Sometimes I get in a domestic mood, and when this happens during summer fruit season, it’s time to make jam. I try to get organic and if I can find good stuff at a farmer’s market, I snatch it up. That’s another reason for jamming–when you’ve got more fruit than you can eat before it goes bad. I always have this song stuck in my head while making jam:
This summer I found some delicious looking Thomcord grapes (a cross between Thompson and Concord). I’ve never made grape jelly before so I thought why not give it a try? Actually, I’ve never made the same jam twice. I’m always coming up with new ideas to try before I revisit an old favorite. I’ve made apple-raspberry, blueberry-plum, peach, strawberry, blood orange…that’s all I can remember off the top of my head. Not every experiment has worked–the blood orange jam I tried is fine by me but did not go over well with my mother, and I was really hoping she would eat it because she eats even more jam than
anyone I do. I often like to add plums to other fruits because (1) they make delicious jam on their own and (2) they add a little tangy je ne sais quois to other fruits. Plus they have some pectin in their skins, which helps the jam to gel.
So my current blend is about 2 parts Thomcord grapes to 1 part plums-of-unknown-variety. But this time I wanted to add some medicinal punch to my jam because as you know I love to eat my medicine. Elderberry seemed like it would mesh nicely with the two other dark-purple-skinned fruits, and I added some eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), which has very little flavor but adds a hint of sweetness and a subtle warmth. And on a lark I threw in some rose petals. Medicinally speaking, I feel a strong affinity to rose. They are also beautiful flowers, of course, but it’s actually in eating them and applying them topically (in the form of rosehip seed oil) that they seem to really speak to me. Though I used to be one of those people who is always cold, nowadays I suffer more from excess heat, and rose is just the right sort of cooling for me. I also seem to benefit greatly from astringents, even though my tissues don’t seem especially leaky or flaccid. Maybe it’s not so much that they benefit me as that I just really like them.
Another thing that put roses in my mind is a box of Turkish Delight I recently received from a friend of mine. I don’t mean that vile stuff made by Fry’s which is in no way delightful and is an insult to the name Turkish Delight. Real TD, or Türk lokumu in Turkish, is delicately flavored, firm, yet jiggly-wiggly in a way that makes you feel like a kid again. The rose-flavored delights are my favorites. I have yet to visit Turkey (bucket list) so I have to rely on friends to keep me supplied with its Delight. Rose is also a common flavor used in Persian cookery, which is probably my favorite “ethnic” cuisine. I love the spices used but an interesting thing about Persian food is the way it balances warm and cool ingredients. I assume this is deliberate but I don’t know what the guiding principles are. For example, a dish will have rich warm turmeric and saffron, complemented with cool mint, lime, and yogurt. Flowers are also used abundantly, especially rose and orange blossom. Seriously, if you have never had it before, seek ye out your nearest Iranian restaurant and indulge ASAP.
Did you know that sherbet (or as we Americans like to say, sherbert) is originally from Persia? But Persian sherbet isn’t that rainbow stuff that’s always on the bottom shelf of the ice cream freezer in the grocery store, it’s a syrup, often served over ice. More of a drink than a food, but sort of in between, like shave ice or Italian granita. A rosewater syrup served over shaved ice is a soul-soothing joy on a hot summer day.
You know what, why not try making a cooling rose dessert yourself? Here is a recipe for faloodeh, sort of like a rose water slushy made with rice noodles. Here’s a recipe for bastani, a delicious, creamy custard-based ice cream made with rose water, pistachios, and saffron. And here’s one for a rhubarb and rose sherbet.
Anyway, back to jam.
The dark purple skins of the grapes, plums, and elderberries tell us they are full of antioxidants. Lots of Vitamin C in there. The elderberries and eleuthero are traditional immue-boosting allies. I couldn’t do a better job of detailing elderberry medicine than Lucinda of Whispering Earth has already done in this post. Eleuthero seems to particularly help with building stamina, especially in people (like me) who tend to get run down through overwork and stress. I have used it with great success in a tea blend, which also included elderberries among other things, for treating flu with chills. (I haven’t yet had occasion to try it on a hot flu.)
Below is my recipe for this jam. Technically it’s a jelly because I’m straining out the fruit pulp–eleuthero is fibrous and not conducive to spreading on toast–but you could customize this with other herbs and flowers, and you could leave the fruit in. I generally do as I like the jam consistency better than that of jelly. Plus, extra fruity vitaminy goodness! But I had never made a jelly before and wanted to try it out, and in this case it’s a little more work. Note that if you don’t strain out the fruit pulp, you’ll end up with a lot more jam and will need to recalculate the amount of pectin and sugar, so I’ve given you the proportions for each of those.
I know it looks like a lot of steps–I included everything for those who’ve never made jam before–but they are mostly very simple. Please pardon the craptacular photos–I’m sure you’re used to them by now!
- 4 oz dried elderberries
- 2 lbs Thomcord grapes
- 1 lb plums (about 6)
- 1/2 cup rose petals
- 1/4 cup eleuthero (only if making jelly)
- 1 cup water
*This comes out to 68 oz (by volume) = 8.5 cups BEFORE COOKING/STRAINING –> 4 cups after cooking/straining (jelly only)
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 6 Tbsp pectin (porportions should be 3 Tbsp pectin per pint (16 oz) fruit)
- 4 cups sugar (proportions should be equal parts sugar and fruit)
- Canning funnel
- Metal spoons (ordinary table spoon size)
- Big pot for waterbath
- Jars and lids
- Jelly bag, cheesecloth, or old pillowcase and colander (only if making jelly)
- Dish towel
I cannot recommend strongly enough that you wear an apron or old shirt because this stuff will stain!
