A couple of weeks ago, I was staring dolefully at the apricots we’d received in that week’s farm share basket. I’m not a big fan of apricots–when I was a kid, we had an apricot tree in the back yard that exploded into thousands of nasty bits of orange slime each pecked once or twice by a bird before it fell to the ground and rotted, and it was most often my job to pick them up. GROSS. Seriously disgusting. I’ve lived a good life free of apricots for 25 years, no regrets.
But then they showed up in our basket, and Mr Incredible (rightly) insists on at least trying everything in the farm basket and not just waiting out the shelf life of whatever we don’t like so we can just toss them. So I had to deal with some rapidly ripening apricots tout de suite. Fine.
I’d made strawberry preserves before, and it was kind of involving. The simple act of locating Sure-Jell in a suburban desert grocery store almost killed the whole process. Sterilizing jars in the Great Big Family Canner? Crazy. But it happened. I knew I could do it, but I knew that there had to be an easier way. I mean, Laura Ingalls didn’t have to do that every freaking time, right?
No. As it turns out, she did not. She may have anyway, because that’s how they roll By The Shores of Silver Lake. But maybe she was just a glutton for punishment. Or maybe she just didn’t have The Google. Because a quick search for “easy apricot jam” led me here and a whole new world of culinary wonder was revealed to me. Twenty minutes after I thought “Maybe I could make jam…?” I had made jam, and it was cooling on the counter.
I added some vanilla extract, and it became a marvelous dessert topping as well. I was so full of myself that I also baked bread, because one simply does not put homemade jam on store bread.
When I was properly stuffed with bread and jam (omg so good), I came back to the Google and started sniffing around for similar recipes. How many times have I tossed furry strawberries and blueberries and insert-name-of-berry-here-berries because I buy more than I can possibly eat? I started with strawberries, and I found this great, simple, no-fail recipe that tells you how you can do the sterilizing and canning, but also how you don’t have to. Long story short, if you’re going to eat the jam “immediately”, which I assume to be within 7-10 days refrigerated, you just extended the life of your fruit.
I quickly found that there are two types of jam-makers: those who require pectin (Sure-Jell) and those who do not. I do not. Right then, things got easier. Cindy Burke at Culinate.com blew my mind by putting it all on one site. The riper your fruit is, the sweeter the end result and the less sugar you’ll need. Your fruit doesn’t have to be perfect, but make sure it’s clean and not fuzzy or similar. You cook it down, stir in some sugar and lemon juice (lemon keeps it from turning brown) and if you know it’s going to cook up tart or overly sweet or whatever, you season accordingly. In my experience, you cannot go wrong with vanilla. It makes just about anything better (amIright? yeah.). When I get some strawberries, I’m going to go off the grid and toss in some fresh basil. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? YUM.
What I love about this is that it’s super quick and doesn’t require anything that you don’t have in your kitchen already. You don’t need to break out Grandma’s great big canner. You can do this tonight for tomorrow’s pancakes. Really.
I would be remiss if I did not include some very clear information and finger-wagging about safety. Food preparation is serious business. Taking a dozen peaches and making jam for your family is great, as long as you’re careful about your environment. At eatright.org, we learn scary things about E.coli and wikihow.com tells us all about the dangers of botulism (scroll down).
So that’s it. Don’t shy away from buying as much summer fruit as you possibly can. Eat all you want fresh out of the bushel basket. When you’re turning into Violet Beauregarde, just make some jam.