I love making jam.
It triggers one of the happiest memories of my childhood, August days spent on big blackberry picking parties with the Sheens, family friends from Mom and Dad’s Alberta days. Jack Sheen and Dad went at the bushes with clippers and ladders. The seven of us kids looped our buckets into our belts for two-handed picking. And Mom and Grace provided the picnic lunch, which always included chocolate cake, “for the men,” Mom said, but I doubt they enjoyed it any more than we did.
As years went by, I kept on making jam. I’d pick enough berries for a batch or two, mash and measure them, then freeze them. When we ran out of jam, I’d pull the berries out of the freezer, and, following Mom’s lead, cook up enough for seven good sized jars.
That worked well for a long time, but it doesn’t any more. We eat less added sugar, and less bread. Last year I picked raspberries and put berries for two batches in the freezer, measured and ready to go. They’re still there.
I have, however, found a way to satisfy my jam making urges: the micro-batch.
I made the first one last summer, after arriving on Read Island with no jam, and a peach and several apricots rapidly heading towards rot. Read Island is the one place where breakfast always includes toast, which always requires jam. I pulled out the Joy of Cooking, read through the recipes and then struck out on my own.
Here’s the pattern: 2 cups of crushed fruit, 1.5 cups of sugar (much less than in a traditional batch, where the sugar is almost double the volume of the fruit) and whatever extra flavoring you might want to toss in. No pectin required and not much time. And because the quantities are so small, you have more freedom to play around with flavors.
First time around I added some chopped dried apricots that I found at the back of the cupboard. My second micro-batch jam came from two cups of strawberries that were rapidly approaching their best-before date. Two tablespoons of orange liqueur improved them immensely.
But the best jam of all has to be blackberry lime: straight up blackberry jam with lime juice and zest squeezed in when the cooking’s finished.
If, like me, you like to re-use Bonne Maman jam jars, you’ll get one full jar with some left over. Standard 1-cup canning jars should give you two full jars.
- 2 cups crushed blackberries
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- Zest of 1/2 lime
- 2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1/2 lime)
- Combine berries and sugar in a two-quart saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
- Raise the heat to high and bring the berries to a full rolling boil for one minute. You can skim the foam from the top if you like.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the jam is as set as you would like it to be, about 20 minutes.
- Test for jelling by dropping a teaspoon of jam on a saucer, then tipping the saucer. If the jam moves slowly, and starts to set as it runs down the saucer, it's cooked. You can also check that you spoon leaves a track on the bottom of the pan.
- Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the lime juice.
- Pour the jam into whatever heatproof container you've chosen.
- If you're using a standard jam jar, you'll have about half a cup of jam left over for another container.
- Makes about 2 cups jam.