In response to a question about where to get good jam on the San Francisco Board I am posting this incredibly good and easy method of making Jam. Local California Apricots are about 70 days away so start salivating now.
Apricot or peach jam the three-day-way
They say to use hard ripe fruit for jam because as the fruit softens its pectin weakens. But to me "hard ripe" is an oxymoron. I use mostly dead ripe fruit, because the point of jam is the flavor and I'm not interested in seeing the jam stands up on it's own. Since too much heat also diminishes the flavor, I use lower heat for less time and a large pan (so the fruit can cook quickly). Use a flat-top-spoon that doubles as a scraper to keep the jam from burning on the bottom of the pan.
I also avoid using white peaches for jam. Their subtle flavor depends on their lovely aroma, which is lost when they're cooked.
Apricot, Peach. or Strawberry Jam
4 cups sugar
4 heaping cups sliced fresh apricots or peaches, with skins, or halved strawberries
½ cup lemon juice
1 pinch salt
½ teaspoon unsalted butter
1. Pour 1 cup sugar into a large covered stainless-steel pan (I use a large chicken fryer).
2. Sprinkle 2 cups of the sliced fruit over the sugar. Top with another cup of sugar. Spread the rest of the fruit on top. Cover the fruit with the remaining 2 cups of sugar, coating all exposed surfaces. Add a pinch of salt.
3. Cover and set aside at room temperature overnight. Stir after 6 or 8 hours.
4. The next day, stir it up and then heat the fruit mixture to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and remove from the heat.
5. With a slotted spoon, remove the fruit slices to a stainless-steel bowl. Cover the fruit and cover the syrup still in the pan and let sit overnight.
6. Wash your jars in the dishwasher, with a hot dry cycle. Place the jars mouth side down on paper towels. Wash the lids and rings by hand.
7. Bring the syrup to a boil. Add the butter (to reduce foaming). Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes, or until the syrup passes the spoon test (see note).
8. Add the fruit solids. Let the jam come to a boil again and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Fill and seal the jars. Turn them upside down and let them sit for 5 minutes. Then turn them back right side up.
9. Let cool, label them and put them in your larder.
Note: Scoop up a small amount of jam in the spoon and let it run back into the pan. First it will pour. At the end when it's ready, it should form two large drops which will merge into one big hesitant drop.
Nice but not necessary:
A Chinese ladle. One of my favorite kitchen implements is a wooden-handled Chinese ladle I bought in San Francisco's Chinatown. It was cheap and it really works. The spoonlike angle makes it much easier to use than a European right-angled ladle. And the shape of the bowl is perfect, wide and shallow. You can move large quantities of hot preserves, but you can always see how much fruit and how much liquid are going into each jar.
A canning funnel. The cheap plastic ones work just as well as fancier models. Essential if you want your jam in the jar and not all over the kitchen.
A chicken fryer. This is just a frying pan that's about four inches deep. Perfect for making small batches of delicate preserves because there is a lot of evaporation from the surface of a thin layer of syrup rather than a deep narrow pot.
With permission from the Curmudgeon's Home Companion, August 1999
There are more ways to make jam than a dog has fleas. I've never seen this particular one before and can't imagine how it works with no pectin and such a short cooking time. I guess it's all that sugar?
When I decided, about 10 years ago, to make my own jams because all commercial ones are too sweet, I read Joy of Cooking's instructions for jellies/jams/butters, decided the recipe for Peach Butter looked the easiest and followed it. I still basically follow it for every kind of fruit jam/butter.
For peach butter I start with 5-6 lbs. really ripe freestone peaches &/or nectarines (whichever smell the best), put a saucepan of water to boil and have another right next to it half full of ice & water.
Put 3 peaches at a time in the simmering water for ~ a minute, then into the ice water, put another 3 peaches into the boiling water while I peel the three in the ice water. I can pull off the loosened peel of 3 peaches in a minute or so.
I throw all the peeled peaches into my jam pot. (A 10" diam. 6 1/2 qt. stainless steel one with a 1/2" thick aluminum bottom. (Very important that your pot has a large surface area relative to its depth. Jam-making is all about reducing liquid.)
When they're all peeled, I pick them up one by one, pull them apart and pop out the seed & stem base. (The peeling/seeding for 6 lbs. takes me no more than 10 minutes.)
Then I mash them good w/a potato masher (makes ~9 C. very juicy pulp), put them on med/low heat until they're at a brisk simmer, add a scant 4 C. sugar (just under 1/2 C. for each C. of peaches) and ~1/2 C. lemon juice and a tsp. each Penzey's dried lemon and orange peel.
[This amt. of pulp & sugar fills my 6 1/2 qt. pot ~1/3 full.)
I cook them at a gentle "pop-pop" simmer for a half-hour or so and taste them, add ~1/2 tsp. of salt and maybe some spices. (See note at bottom.)
I continue to cook them very slowly, stirring only occas.until the very end when they're nearly done (I have to stir less because my pot has such a thick alum.bottom. Use a flame tamer if your pot is not this reliably scorch-resistant).
This might take another hour or more. Have patience. I use the unhurried simmering time to get all the jars/lids/funnel/ladle stuff clean and ready and the hot-water-bath kettle near the boil, maybe wash the kitchen windows, clean the fridg, read a mystery w/a cup of coffee on a stool by the stove.
When a blob on a saucer holds its shape & doesn't have a noticeable water ring around it it's ready to jar.
This 5 to 6 lbs. of peaches (~9 C. pulp) exactly fills 8 half-pint jars. It's taken me ~3 leisurely hrs. from start to finish incl. the 10 min. steam bath.
In ten years and probably 40 batches of jams/butters (not to mention my annual chutneys) I've never had one batch that was not delicious, a beautiful color, and a perfect spreading consistency--never thin and runny--though I break almost every rule: I do half again the purported max. amt. of 6 C. of pulp, I never add more than 1/4 to 1/2 C. sugar for each C. of fruit, I never use pectin though the fruits I like to preserve--strawberries, peaches, rhubarb, cherries, apricots--are all in the "very low natural pectin" category.
[I don't like discernibly "spiced" jams/preserves, except sometimes apple butter. If the fruit has wonderful intense flavor I leave it alone except for the lemon juice/rind and the bit of salt. More often I think peaches, esp., need a little help, and I add 1/2-3/4 tsp. ground cardamom, which seems to intensify the fruit flavor w/o intruding. If I think it still needs some help I might add a pinch of mild lemony Ceylon cinnamon, a pinch of ground ginger. I did all of this for the batch I made yesterday and it is so good and peachy. Bought my beautiful freestone peaches at Walmart for $.77 a lb.
Now I'm going on the search for tart red plums. Nothing in the world compares to not-too-sweet red plum butter.