Jam Without a Recipe

Bread+%26+Jam Jam Without a Recipe

We’ve spent more time than usual at the dog park this week, having doubled the quantity of dog in our house by taking in a stunning Rhodesian ridgeback, truly a supermodel among dogs. To say her dad is a young, outdoorsy type is a colossal understatement, so as Comox is accustomed to spending her weekends on backcountry ski trips, mountain biking, hiking/rock climbing and the like, she’s ripped. She’s Wonder Woman to Lou’s Fred Flinstone. Quite the dominatrix, too. They are the best of pals.

I had been noticing some sort of berry growing in abundance up and down every path, and over the past week they have been turning a more alluring shade of wine-purple, hanging all lusty and low in clusters, like teeny grapes with a little more breathing room.

Every time I stopped to examine them and wonder aloud what they might be, Mike would put his head down and walk faster.

Chokecherries Jam Without a Recipe

Through the miracle of Twitter, I brought a few home, photographed them and sent them out into the ether, inquiring to all what they might be. The answer came back: chokecherries. Chokecherries!! I always wondered about chokecherries, some neighbours assumed aloud that they were the same as Nanking cherries, and I had no reason to not believe them. But these are much darker, and smaller, with very little flesh that sucks the moisture out of your mouth when you eat them.

Tonight we went back to cool off boy and dogs in the river, and as I walked down the wooded path I stripped chokecherries from their stems by the handful, filling a spare poo bag quickly. (To onlookers at the river, I had the biggest sack of poo ever.) Buckets of them hung from branches at every bend, turning so dark that soon they’ll get boozy and the dog park will be the place for the magpies to hang out on Friday nights.

When we got home, we popped on a movie and I popped a pot on the stove to make -what else?- jam.

And so I decided that I should address the issue of making jam without a recipe. Really, you don’t need the mathematical formula the little folded sheet (that unfolds to poster size) inside the pectin box suggests you do, nor often the pectin itself. I’ve been doing up small batches all month – raspberry from my sister’s garden (above), Nanking cherry, huckleberry, and now chokecherry. This summer we missed out entirely on the strawberries.

Strawberry huckleberry+Jam Jam Without a Recipe

Although fruits have been preserved in sugar for thousands of years, people have only in recent decades developed a fear of jam-making. The common opinion has come to be that jam is difficult to make, difficult to set, and will take the better part of a day (or at least an afternoon) to procure. Not so. And although a jar of jam can be easily had at any corner store, it really is worth the effort to simmer some fruit yourself. Fruit + sugar = jam.

If you are among the nervous, take comfort in the fact that runny jam is perfectly acceptable; delicious, even. (I far prefer a loose jam to one that resembles stiff Jell-O.) If it’s exceedingly runny, you have yourself a lovely fruit syrup, one that will enliven pancakes, waffles, ice cream, fresh biscuits and angel food cake – just pretend that it’s exactly the way you intended it to be.

To get all scientific about it: the main components of jams and preserves are fruit, sugar, pectin and acid (such as lemon juice). Fruits vary in their pectin content, but typically under-ripe fruit (such as strawberries with white spots) contains more pectin and acid, both necessary elements for the jelling process. (Fruits higher in pectin include apples, currants, oranges and plums; middle-of-the road fruits include blueberries, raspberries, cherries and rhubarb; low-pectin fruits include apricots, peaches and strawberries.) Commercial pectin can always be used as extra insurance, but isn’t really necessary. Apples (with their seeds) and citrus peels are high in pectin – I’ll often add some to the pot (if I’m straining the mixture to make jelly) or wrap in cheesecloth to simmer, then pull out after the mixture has cooked.

When making jam, aim for 1 cup sugar to every 2-3 cups chopped fruit. You’ll want to cook them together, rather than cook the fruit and then add the sugar, as the sugar helps pull water from the fruit but leaves the pectin. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice per pound of low-acid (as in, not oranges) fruit.

Bring the lot to a rolling boil and cook, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface, until it thickens and looks like loose jam. (Keep in mind it will firm up as it cools.) To test, either use a candy thermometer (it will set at around 220°F) or drop a spoonful on a small dish you’ve chilled in the freezer. If it sets up into something that resembles jam, and wrinkles on the surface when you push it with your finger, it’s done.

My method is to spoon the hot jam into fresh-from-the-dishwasher jars that are still warm. Seal, and the lids will pop in as they cool. You’ll know any have spoiled if the lids pop out again. If any don’t seal properly, store in the fridge or freeze.

Clear as jam?

uthcjam3 Jam Without a Recipe

If you’re a jam fan, whether you’re looking for recipes or making it yourself, come join the sticky fun at Jam Swap 2009, the brainchild of (and hosted by) Aimee of Under the High Chair!

