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This involves a lot of strawberries, some jam jars and lids, and a big discussion about the recipe. Steve likes to use plenty of sugar, and he has been known to slip a few teaspoons of cinnamon into the pot.
You don’t have to be an expert to make sparkling jams and jellies from summer’s bountiful fruit harvest. With a small investment in jars (which are available by the dozen at grocery stores and even at big-box stores these days), and a flat or so of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, or a few pounds of peaches from your local farmer’s market, you can make great jam the first time you try.
Easy jam recipes can be cooked up on top of the stove and can be stored in the refrigerator; you don’t need any special equipment.
The Joy of Cooking is our standard reference. My 1953 edition recommends about one cup sugar for every cup of strawberries, which resolves, authoritatively, the annual discussion about sugar. The chapter on jams also includes this essential information: “For best results, remember to cook jam in small quantities, about 4 cupfuls of fruit at a time.” In small batches, jam simply jells better. We go by the book, and if the jam turns out to be a little runny, anyway, it’s still good on toast, and even better on ice cream. We usually do not use pectin, although you certainly can if you like, just to be on the safe side. Just follow the directions on the label of whatever product you buy.
Part of the pleasure of making fresh jams is sharing them with neighbors and distant friends; they will not forget your sweet gesture. Judy and Steve always go home with a few jars full, and my sister and I like to arrange a swap: she shares a couple of jars of her delicious crabapple jelly with us, in return for some of our strawberry jam.
Once you make your first jars of jam, you’ll probably want to branch out to other easy recipes. Tomato jam is one of my favorites; I use a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, which calls for cherry tomatoes. This year I made my first pickles. I’m making peach jam this summer, too, although there are complications: every time I buy peaches, I end up serving them for breakfast — lately with blueberries on top.
The peach season lasts for weeks, fortunately, so I am sure I’ll get around to making jam. In the meantime, I’m preserving the sweet taste of juicy summer peaches in a place where they will always be fresh: my imagination.