Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making jam without a recipe -- spiced berry jam with honey

Since I just arrived home from winter break, I'm trying to clean things up in the cottage a bit before the semester becomes truly insanely busy. One thing I'd been putting off for a while is cleaning the freezer. I had a new motivation when I saw that the power had been out during the three weeks I was away, and recently for long enough that my homemade stock in a mason jar in the freezer was mostly liquid. Sadly, many things went right into the garbage, but the butter and fruit looked okay.

But what was I going to do with two pints of organic cranberries I'd intended to make Grandma's cranberry nutloaf with, and with several huge bags of slightly frost-bitten fruit I'd bought at COSTCO for smoothie-making? Make an experimental entree into the world of jam-making, that's what. After poking around on the web a bit, with particular interest in finding out what I could about sugar-free jam, I decided to do it, but my own way, without a recipe.

I was inspired by some of the combinations I saw here, so I dumped the two bags of wild blueberries, some strawberries, and the cranberries into a big pot with a couple sticks of cinnamon, some cloves, and a piece of nutmeg. The fruit was defrosted and quite liquidy, so I didn't even need to add water. Skipping sugar for now, I just started cooking it, and spooned in about a cup's worth of honey that was pretty well crystallized and needed to be used in something baked or cooked or just get tossed out. I simmered it for a long time, probably a couple of hours, until it had cooked down quite a bit and had also thickened a lot. Then I left it for a while with the cover on it and the heat off while I went to the store to buy pectin.

I looked at the various types of pectin that were available here. I was attracted to the low-sugar pectin, but when I saw that dextrose was the first ingredient, I shied away from that, too -- I had a bad reaction once to dextrose candy they eat in Hungary, so I think it's yet another food allergy. I opted for the regular pectin, and figured I'd risk it with a limited sugar allowance, treat it as freezer jam, even though it's cooked, and re-cook it with more pectin and sugar if it doesn't set right.

So, when I came back, I started cooking the fruit mixture again, and I added the two packets of liquid pectin and just one cup of granulated sugar. I cooked it a while longer, continuing to stir, until it had thickened some more, then I ladled it into my newly cleaned, newly purchased jam jars.

So, right now the jam is cooling in the sweet little jars, and I'll check in the morning to see if it's set. I can't wait to eat it on homemade bread and in homemade yogurt. It's lovely, tart and a little sweet, tasting mostly of spiced blueberry with bursts of cranberry here and there.

Everybody says you're supposed to follow the recipe if you want good results with jam, and that it needs to be mostly sugar. Well, we'll see how this works out!!

Photos and update to come tomorrow. :)