I know I said I was going to make loads of strawberry jam. Well, I didn't. I had knee surgery in the middle of strawberry season and by the time I was ready to go picking, the strawberries were gone. They say strawberry jam is one of the trickiest jams to make anyway, so perhaps it is for the best. I failed on the strawberry front, but I was not about to do the same with the raspberries. There was, of course, the added incentive of my mother's request to have fresh raspberry jam between the layers of her birthday cake.
Mom and I had planned to go raspberry picking together, but after going out the wrong road for several miles, getting iffy directions from a gas station attendant, and coming upon a farm stand selling berries already picked and sorted and just as local, we bought three pints of berries and drove home. We chose, by taste test, the Brandywine raspberry, which, according to the Woodstock Nursery of Neillsville WI, is a cross between the black and red raspberry and is "unsurpassed for jam, jelly, and pies."
Everything I read led me to believe that raspberry jam was practically foolproof. No pectin, no water, just berries and sugar and heat. And, I came to learn, experience. It seems that the fewer ingredients there are, the more technique and know how matter. Everything seemed to be going fine. The berries bubbled, the sugar dissolved, the mixture boiled for several minutes and reached the required 220°F, but my lids didn't pop and my jam didn't set. I couldn't deal with it right away--I had to go to work--but when I got home at 10 I poured the syrupy disappointment back into my pot and brought the lot back to the boil. This is probably not kosher. Leagues of grandmothers are shaking their heads, ringing their aprons, wishing they could show me the way. I wish they could too. But I did. I brought the lot back to the boil and when it reached 220°F, I let it boil a little longer. I poured it into my re-sterilized jars and went to bed, although not before making chocolate curls for the top of my mom's cake, but that's another story. In the morning, my lids still hadn't popped, but the jam was much thicker than it had been the day before. To make my jars seal I put them in my steamer pot in the deeper basket (the one I never know what to do with) in about an inch of water and brought it slowly to the boil. After a few minutes I heard three satisfying pops, turned of the heat and let the jars cool a bit before removing them. I cannot call my first jam making experience an unequivocal success, but I learned plenty and I was able to use it for my mom's cake.
makes 3-4 cups
- 2 pounds raspberries
- 2 pounds good quality granulated sugar, warmed
- Place clean jars in a dish and place in cold oven. Set oven to 250°F. Place sugar in a shallow baking dish so the sugar is about an inch deep and set aside. When the oven comes up to temperature put in the sugar and allow it to warm for 10 minutes.
- Place berries in a jam pot, if you have such a thing, or any other wide, deep pan. Mash berries with a wooden spoon and put on low heat. Stir berries occasionally so they do not stick to the pan. When the berries begin to bubble, after about 10 minutes, add the warmed sugar and stir gently until it is completely dissolved. Increase heat and boil until setting point is reached (220°F or point at which jam wrinkles and is reasonably stiff when a teaspoonful is pressed on a plate taken right out of the freezer), 5-10 minutes. Allow jam to cool for a couple minutes, stir to distribute the fruit, and pour carefully into warm jars.
This recipe is adapted from several sources, including Jan Berry's Art of Preserving and one of my go-tos, Farmhouse Cookery. Both used equal amounts, by weight, of berries and sugar. I lost almost a pound of berries to mold (after just one day!) and was left with just 1 lb. 2.25 oz. of berries so I used the same amount of sugar. Who knows, maybe using fewer than two pounds of fruit was my first mistake. Everything I read called for warmed sugar. After some investigation (i.e. reading the basics section) I learned this is to avoid lowering the temperature the berries have already reached. Jan Berry says, "Raspberries set very well, unlike strawberries, so it makes great sense to conserve this summer fruit for cooler times." I have not given up. I am determined to try again. If this is your first attempt, though, I hope you have better luck than I.