One Year Ago: Roasted Sausages with Grapes and Onions

pixel Jam Without a Recipe
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August 28 2009 07:54 pm | preserves

40 Responses to “Jam Without a Recipe”

  1. Avery on 28 Aug 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    Looks good! Where did you get the bread?

  2. Donna on 28 Aug 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    Chokecherry jam.
    During the cold weather in early August I made some jam using chokecherry juice / pulp I had “canned” last summer. It was slow to jell – I haven’t looked in the last 3 weeks. My MIL says that chokecherry often does not thicken well – so it gets called chokecherry syrup.
    Yours looks great !

  3. Cheryl on 28 Aug 2009 at 9:56 pm #

    Love that bottom photo!
    My folks always make chokecherry jelly. Jelly, now that’s another post.

  4. Heather on 29 Aug 2009 at 2:10 am #

    ooh I was going to say don’t eat the chokecherries — you’ll regret it. ;)

  5. Aimee on 29 Aug 2009 at 4:33 am #

    What fun!!
    If you want to can grab a little button/badge off of my blog and submit this for my jam swap!


    Just link back to the post above, if you do so.

    I love jam season!

  6. JulieVR on 29 Aug 2009 at 5:46 am #

    Avery – the bread is Aviv’s, of course! My freezer is full of it.

    Donna – if you’re nervous, you could of course add some pectin. Or add some orange peel or apples to the pot as they simmer, since you’ll be straining out the pits anyway!

    Aimee – will do! Did you get my email with all the other jam links? great idea!

  7. Manon from Ontario on 29 Aug 2009 at 7:46 am #

    Cool! You know what, I’ve always made my jams this way, I hate following the “recipes” as I find them way too sweet. Like you say, I serve all my jams on toast, pancakes, waffles and on angel fruit cake, one of my signature deserts when I have visitors for dinner in the summer, light and fresh. I always add fresh berries on top of a spoon full of whipped cream.

    I’m so glad to read this on your blog, it just tells me that I’m an ok chef.

    Have a great weekend :)


  8. bluejeangourmet on 29 Aug 2009 at 8:54 am #

    I eat a LOT of raspberry jam and I know it’s silly not to make my own, so you have given me the courage to try! I did okay with apricots a few weeks ago, so I think this will be my Labor Day weekend project…wait, is American Labor Day the same as Canadian (side quesiton: is it Labour for ya’ll or is that just the Brits?)?

    In any case, Julie, you will be my jam guide.

  9. ilovealbertabeets on 29 Aug 2009 at 10:14 am #

    Thank you for making me laugh out loud this morning with the ‘biggest sack of poo’ comment. Enjoy the fantastic weather this weekend!

  10. robin on 29 Aug 2009 at 11:10 am #

    I so need an Aviv… how did you get so lucky!

  11. Carol SB on 29 Aug 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    Ha ha! I was walking home the other day with a few small potatoes in a spare “poo bag” as well, thinking… OK, this looks odd.
    I’m with Donna; chokecherry is usually pancake syrup for me (I can remember my Mum laboring to get it to set, and one batch was SO STIFF it tore the bread when we spread it! Had to kind of cut it into little slices… I can’t imagine how much pectin she must, in her frustration, have used!)
    But yeah, Julie, you’re right: ckokecherries are not at ALL like Nankings to eat au naturel. More like a piece of chalk. But they do make wonderful pancake syrup.

  12. Carol SB on 29 Aug 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    And hey, Bluejean Gourmet! First Monday in September, right? I still spell it “Labour” but my kids (in their 20s) spell it “labor”, usually. I think your eyes get trained by the media you read (and the US spelling is dominant) and by the settings for your computer’s spellcheck. If you leave it on defaults, it’s American. Other opinions?
    (Hi, my name is Carol, and I’m a wordgeek…)

  13. glenda on 29 Aug 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    Up with word geeks – and save the ‘u’ in labour and neighbour!

  14. Amy Green - Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free on 29 Aug 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    This is how my grandma makes jam. I asked her for a recipe once and she told me that she refuses to use the boxed pectin because it calls for way too much sugar and she doesn’t like to feed her family that way. So, she does what you do.

    I made strawberry jam earlier this summer and it was my first time – I used the pectin. Won’t ever do it again. From now on, it’s fruit and an apple.

  15. Kate on 30 Aug 2009 at 4:35 am #

    When I was a young girl of 8 or so, I used to walk down to the “hollow” every summer day to visit my best friend. Audrey and I would spend the day going down through the field to the creek to swim with the dragonflies, climb out to venture into the brambles to pick berries, walk to the country road to pop tar bubbles and then walk over to the hedgerow to pick choke cherries and eat them out of hand on the spot. We loved the puckery sour taste. I wish I had some to make jam now, haven’t seen any hanging “all lusty and low” since then.

