September 22, 2010

In a Jam

I fear I've missed the seasonally appropriate window to post this recipe.

It's been weeks since D snagged these last-of-the-season cherries at a roadside farm stand.  I can't recall the last time I saw them fresh, in a store.

But the show must go on; there are still frozen cherries, after all.

I've never made jam before.  My Mom and my Aunt make jam all the time, or at least, more often than I do.  Big batches of jam.  But every time I see how much sugar they add to the cooked down fruit, I cringe.  You add how much?  This from an inexperienced jam maker, a never before canner, I had no idea about these things.

So back to a few weeks ago, when these cherries showed up.  There was an over abundance of fruit in the house, pretty typical for summertime and spending every Saturday at the farmer's market eye balling gorgeous produce.  They had no chance of survival, would never be eaten before they started to go bad and turn mushy.  I could not waste the precious cherries!  Must preserve!

Preserve!  Like canning!  Except I'm not ready for that part yet, so for now I'll just stick with the jamming.

Thanks to a little confidence from David Lebovitz, and a strong physical aversion to wasting any little scrap, I attempted my first batch of jam.  It was a wee batch, baby size; the 1 pound yielding a cup or so of jam.  It wasn't traumatizing, or difficult really, just time spent over the stove.  I set to work pitting the cherries by hand, their crimson juices splattering all over the cutting board, like a bad crime scene, as I smashed them with the broadside of a knife, chopping the cherries into bits and bites, it's such a therapeutic process.  Although, I can see how the charm quickly fades when it's hot outside and you have the stove going and you're standing over a huge pot of boiling fruit and sugar, stuck in a never ending cycle of stirring.  But stir I did.  And jam I did make.  I even managed to get over the heap of sugar.

(I call this one...Dexter.)

Cherry Jam
Adapted from David Lebovitz

Like I said, I made a baby batch, but if you can get your hands on the volume, you should make more.  It's tasty stuff.  I imagine frozen cherries (which have most likely been pitted - yay!) would work just as well here if you can't get your hands on fresh.

about 3 pounds of cherries
zest and juice of 2 lemons

Rinse the cherries and remove the stems. Then remove all the pits. Chop about ¾ of the cherries into smaller pieces, but not too small.  Leave the rest whole.

Cook the cherries in a large non-reactive stockpot. It should be pretty big since the juices bubble up. Add the zest and juice of one or two fresh lemons. Lemon juice adds pectin as well as acidity, and will help the jam gel later on.

Cook the cherries over medium-low heat, stirring once in a while with a heat proof spatula, until they’re wilted and completely soft, which may take about 20 minutes, depending on how much heat you give them.

Once they’re cooked, measure out how many cherries you have (including the juice.) Use 3/4 of the amount of sugar. For example if you have 4 cups of cooked cherry matter, add 3 cups of sugar.

Stir the sugar and the cherries in the pot and cook over moderate-to-high heat. The best jam is cooked quickly. While it’s cooking, put a small white plate in the freezer. Remain vigilant and stir the fruit often with a heatproof utensil.  

Once the bubbles subside and the jam appears a bit thick and looks like it is beginning to gel, (it will coat the spatula in a clear, thick-ish, jelly-like layer, but not too thick) turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer. After a few minutes, when you nudge it if it wrinkles, it’s done.

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