My first important jam lesson took place during a funeral in 1997. It was early September, and a friend and I had been riveted to the TV, sobbing like school children as Princess Di's cortege wound its way to Westminster Abbey.
Blinded by tears, clouded by grief, I turned to my friend and said, Let's make jam. It seemed plausible, a comfort in dark times. With the wisdom that can only come from 20 years of jam-making under my belt, I now have a response to my younger self. Have you gone mad? It's not possible to pay respects to the most relatable monarch of your lifetime and nurse a pot of boiling fruit.
Plenty of blogs and cookbooks will outline the steps of a jam adventure. What I'd like to offer is motherly advice. It may sound strict. But seriously, newbie jammers, surrender your distractions. You cannot multi-task when flames and chemical reactions are in the house. Do not, for the love of Princess Di, text while boiling fruit, or potentially more devastating, watch televised world-changing events.
Jam requires your utmost attention while it’s on the stove. Jam does not have your back. You have to have its back. Show the pectin and the fruit who's in charge.
The adage "a watched pot never boils" is true. For jam making, though, it's important to flip that and imagine what the unwatched pot does do: It boils like a beast, it scorches, explosions (*$#@) may happen, thoughts could race through your mind during cleanup like Would anyone *really* notice if I just throw every surface caked in scorched apples into the garbage? Your emotions are natural and human. Acknowledge them. Then learn the lesson the hard way, by scrubbing that pot.
I've come such a long way since Princess Di's lesson that people have suggested I sell my jam. I toyed with that, calculating my labor and time. I priced equipment (and depreciation) and ingredients, including care of the orchard. I added in mistakes and an assistant. I could cover my costs at about $100 per jar. Please let me know if you would like an 8-ounce jar of jam for a C-note, because I've got one to sell you. But let me make another suggestion. DIY Jam Party.
Throw a theme party. Invite a mix of friends over: those who know jamming, a few who don't. Add libations. Do not turn on the TV. Politely ask everyone to practice phone abstinence. Be with each other.
This year, we invited a half dozen or so friends to get playful with our farm grown fruit (apples, peaches, plums). The night ended 118 jars richer, with people taking home the reward.
The sweet spot of jammers for our kitchen is 6 (7 pushes the counter space). Ask everyone to bring a few jars and plan for at least 4 or 5 hours of kitchen time. . And the best and final advice, make sure some one else is cooking YOU dinner. The last thing you'll want to do is put dinner on the table!
Ball Complete Book Of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry for beginners. The techniques for succeeding at jam and other preserving techniques, often called the "Bible."
Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty, for courage and masterful direction. Written a decade before Princess Diana's death but so ahead of its time, this book has easy peasy recipes for flavorful jams as well as ketchup, relishes, sauces, and pastes.
Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber by Christine Ferber for unique jam. The jam and marmalade recipes of French master patissière are made with all sorts of farmy ingredients like rhubarb, chestnuts, black cherries, and spirits.
The Preservatory: Seasonally Inspired Recipes for Creating and Cooking with Artisanal Preserves by Lee Murphy for the utilitarian. Jam in the Preservatory's recipes play a role in every meal of the day.
Lehmans for jamming equipment - for the pots, spoons, jars. They have it all.