    I haven’t thought about those adventures in such a long time. Thanks for jogging my choke cherry memories! Or should I say thanks for choking it outta me? ;)

  16. Sam on 30 Aug 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    My dad used to make chokecherry wine. The pits (and mashing the berries) were the bane of his endeavour. I remember one year he convinced one of my parent’s friends to stomp them like grapes. There may have been a few “pops” involved in that idea. Then all winter we would sit by the big glass jar with the thing in the top – it got to sit by the furnace vent so we would snug up against it. I never had any but my parents’ friends seemed to enjoy it. I did get to sample the highbush cranberry jelly – tasty but the house stunk like dirty sweat socks for ages afer…

  17. Alex on 30 Aug 2009 at 7:50 pm #

    Not really on-topic for today, but this relates to low-fat baking, so I thought it was slightly topical. Do you have any good recipes for carrot cake? I love the stuff, and was so excited to see the recipe for Bumpy’s carrot cake in today’s paper, but my heart sank when I saw it called for 1 1/2 cups of oil. Is there any way to make delicious carrot cake without so much fat?

  18. Ashley on 30 Aug 2009 at 10:46 pm #

    I’m not a big jam eater but this is making me want some!

  19. JulieVR on 31 Aug 2009 at 2:18 am #

    Alex – totally. I’ll post one soon, but take heart in the fact that oil is a healthy fat, the kind we want more of in our diets! Canola oil is great for you, but all fats are high-calorie. Liquid fats, however, are easily substituted with fruit purees. Never replace all of it, but some of it – fruit purees give a cakey texture so are great for cakes, muffins & quickbreads that call for oil (not butter or shortening) as their fat.

  20. Barb on 31 Aug 2009 at 6:01 am #

    My mom made the best chokecherry syrup. The memories are rushing forward now. I have never tried it.

  21. Lana on 31 Aug 2009 at 6:02 am #

    I made jam for the very first time last week: Peach Conserve, something my mother always made. I remember, as a kid, seeing her outside standing under a tree at the picnic table, peeling baskets of peaches with the juice running down her arms to her elbows, dropping the fruit into a great big enamel bowl that belonged to her mother.
    I decided it was high time I continued the tradition! Although the amount of sugar freaked me out a little, I did as instructed by my Mom and my sister alternating on the phone, and was successful! Nineteen beautiful jars of runny peach-orange jam. They look like jewels lined up on my kitchen counter! I am proud of myself and am excited to try again next year with the local berries as they come out. Thanks for this entry!!

  22. kickpleat on 31 Aug 2009 at 10:26 am #

    Never had a chokecherry…they look great and the jam I’m sure is amazing.

  23. Kristilyn (Domestic Goddess) on 31 Aug 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    Looks great! We’ve been waiting for Chokecherries to ripen, but haven’t seen any yet in our area.



  24. 'd' on 31 Aug 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    How do you use this recipe if using grapes. Especially if you want to keep the skins

  25. Tracy on 31 Aug 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    I love the “without a recipe” part of this. Have you figured out something that doesn’t use refined/granulated sugar?

  26. Charmian Christie on 01 Sep 2009 at 4:45 am #

    Runny jam is under-appreciated. It’s the absolute best for making trifle.

    I’m just learning to appreciate jam and love your guidelines!!

  27. Meagan on 02 Sep 2009 at 7:25 am #

    Hmmm, you sound so relaxed about it! I just made my first batch of jelly ever and I boiled water for like 4 hours with jars coming in and out and timers and and and….Just the dishwasher eh? No botulism worries?

  28. Julie on 02 Sep 2009 at 7:48 am #

    Nope! Never had a problem. If the jars are clean and hot, and the jam is hot, it seals beautifully. Besides, if there is a problem (with botulism or other spoilage), the lid pops to warn you!

  29. mercyme on 07 Sep 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    Do you have any suggestions for making chokecherry jam without the sugar or the artificial sugar substitutes? The link between sugar and health challenges is too strong to ignore, esp postpartum depression, mood swings, not to mention the diabetes epidemic… I could go on… Thanks.

  30. Virginia on 08 Sep 2009 at 9:47 pm #

    Can you substitute sugar with honey?

  31. JulieVR on 09 Sep 2009 at 5:56 am #

    According to food labs you can substitute half the sugar with honey – I think if it was all honey you’d need to use pectin as a backup… I did make a lemon honey jelly a few years ago that worked great, but I believe I used liquid Certo! Also remember that honey is denser and sweeter than sugar, so if you want to give it a try (and let us know how it goes! Really I don’t see why it wouldn’t work!) use about 3/4 as much honey as you would use sugar.

