Spring is my favorite season; warm, bugless sunny days filled with the potent fragrance and color of early flowers like lilies and lilacs after a long, gray and cold winter. And, BERRIES! Lots of berries!
I look forward to berry season each year. I use them on everything from cereal to salad, yogurt, muffins and now fresh jam!
I never, ever imagined that I'd make my own, especially because I saw how Grandma made jellies and jams. It is a favored memory but it would be too much labor, time and volume for me. The family would drive two hours to get to the country for the best pickings. We gathered wild elderberries in buckets on the roadsides and visited the farmer stands for baskets full of berries, plumbs or grapes later in the summer. Once and a while if we were lucky, and if Grandpa netted the cherry tree well in their back yard, and kept up his watch shooting enough BBs from his pellet gun into the air to scare the birds, we managed a jar or two of cherry jam.
Making jam or jelly with Mom at Grandma's was fun as a child, but it looked complicated. There were so many large pots simmering on the stove, strainers, and huge metal cones with holes to mash berries and grapes into juice without all the seeds. There were thermometers and times where my brother and I had to be quiet for a few minutes as Grandma and Mom behind her shoulder watched them closely. There were also times where we had to leave the small kitchen quickly as Mom and Grandma poured hot fruit liquid into glass jars and pour hot wax to the top. Then, sometimes there was some boiling of the jars if I remember correctly, or perhaps that's an overlapped memory of their vegetable canning.
Anyway, there was no way I was ever going to do all this, no matter they were the best jellies and jams I ever had.
Thank goodness for my very dear friend, Elaine. She bought us an Oster Bread Maker for our wedding. I had it on our registry because I couldn't wait to make homemade bread, pasta and pizza dough for my first time. This machine is great for all of these. It cuts down on time, the physical labor of kneading and mess. Spreading your counter, floor and ceiling with flour is avoided with most of the recipes.
As you can see by the photos, I like to mark recipes I've tried with a blue postie.
I have tried eight from the Oster user manual (the green tab is a quick measurement guide).
Surprisingly, there are recipes to make just a jar or two full of jam or marmalade.
I was so excited! Could I actually make jam as good as Grandma, without making 2 dozen jars with all those contraptions?
Yes, I can! The bread machine heats the ingredients up to just the right temperature for the right amount of time, so no watching the clock or thermometers.
Plus, this recipe is LOW SUGAR. Most jam recipes call for double or triple the amount of sugar. Pectin for low or no sugar recipes MUST be used.
And, don't skimp and use bottled lemon juice. Most bottled lemon juice is diluted with water. Only 100% fresh squeezed lemon juice will work with the pectin to make it gel. You will only need one.
I've only made strawberry and blueberry jam, or a combo of both in the past three years. Strawberries are my favorite, and our new home has a blueberry patch. I love blueberries, too, and these two berries are easy to do since there are no large seeds to filter.
I plan on posting a blog entry when my blueberries are ready, and Elaine with her kind, beautiful daughter will help me pick them and make jam as we have done in the past.
For now, here's the recipe for the strawberry jam I just made. Strawberries are super-cheap in my area now, so I'll be making more.
Copied and adapted from Oster Bread Maker's User Manual received in 2009.
Makes 2-3 cups
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon powdered low-sugar pectin
1.5 cups fresh strawberries, sliced or diced
(dice smaller if you want more jelly or @ three cups, keep them in slices or larger chunks if you want a thicker jam with more strawberries, but approx. two cups.)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients into bread pan
Select Basic setting
Press "Start/Stop" Allow to mix 5-6 minutes, scraping sides of the pan with rubber spatula.
Select Bake setting
When Unit signals and display reads "0:00," press "Start/Stop"
Cover. Refrigerate to set (at least overnight or 8 hours)