Here in our neck of the woods, summer is a time for stone fruits and jam making. Hanno found a good bargain at Aldi during the week - premium yellow nectarines for $2.99 a kilo (2.2 pounds) He bought three trays. I didn't have time to make the jam so when Hanno said he'd make it, all it took was a quick lesson and now we have the most delicious nectarine jam.
I don't know why more people don't make jam. It's something all our grannies and great grannies knew a lot about. If they didn't make their own jam, they went without it. Unlike us, they didn't have shelves of jam waiting to be bought at the local supermarket. But I think that jam is inferior to what you make at home and if you look at the ingredient panel, many jams are full of additives and not just the few simple ingredients that make up homemade jam - fruit, sugar and lemon; sometimes, depending on the type of jam, there is pectin as well. I wonder what it's made from, where the fruit grew, how old it was when it was processed, was it fine fruit or leftovers that couldn't be used for much else, how far did the fruit travel to the jam processor, how far did the jar of jam travel to get to me. If I can improve on any of those things, I'm ahead.
To make our nectarine jam, Hanno washed the fruit, including quite a few that were under ripe, and cut them into chunks. He discarded the seeds but used the skins. You need a wide saucepan for jam making because you want maximum evaporation. All the fruit went into a big stockpot and weighed - four kilos (almost 9 lbs). We knew then we had to add half that weight in sugar. He washed two lemons, cut them in half and threw the half lemons, squeezed of their juice, into the pot with the fruit. The pot was set on the stove and while he prepared his jars, the jam started cooking. Frequent stirring is needed because you don't want burnt jam and you want to squash the fruit. We used the potato masher to get the consistency we wanted. Thirty minutes later, the jam was ready, the lemons removed and the jars filled.
That four kilos of fruit made two litres of jam - or eight normal sized jam jars. Now, lets see. The fruit (4 kg) cost $12, 2kg sugar cost about $2.50, two lemons about $1 and the gas to cook it on and to sterilise the jars, about 50 cents, which comes to $16. We got eight jars, so $2 per jar for top quality jam. That's about $3 - $4 less than the premium jams at the supermarket, and we know exactly what's in ours. We still have a couple of bowls full of nectarines for eating fresh and another tray for more jam. That will probably happen on Wednesday because today I'm going back to the neighbourhood centre to do a soap making workshop.
Look at the colour of that jam. Good jam always holds the colour of the original fruit, without added colouring.
We didn't process our jam in a water bath because it will store very nicely in the fridge for at least six months. Had I wanted to keep it longer, I'd have processed it further. And that's what we'll discuss tomorrow - processing jam in a water bath the frugal way - with no special equipment.
It doesn't matter why you make jam - because it's cheaper, better quality, you know what's in it, it's local or because you want to make as much for yourself as you can and keep your skills up to date - it's a lovely thing to do and it's really easy. So start collecting old jam jars to recycle for your own jam and when you see fruit that's cheap and so good you can't walk past, grab it, take it home and be a jam maker. You won't regret it.