  32. Robin (Hippo Flambe) on 19 May 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    I know this is way after the fact but I wanted to address a question asked earlier as the answer was slightly inaccurate (I am a canning geek). Botulism is not a worry when making jam as fruit is naturally high in acid and botulism spores cannot survive in an acidic environment. So the dishwasher technique will work if you do not mind possible losing some jars to spoiling.

    However in other canned goods botulism is a concern and it will not pop off the lid if it appears.


  33. ns on 02 Aug 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    Also way after the fact: jamming with chokecherries, high-bush cranberries and saskatoon berries is becoming a lost art with all these book trained cooks. I am 71, and I can remember the week long group jam making that went on in my small northern prairie town. Every house had a wood burning canning stove in the basement and that’s where it usually took place.

    Chokecherries are loaded with anthrocyanins also found in blueberries, Saskatoon berries and orchard cherries (from B.C this time of year. They have all the same protective health benefits, for cardiovascular disease, arthritis, infections, inflammatory disease.

    It’s just that the cherries that come from the U.S. and B.C. orchards have a marketing department behind them. Our wild Chokecherry is superior. First Nations people used the whole plant for medicinal purposes. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/186618.php

    “What makes the humble chokeberry so healthful? Scientists think the answer lies in their unusually high levels of substances called anthocyanins (from the Greek anthos + kyanos meaning dark blue). There are many different anthocyanins in these colorful berries, but they all function as antioxidants – originally protecting the chokeberry seed from sunshine-induced oxidative stress. And when we eat them, they also appear to protect our bodies from a variety of damaging situations, including exposure to pollution and metabolically-derived free radicals. Indeed, a growing body of scientific literature has shown promising effects of chokeberry consumption on diseases ranging from cancer to obesity. These health-promoting effects may be due to the potent anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins, as uncontrolled inflammation is now universally recognized as a common thread in many of our most prevalent and deadly diseases. In addition, certain anthocyanins – including those found in chokeberry – have also been shown to improve blood sugar and the function of insulin.

    To better understand how chokeberries influence health, Drs. Bolin Qin and Richard Anderson from the US Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, MD studied what happens when prediabetic rats are fed chokeberry extracts for an extended period of time. The results of their research will be presented on April 25 at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim, CA. This presentation is part of the scientific program of the American Society for Nutrition, home of the world’s leading nutrition researchers.

    The researchers first made 18 male rats “prediabetic” or insulin insensitive by feeding them a fructose-rich diet for 6 weeks. Then they randomized the animals to continue drinking either pure water or water spiked with low or high levels of chokeberry extract (CellBerry®, Integrity Nutraceuticals International). After drinking this water for 6 weeks, the groups were compared in terms of body weight, body fat, blood glucose regulation, and molecular markers for inflammation.

  34. ns on 02 Aug 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    We combined chokecherry juice with crabapple juice and/or high bush cranberry juice to make the most wonderful tasting jelly. Can’t be duplicated commercially. The crabapple, there’s another prairie fruit that has almost diaappeared except for the “decorative” crab. Aye yi yi. Our customs and cultures lost.

  35. Vivian on 12 Aug 2010 at 10:24 am #

    Very interesting, ns. I shall make good use of the chokecherries in my garden this year. Maybe a spoonful of syrup a day will “keep the doctor away”? I’d best take a closer look at the crabapple trees in the yard as well. What’s the word on our native saskatoons?

  36. ns on 29 Aug 2010 at 1:17 am #

    Sorry I didn’t check back Vivian so didn’t see your post. I assume you were asking me? Saskatoons have the same healthy properties that Chokecherries do, and the Black Cherries and Blueberries from the U.S. and B.C. have. You can google studies. I was out picking Chokecherries today, and will again tomorrow. I didn’t take many. I plan to make juice and vinegar.

    Sorry for the tangent Julie.

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  38. Kathi on 07 Sep 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    Fantastic ideas to make jam at home simpler. I’m wondering if you can do the dishwasher method to sterilize jars for canning fruit. I just bought 20 lbs of peaches and want to can them this weekend.

  39. Beverley M on 30 Jan 2011 at 12:00 am #

    Thanks for the inspiration! Tonight I made a tiny batch of orange marmalade. Here’s what I did, updated with what I should have done :)

    Carefully peel* the zest off of two marmalade oranges. Remove the remaining white pith from those two, plus peel two more marmalade oranges.

    Remove seeds, chop the fruit (chunky) and zest (fine). Simmer with 1/2 cup of sugar for about 20 minutes.

    Made about a half cup.

    * Possibly grating the zest instead would work better.

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