Deep freeze leads to spring jammin'
What began as an act of desperation — flinging a batch of prepped fruit and sugar into the freezer to cook into jam during a less chaotic time — has evolved into my summer modus operandi.
Frankly, I'm a little surprised that it took me so long to arrive at this solution. Summer months always are intensely active. That's a good thing but tremendously unfair when it comes to capturing the harvest. So many good things to eat and preserve, so little time to do so.
I really think Mother Nature has it backward. She should provide the fruits of, well, summer, at a time when we can focus on such a gift. Say, winter?
This is why I took matters into my own hands. These days I freeze the various fruit mixtures as the season presents them and then make jam at my leisure, which is months and months down the road.
Still need to be convinced? Here's what brought me along: One year, I prepped three batches of my favorite apricot jam recipe. I had washed, quartered and pitted 12 pounds of apricots — no small feat! — divided them between three large bowls, added the 6 cups sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice to each bowl, and set them aside so the juices could develop for an hour or two. Then I had to leave town unexpectedly.
Before heading out, I spread a layer of plastic wrap down on the surface of each batch, then added extra layers of plastic wrap and foil around each preparation and put them into our chest freezer. I was pretty sure I'd be able to get back to the process in a couple of weeks.
Well ... I didn't thaw the mixtures until the following spring. With fingers crossed, I proceeded to make the jam, and it turned out fabulous! Even the color was vivid and beautiful.
My only quandary was how to label the jars. Should it state the year of harvest or the year it became a fabulous treasure for my family's toast?
Convinced? Here are a few more tips:
- If you plan to tackle large quantities of fruit, it's better to use a scale instead of a measuring cup. Everything goes so much faster. You'll notice in my recipes that I've provided the weights for you. Perhaps this is the time to buy that kitchen scale you've been coveting?
- The volume of fruit and sugar in some recipes is small enough to store in zip-close freezer bags. Other recipes (such as my apricot jam), will require a larger freezer container, so keep that in mind.
- As I've already stated, you also can turn individually frozen fruit into jam at a later date, as long as you know the weight of the fruit. When you get around to making the jam, simply weigh out the frozen chunks of fruit, add the appropriate amount of sugar and lemon juice and let the mixture thaw to become nice and juicy. Then simply cook and pour into appropriate-sized jars.
- Need a basic example? For jam recipes like my Jan's Ultimate Apricot Jam, in which commercial pectin is NOT used, measure and prepare the fruit according to the recipe, then combine with the measured amounts of sugar and lemon juice. Store in airtight freezer containers or plastic pouches, clearly marked with the date frozen, contents (1 batch of jam, with sugar and whatever else is called for in the recipe). Make a note of what steps will need to be taken once the mixture is thawed. In most cases, all you will have left to do is scrape the thawed mixture into the preserving pot, bring to a boil and proceed to make your jam.
- For jam recipes using commercial pectin, I recommend freezing the fruit alone and adding the pectin later when you're ready to make the jam. Just remember, freezing alters the volume of fruit (it expands when frozen and collapses when thawed), so you need to premeasure amounts of fruit to coincide with your jam recipe, then clearly mark the amount on the package. If you don't premeasure prior to freezing — and don't have a scale to weigh the frozen or thawed fruit — it's better to at least measure the fruit while it's still frozen and then do a little guesswork. For example, if the recipe calls for 3 cups berries or cut-up fruit, figure on each cup being a "heaping cup."
Because there is no commercial pectin in my Ultimate Apricot Jam, the gel results from the interaction of pectin inside the fruit, fresh lemon juice and granulated sugar. So unless you want to end up with apricot syrup, do not reduce any of these quantities. It may seem like a lot of sugar, but really, by traditional jam-making standards, it is completely appropriate.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
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