water for 10 minutes, or you can put it in a clean jar and store in the fridge to eat straightaway.

Makes 3 8 oz/240 g jars

* I used an amount of sugar equivalent to half the strawberries (or comparable to the amount of rhubarb), because I don’t like my jam too sweet. You can increase to taste; many jam recipes use equal weights of fruit and sugar. I also used unrefined sugar that has vanilla beans stored in it, which I felt gave the jam a more complex flavor; you can use your own choice.

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