Friday, June 14, 2013

The Return of Jam

Ever since I was a teenager, I've loved the art of caring for a home.  I know that seems weird.  I had other aspirations, of course; what teenager doesn't?  I wanted to become a famous artist, do video game art, illustrate best selling novels.  The passion I had for art was like a steamy affair, though.  It came on quickly, burned brightly for a while, and then faded gently into the night. 

My love of home caring has been more like the slow easy love of married people.  It may not burn as brightly, but it burns forever.  That's why, when I had to make the choice between art school and getting married and moving in with Chad, I chose the home life. 

One of my all time favorite home caring crafts is food canning.  Now I bet you're wondering exactly how strange I could be; who likes canning?  I'll admit that I'm an oddity.  My sister used to call me a grandma because I liked doing all these old fashioned things like canning, knitting, sewing, cooking. There's just something so empowering about knowing how to provide for yourself, whether it's preserving food or making your own clothes.  I think I was a homesteader in a past life.

I've been canning for several years now, and I've gotten pretty good at it.  I tend to only can high acidity foods (like fruit and pickles) in a water bath canner though, because I feel like it's easier and more nutritious to freeze vegetables rather than process them in a pressure canner for long periods.  So I do a lot of pickles, canned fruit, and jam.

Jam was always my favorite.  It's so easy, and so very delicious.  However, if you're not a canner, it may surprise you that, when you make jam, you usually put in more sugar than you do fruit.  Every time I tell someone that, they're usually pretty shocked.  My mother-in-law told me that the next time I make her jam, to just not put in so much sugar.  It's not that easy, though.  With traditional pectin, you have to have a large quantity of sugar for it to properly jell.  There's no way around it, or at least that's how it seemed.

Recently, I found a kind of pectin that doesn't require any sugar.   There's a few different brands out there, but the kind I've been using is Ball RealFruit Low or No Sugar Needed Pectin

However, once I finish this jar of pectin, I plan on buying Pomona's Universal Pectin, which I hear is far superior. 

Whichever kind of pectin you choose, the cool thing about them is that they'll jell without any added sugar at all.  You can add artificial sweeteners if you want (I hear Splenda is the only kind that will hold up under the canning process though), and stevia and xylitol both work well, too. 

So once I got the pectin, I knew I had to try it.  I went straight out and bought four pounds of strawberries.  I had planned on adding a little xylitol to cut the acidity of the strawberries, but unfortunately, my local Wegmans was out at the time.  Instead, I decided just to use a little sugar, since I knew it wouldn't be very much.

The recipe on the pectin jar is very simple.  For the no sugar needed jam, it states:

For 2 (8 oz) half pints of jam, you will need:

2 cups prepared fruit (usually crushed or finely chopped)
1/3 cup unsweetened fruit juice, thawed fruit juice concentrate, or water (I used water)
3 tsp bottled lemon juice (use only with blueberries, peaches, and sweet cherries)
1-1/2 tbsp Ball No Sugar Needed Pectin

The instructions said you can increase the quantities to make your desired amount of jam, but not to exceed 10 jars.  I ended up making 6 jars with the strawberries.  There's also a recipe for low sugar jam that calls for up to 1/2 cup sugar for the two half pint jars.  I figured even that was too much.  So for my jam, I had 6 cups of fruit, and I added about 1/2 cup of sugar to the whole recipe. 

It's different than regular jam.  The consistency is a little thicker, less jelly-like.  The color is a little duller, and of course the flavor isn't as in-your-face-sweet.  However, just because it's different doesn't mean it's bad.  I find this jam heavenly.  It's very fruity.  Regular jam is almost candy-like, but this one, amazingly, tastes like real fruit. 

I tried it on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with coconut bread), and it was wonderful.

Now that I know I can make jam again, I can't wait to actually start producing it!  I have a box full of peaches and nectarines ripening in my dining room.  As soon as they're all soft enough, I plan on doing a detailed walk-through of low sugar/no sugar jam making!  

Until then, you'll just have to be envious of my delicious strawberry jam.

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