Friday, February 11, 2011

Epic Jam

It's not that this jam is particularly noteworthy for its length of preparation, and even less that it's time-consuming in the typical way, but jam takes a long time to make.  We started at 5pm.  I left close to 10 and Renee still had to finish processing the second-to-last batch and then process the last one.  Of course, in interim we had supper, played, let the kids watch a movie, had a long chat about local politics, read several books.  Ok, we chopped at little at first, and stirred or moved something from pot to draining rack once in a while, but most of the jam-making was free time.  And that's the beauty of  making jam at home: you get to hang out in the kitchen, ideally with a friend, for a really long time.  Other than that, you need a few big pots, some fruit and sugar, and jars and lids. 

One of my inspirations for going local is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  What I love about that book is that it celebrates going local for the pure pleausure--both culinary and social--such a venture provides, as if the political engagement were just a side benefit.  And that's the way Renee and I have lived it since we started.  But the occasional reminder that to go local for us is to reject the idea that agricultural or economic progress is best led by huge corporations, and to embrace the care for the land as a whole system not just an expendable resource, can make the process sweeter.  For as we pulled out bags of peaches and blueberries frozen over the summer and added in a local few apples bought last week at the new Somerville Winter Farmers Market, we remembered not only the full richness of summer, but also a New England landscape dotted with the small farms that have preserved and nurtured the biodiversity of our varietal fruits and also of the bugs and weeds that exist in such delicate balance with birds and fish and humans.  It is the maintenance, or the recuperation, of these balances that will protect local economies and ecosystems from New England to China, not suicide seeds and round-up and another large corporation in strange relationship to federal regulation.

So get canning and give yourself a nice big stretch of time to ponder and plan!

We used The Joy of Cooking as a guide, but did a lot of creative reworking.  Before you can, you should read up on the sterilizing and processing aspects, and get outfitted with big pots, the right kind of jars and lids and tongs, etc. 

It's the making of the actual jam, though, that takes so long.

Peach-Apple Jam (makes 8 large and 6 small jars)
In a very large pot, slowly bring to a boil
2-3 lbs apples, peeled and sliced
10-11 lbs frozen peaches, peeled and sliced

When the fruit is nice and soft, use an immersion blender to turn the mixture into a smooth soup.  This takes at least an hour.  Add 4-5 cups sugar.

Boil  for a very long time, several hours probably, until it reaches good jam consistency.  There are lots of ways to check.  It should be at a temperature of about 220.  If you put a small spoonfull on a cold plate and chill it in the freezer for about a minute, it should be the consistency you like your jam to be. 

Pour into waiting warm sterilized (that is, boiled for 10-15 minutes) jars, top with heated but not boiled lids, and process by submerging in boiling water for 20 minutes.

Blueberry Jam (makes three large and two small jars)
In a medium-large pot, slowly bring to a boil 9 cups frozen blueberries and 1/2 cup water.  When it reaches a boil, add 4 cups sugar.  Continue to boil for over an hour, maybe 2, until it reaches good jam consistency.  For blueberry jam this is when it "sheets": when you dip a big metal spoon into it and hold it sideways over it, instead of just dripping off the spoon it forms a kind of sheet that looks like it sort of hangs off the spoon.  You can also dip a big spoon in, pour off most of the liquid, let it cool for just a minute, and run your finger through what's left on the spoon.  If the line of your finger doesn't fill back in, you're good.  You can let it go longer if you like your jam really thick.  Process as for any jam (see above).