Recently, I had sort of a bad jam experience. Let’s call it the Jam Disaster of 2011. This is sort of an optimistic phrase and I find myself keeping my fingers crossed another jam catastrophe will not befall my household this year. I think the odds are in my favor because there isn’t much left to can or turn into jam around these parts.
The jam that went awry was a batch of strawberry jam. It was a lovely summer afternoon. The sun was shining brightly and the weather was perfectly warm. It was the kind of day people in Seattle throw open their windows and doors and allow the fresh faintly berry scented breeze to fill our homes. It was quite something. And, if that wasn’t enough to buoy our spirits and inspire, my friend A and I seemed to have all the right stuff for jam perfection. She had a brand new canner. I had my magic magnetic wand. We had pretty little glass canning jars. But, most importantly, we had gorgeous organic strawberries from the farmers’ market.
It was destiny. Jam perfection was to be.
Or not. Maybe it wasn’t destined to be after all? I suppose it was not. I truly wish I could say otherwise, but there were precisely two things we didn’t fully consider. They were major roadblocks, really. In retrospect, I am surprised at our ambitious plans and failure to account for our handicaps.
A and I were also tending to our little ones. The girls were respectively 5 and 6 months old. Neither was napping well and they were pretty much attached to our hips as we attempted to cook. There was much stirring, much fussing, a major snafu with pectin, which all resulted in a disappointing batch of runny jam. It was a tragic end to an amazing batch of berries. It was entirely dull tasting and I’m certain I lost A’s trust in the kitchen. Next time I suggest we throw caution to the wind, watch 2 babies, and neglect to fully read the gel pectin instructions, I expect her eyes to roll. A’s reasonable demeanor will likely win out in the end.
Suffice to say, I was appalled and dejected. So I called my mother. Mind you, she isn’t always up for a spirited pep talk except those matters related to the kitchen or the garden. Indeed, my mother is always the person I turn to in times of culinary disaster. She is a canning wizard. Perhaps even an expert as I hear it takes 10,000 hours to gain expert status. I’m sure she’s clocked that much and many more hours. This is a woman who raised 5 unruly children in a small flat in San Francisco, but still managed to have homemade jam on the table for us everyday. I still don’t quite know how she did all of this, but that type of instruction requires a longer blog entry and a much longer phone call with my mother. We’ll save that for another day and continue on with her swift and simple response.
“Use a Granny Smith apple.”
The natural pectin in the apple acts as a thickening agent for the jam. That gel pectin, which made the jam so dull tasting and awful, isn’t necessary at all. Of course, you can also use orange peel for this, which my mother jokingly suggested. This suggestion, however, was immediately rejected. Truth be told, I detest bits of orange and lemon peel floating about my jam. I guess I’m not so European, after all.
Either way, we all have my mother to thank today. This jam is gorgeous. Is it possible to say that about a jam? I think so because it’s very very beautiful. And, it’s not just pretty to behold. It’s sweet, smooth, earthy with a hint of tartness from the apple and a touch of sweet from the vanilla bean.
I hope you like it. We loved it. I think I’ve got my jam mojo back.
Pear and Vanilla Jam
4 lbs. Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1 cup super fine baking sugar
1 Granny Smith Apple, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 vanilla bean pod, split and scraped (set aside scrapings)
1 large stock pot
4 jars (4 oz. each)
4 wide mouth lids,
8 screw bands
Heat the pears, apple, vanilla scrapings, sugar, and 1/2 cup of water over medium heat in a non-reactive pot. Using a potato masher, mash the fruit into a pulp and stir as you cook the fruit. Cook the fruit for about an hour until the mixture thickens.
As the mixture cooks, continue to stir it frequently making sure to try and remove any lumps.
In the bottom of a heavy stockpot at least 3 inches deeper than the height of the jars, place metal rack or extra 4 screw bands from canning jars to protect the jars from direct heat.
Fill pot with water, cover, and bring water to boil. Reduce heat to low. Wash jars, lids, and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse well. Set screw bands on clean towel to dry. Place lids in small saucepan; cover with cold water and bring to simmer; turn off heat. Fill jars with very hot water.
Run the jam mixture through a fine sieve or food mill until the consistency is smooth. Return to the pot and reheat.
Drain hot water from jars and shake out excess water. Place jars on cutting board. Ladle hot jam into each jar, leaving 3/4-inch space at top. Slide flat plastic spatula between jam and jar to eliminate air bubbles. Clean rim of each jar with damp cloth. Using tongs, lift hot lids from saucepan, 1 at a time, shake dry, and place atop jars. Seal each with screw band, twisting to close but not too tightly. Return filled jars to pot of hot water.
Add water to pot, if necessary, to cover jars by at least 1 inch. Cover pot and bring to boil; reduce heat and boil gently 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Wait 5 minutes; use tongs to remove jars without tilting. Place upright on towel; cool completely at room temperature.
Jam will thicken more as it cools.
Check lids for seal by pressing each lightly. Lids of sealed jars will be concave and show no movement when pressed.
Label the jams and enjoy or gift them!