By LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly
This is not meant to be a boastful column. But I’ll just put it out there now. My berry jam won a first place ribbon at the 2013 Oregon State Fair. And now, I’m full of pride. Jam pride, to be exact.
My partner and first started making jam five years ago, beginning with the entry level drug—I mean jam—of freezer jam. Freshly picked Oregon strawberries, sugar and pectin; the ingredients were simple and we followed the directions on the little pink pectin box to a T. Processing for freezer jam is easy: pour into freezer containers and freeze. No hot water baths or canning required. Following on the heels of this success came tayberry, blueberry, blackberry, apricot, peach and fig jam, and learning how to can properly and safely on the stove. Soon we had a basement full of jam jars and not nearly enough pieces of toast to use all of that jam up. So we’ve pulled back the reins a bit on the jam making frenzy in our summertime kitchen, but still, it’s a summertime must and one we look forward to every year.
In my book, simplicity is the key to good jams. Pick the produce yourself at a u-pick the same day you make the jam, using produce at its tip-top of perfection. Use a low sugar pectin option like Pomona’s Pectin, and even mix fruits to achieve the flavor combinations you like best. Our first place jam was a mix of Marion and Sylvan berries, based on tasting them in the field that day. A little bit of sweet, a little bit of tart, and a whole lot of Oregon yum.
To prevent having a basement full of sweet jams, consider planning your jams based on how you can best use them. Apricot jam is great for savory uses, such as glazes on meats or served with a soft cheese and crackers. Berry jam is my favorite for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Peach jam with cinnamon is wonderful mixed with plain yogurt and granola for breakfast.
And then there’s fancy jams. At SlowJamz (www.etsy.com/shop/slowjamzpdx), a Portland company run by Galadriel Mozee and Lisa Brown Bersani, they make jams that are complex and interesting, using their kitchen as a lab for unique combinations. “I like to choose two or three flavor combinations,” says Mozee. “Things that are in season together often taste the best together.” Some of her favorite flavor combinations are strawberry and basil, and pear with jalapeño. Last year her favorite to create was their Berryoncé jam made with strawberries, black pepper and balsamic vinegar. Mozee waxes poetically remembering a limited run jam she made once, combining peach, brown sugar, blueberries, coconut and cinnamon. “I like the jams to match the musician’s names we name them after,” she says. The peach jam was titled Apeacha Armstrong.
Jam making is an art and a craft and a little bit of magic, stirring the pot in a steamy summer kitchen. All of the work is worth it when you gift those jars at the holidays, or crack open a bit of summer on a cold January morning to brighten a grey dark winter day. And then there’s basking in the pride of a blue ribbon at the Oregon State Fair. Get jammin’, people!
LeAnn’s Jam Secrets:
Pick your produce. My favorite places to pick are strawberries at Columbia Farms U-Pick, berries of all kinds from West Union Gardens, and peaches (and lots of other great stuff) from Sauvie Island Farms, and blueberries from Sauvie Island Blueberry Farm.
If you can’t pick your own, buy your produce direct from a farmer at a local farmer’s market. Talk to them about what’s coming into season next so you can plan to be ready when the fruit is at its best.
Use Pomona’s Pectin, a pectin that allows you to use as little or as much sugar as you like.
Learn the basics of proper canning techniques and follow them carefully. Ball Blue Book of Canning is the classic guide for steps, directions, recipes, and equipment needs.
LeAnn Locher is a home arts badass and loves to connect with readers at facebook.com/sassygardener or firstname.lastname@example.org.