From the Pantry

As gardens around the world offer up sweet and tangy harvests, my thoughts turn to the many ways to preserve the bounty. And, having more than one sweet tooth, thoughts of jam also fill my head.

While markets everywhere offer a wide and quality selection of jams, jellies and sauces, there's something downright sentimental about making your own from fruit grown by yourself or someone you love. And while I would encourage you to experiment with treasures from the grocery store shelf that might not be practical to make in your kitchen, I'd also suggest trying to make a few jars of something sweet at home as well. At the very least, it provides a better idea of the processing involved in getting those sweet treats from the garden or orchard to your breakfast table!

The essential ingredients in the jam recipes featured in this article are fruit and sugar. The fruit determines the overall flavor of your final product, so picking or purchasing top quality fruit is essential. If your fruit is under ripe, your jam could end up with an overly mild flavor and chunks of fruit that are too large for proper spreading. If your fruit is overripe or damaged, the jam could become visually unappealing or worse. The sugar serves to heighten the sweetness of the fruit and thicken the final product (gelatin or pectin can also be added to help thicken the mixture).

While sugar-free options abound, I have found that getting them to set properly is a challenge and I generally opt to purchase my sugar-free preserves from a market. Also, for those beginners that want a simple method for making homemade jams, I would recommend purchasing pectin (I use the Sure-Jell brand) and following the instructions for various fruit jams included in the packages.

Since this article is meant to encourage beginners, the recipes presented are all freezer jam recipes. I think freezer jam is a good way to start making jam since it requires no special equipment and nearly everyone has just a little freezer space to spare for a few jars. Perhaps we'll tackle the more difficult aspects of canning jams and the like in the future.

To help you enjoy the pleasures of jam-making (and, of course, eating), I'm including three freezer jam recipes that I've enjoyed at my table. I hope the same will be true for your family!

As always, I'd love to hear about how your cooking adventures turn out. Feel free to share your own recipes, stories and comments with me!

Rhubarb Freezer Jam

I love to use this jam as a filling in baking bars. Its sweet, tangy flavor is a bit of a pleasant surprise to guests as they bite into such sweet treats.
  • 5 c. rhubarb, cut into fine pieces
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 6 oz. raspberry gelatin

Stirring frequently, cook the rhubarb with a scant amount of water in a saucepan over medium heat until stringy and soft -- about 10-15 minutes. Add the sugar and cook an additional 10 minutes exactly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the gelatin and stir. Carefully pour the mixture into jelly jars and cover with lids. Allow to cool completely and freeze until ready to use.

  • Yields: about 3 pints (do not double recipe -- make only a single batch at a time!)
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus cooling

Mixed Berry Freezer Jam

Choose any combination of berries to equal four cups in this recipe. But, trust me, more varieties make it better!
  • 4 c. blackberries, raspberries or mulberries -- caps removed
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon peel
  • 3 oz. fruit pectin
  • 2 T. lemon juice

Crush the berries and carefully measure out 2 cups of the mixture. Combine the 2 cups of crushed berries, sugar and lemon peel in a bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes to macerate.

Mix the pectin and the lemon juice. Add to the berry mixture and stir constantly for 3 minutes.

Carefully pour the mixture into jelly jars and cover with lids. Allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours or until the jam is set. Freeze until ready to use.

  • Yields: about 2 pints
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus setting time

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Here's the ultimate strawberry freezer jam. It's great on toast first thing in the morning.
  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 T. lemon juice

Rinse, hull and slice the strawberries, removing any dark spots. Combine the berries with the sugar and lemon juice. Allow the mixture to macerate overnight, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is melted.

The next day, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Remove the berries to a bowl with a slotted spoon and cook the syrup until it reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Add the reserved strawberries to the syrup mixture and cook 3 minutes longer. Carefully pour into 3 pint-sized canning jars. Cool the jars to room temperature, stirring occasionally. When completely cooled, cover the jars and freeze until ready to use.

  • Yields: about 3 pints
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus macerating and cooling times