“The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”
– The White Queen, from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
Often when I think of making jam, and I don’t suppose I’m alone in this, I think of “putting up” preserved batches that will sit on the shelf through the next year or so, ready to use at a moment’s notice. This little recipe is not about making that kind of jam. It’s simpler and more flexible, more of a method than a recipe for a product that’s meant to be eaten right away. And it’s quite easy.
I borrowed this method from Heart of the Artichoke and other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis, where the author lists “Making a Little Jam” as one of his “Kitchen Rituals.” I’ve done stuff like this before myself, but was always a little timid, not really sure I was making something legitimate. (I know, get over it, right?) And so, I love having the little seasonal adventure of cooking fresh, ripe fruits with sugar and making jam validated as a worthy ritual.
Tanis used apricots for the published version of his jam recipe (and also recommends blackberries, figs, and Italian plums), and I had good luck with canned apricot jam (from this book), so that’s what I made to talk about here. If you can get great fresh apricots, they really are good candidates for your first batch of jam. They’re fairly easy to deal with, and they break down to a satisfying consistency when cooked with sugar.
And you’ll need plenty of sugar. Don’t be shy with or afraid of the sugar when making jam. Not only is it needed to make slightly (or sometimes very) tart fruits into sweet, flavorful spreads, but that cooked sugar helps create the, well, jammy consistency of a good jam. That being said, since you’re not canning this jam and don’t need the sugar to behave as a preservative, you could adjust the amount of sugar to your own taste.
This batch of jam is small, resulting in about 2 cups of jam. It’s perfect for when you have as little as 2 cups of great fruit, rather than a mountain of it. It takes less than an hour to make, and is ready to eat as soon as it cools. It lasts for at least a couple weeks in the refrigerator, but if you like jam, you may go through it more quickly than that. As Tanis says in his book, “I am not making it for posterity, I am making it for breakfast.”
I’ve made similar jam with rhubarb, strawberries and rhubarb, and, most recently Bing cherries with the few apricots I had left after making the apricot jam. All have been delicious and beautiful in color. I love the bright orange of the apricot, dark pink of the rhubarb, and dark garnet red of the Bing cherry. Of course, I love their bright, perky, fruity flavors even more.
While I do like making preserved jams, I love the instant gratification of this little batch of jam. Besides, it helps fulfill Alice’s statement that, “It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day.’”
Easy Apricot Jam
Based on a recipe in Heart of the Artichoke and other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis
Other fruits can be used with this same method, such as plums, strawberries, rhubarb and sweet or sour cherries. (Sweet cherries tend to keep their cherry shape more than the other fruits.) In most cases, I like to stick with the formula of equal parts fruit and sugar by volume. You can adjust to taste.
Testing for the proper consistency of jam may take some practice. If you find the jam too runny when it cools, simply put it back on the stove to cook some more. If it is overcooked, you can add some water and heat it a little to incorporate that water. If you burn the jam, there’s nothing that can save it. Remember, too, that there will be some inconsistency with this process depending on the ripeness and water content of your fruit.
2 cups pitted and coarsely chopped apricots
2 cups granulated sugar
Up to ½ cup water (optional)
1. Combine the apricots and sugar in a saucepan large enough to accommodate some vigorous boiling. Stir together to coat the fruit well in sugar. Add up to ½ cup of water if desired. This will help keep the sugar from scorching if it takes some time for the fruit to release its juices.
2. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer, but be sure to avoid having the mixture boil over.
3. Meanwhile, place a couple of small plates in the freezer. You will use these to help test whether the jam is done cooking.
4. Continue simmering for 20-30 minutes. At any point (I usually start after about 15 minutes of cooking) take one of the plates out of the freezer. Place a small dab of the jam on the plate and let it stand for several seconds. Tip or swirl the plate around. If the jam flows freely and looks runny, it needs to be cooked longer. If the jam forms a gel, or meets your preferences for jam consistency, you can stop cooking.
5. Cool the jam and spoon it into bowls or jars. Keep refrigerated.
Makes about 2 cups of jam.
Another recipe like this one:Strawberry Rhubarb Freezer Jam
If you would like a recipe for a canned apricot jam, I highly recommend the recipe in The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. There’s lots of other good stuff in this book, too!