- Wash and prep the fruit. Remove plum pits but leave the skins. Remove the stems from the grapes and the elderberries if you are using fresh (if you are going to make a jelly you’ll be straining any remaining stems out, but if you plan on making a jam, you’ll want to remove them all; also if you use eleuthero you’ll want to strain out the fibrous bits).
- Puree fresh fruit in blender or processor until roughly chopped, or smash them with a potato masher.
- Add to pot with elderberries, rose petals, eleuthero, and water. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer about 10 minutes, until fruit is tender and the different colors have sort of blended together.
- Allow the mixture to cool until you can safely pour it into a jelly bag or colander lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth or an old pillowcase to strain (if making a jelly). You can run the pulp through a food processor again to try to get more juice out if you want (make sure it’s cool!). Once the pulp has stopped dripping on its own, give the bag a good squeeze to wring out all the goodness.
- Sterilize your jars, lids, and any implements you’ll be using to fill them (funnel, ladle, spoon, etc.). You can do this in the oven (set them on cookie sheets, 225ºF for 20 minutes) or by boiling for 10 minutes. I prefer the oven because we have really hard water that leaves a yucky white film on anything boiled. Heating also helps soften the gum that seals the jar lids. If your jars are done before your jam, urn off the heat but keep them warm in the oven.
- Start boiling the water in your big ol’ canning pot (technical term there). It’s going to take a long time to get going. (I don’t have a pressure canner so I’m not quite sure how they work. Presumably if you have one you know how to operate it.)
- Now comes the tricky part. Grapes are naturally high in pectin and the plum skins have some too, but the other fruit isn’t, so you’ll be adding pectin and the juice of 1/2 lemon to help it set. ALWAYS ADD PECTIN BEFORE SUGAR or it won’t set (says the voice of experience). Add pectin and lemon juice to the fruit juice/pulp and set it on a medium-high flame until it reaches a rolling boil.
- Meanwhile, chill a couple metal spoons by putting them in a cup of ice water, or on a saucer in the freezer. Make sure you have the implements you’ll need soon and a space to fill the jars.
- Add the sugar to the fruit juice/pulp. Lower the heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, then raise the temperature and bring the jam to a boil. Let it boil hard for 1 minute. (Some people recommend warming the sugar in a Pyrex or ceramic bowl in the oven at 300ºF so the sugar won’t cool the fruit puree, minimizing the amount of time the fruit needs to be cooked. I didn’t bother.)
- As the jam starts to look more viscous, test for set by scooping out a half-spoonful with your chilled spoon and letting it cool to room temperature. Once the jam has cooled (the back of the spoon should feel the same temperature as the back of your hand), push it with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, congratulations–you’ve achieved set! If not, try again in 5 minutes. The tricksy thing with pectin is you don’t want to boil too long, or too short. Either way you won’t get your jam to set. If you’re still not getting it to set, add some more pectin and bring to a hard boil for another 1 minute. If all fails and you never achieve set after cooking for 40 minutes, well, you’ve got yourself a lovely fruit syrup! Enjoy it on some vanilla ice cream, shaved ice, or in plain yogurt. For what it’s worth, I had no trouble getting this recipe to set.
- Take the jam off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes or so. Get your jars arranged on your jar-filling surface with the lids, rings, funnel, and ladle within easy reach. I like to line up the jars on top of a dish towel to buffer any temperature difference between the hot jars and the surface they sit on, and to catch any spills. (This jam could stain light countertops.)
- Ladle jam into jars. You want both the jam and the jars to be hot to prevent mold spores from colonizing them. Leave about 1/2 inch head room in each jar. At this point, you can add a paraffin seal (I don’t) or a circle of wax paper (I don’t)–these will keep water from condensing on the surface. That has never been an issue for me, but your mileage may vary. Wipe off any jam on the rims of the jars, add the lids, and tighten the rings, but not as tight as you can–just tight enough to hold the lids securely.
- Hopefully by now the water in your big ol’ canning pot is boiling. Pop the jars in the waterbath. They should have a couple inches water over the top (though usually I don’t have room for that much and it still works). Boil 5 minutes and carefully remove the jars and set them back on the towel (temperature shock between a hot jar and cool counter can cause jars to explode). Now leave them alone. In a few minutes you should hear little plinks as the jar lids seal.
- Let the jars cool completely. Tighten the rings. If there are any that didn’t seal, keep them in the fridge and eat them up. Jars with properly sealed lids can live in the cupboard.
- Enjoy on a delicious bread such as this super-delicious easy no-knead peasant bread or on your preferred jam-bearing medium.
If you are interested in knowing more about the process, here is an excellent and not-boring article on the science of jam making.
But wait, there’s more!
You will have noticed that when making this as a jelly, you lose over half the original mass in the form of strained-out fruit pulp. That seems like a waste. There’s still a lot of goodness in there, and one good way to use it is to make an infused vinegar. I meant to post about this before when I made a spiced elderberry vinegar last fall, but of course I neglected to take photos. I may still describe it in greater detail in another post, but anyway, get yourself a jar and put some fruit pulp in and cover with vinegar (I like apple cider). You can put other spices as flavorings, even garlic or onions, depending on how you think you might use the vinegar. I use mine as a really yummy salad dressing with some extra virgin olive oil. You could also use it as a meat marinade for red meats like beef or venison.
Or, you could let the fruit infuse in some red wine. You could even add sugar or honey to it to make an elixir. Get creative with it! Just keep it in the fridge since the alcohol content of the wine may not be sufficient to deter the growth of undesirable critters.
Waste not, want not!
Do you have any good jam-making tips? I’m always interested in learning them. How about any favorite fruits or fruit combinations for jam? Or any good ideas for using the leftover fruit pulp when you make jellies?