Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Irish Chef Darina Allen Jam recipe a winner!

John and I had raised oodles of berries for years, but I’d never made jam. For one thing, I didn’t really eat jam—I put so much sugar in my morning tea I figured jam on my toast would be overkill. Second, faced with a huge bowl of our favorite cane berry varieties—raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, and marionberries—I’d always made a gigantic berry crisp, and that would take care of any berries we hadn’t eaten fresh. But this berry season, I had more berries than I knew what to do with. Maybe it was time I took the big leap into “putting up” all the lovely fruit I was picking.

I pulled out my favorite cookbook, “Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best,” and dove into Darina's “Preserving” section. In her Raspberry, Boysenberry or Loganberry Jam recipe, Darina writes, “If you’ve never made jam before, this is a good place to start.” Okay, I’d come to the right place. She goes on, “Raspberry jam is the easiest and quickest of all jams to make, and one of the most delicious.” I was sold.

I wasn’t ready to do any actual canning—in Ireland, they call it “bottling,” but I figured I could freeze half the recipe. 

Raspberry, Boysenberry or Loganberry Jam recipe:
2lbs fresh or frozen berries
4 cups sugar, warmed (I use organic)

Being a bit of a rebel when it comes to cooking, I’m always up for modifying a recipe. And 4 cups of sugar just seemed like so much sugar! So I used 2 ½ pounds of fruit: for a quick measure, that’s 2 quart yogurt containers filled to the brim.

I followed the directions to put the berries into a large saucepan, mash them a little, then cook for 3-4 minutes over medium heat until the juice begins to run. Then add the warmed sugar and stir over low heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Increase the heat, bring to a boil, and cook steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Within moments, the berry mix started to splatter. I turned down the heat, but I was still getting dark red juice all over the stove. Plus risking burning my stirring hand. OK, time to swap out the saucepan for my big soup kettle. I got the berries back to a boil, and gave them six minutes—on account of the interrupted cooking process—then with more than a little trepidation, pulled the kettle off the heat.

I couldn’t help thinking of one of my favorite passages in the book “Little Women,” when Meg tries to make jelly as a new bride and the stuff just won’t jell! What if I cooked all these beautiful fresh berries and expensive sugar and all I got was runny berry sauce? 

But Darina was spot-on! The berries did indeed set—I had actually made jam! And if I may say so, it was sublime. I put half the jam into two small jars, and the other half into a glass freezer container.
And I do eat jam now—I still have peanut butter sandwiches as just PB, not PBJ, but a couple of spoonfuls of homemade jam on cooked cereal is delicious. And I like to think the vitamins in the ground flaxseeds in my cereal will sort of cancel out all the sweetening!

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