I know it’s not jam making season, but I couldn’t resist posting this recipe despite its untimeliness. It’s so simple and so delicious. I usually make freezer jam every summer, when there are ripe berries at u-pick lots and in our backyard. We happen to live in berry heaven, and blackberries literally take over anywhere that isn’t being actively tended by a vigilant gardener: empty lots, free way medians, neglected back roads. You would think these nefarious weeds would produce measly, mean fruit, but the opposite seems to be true. I have never seen such enormous, ripe, bursting-with-juice berries as those growing by the waysides in the Pacific Northwest. I take out empty milk jugs, with the tops cut off, and pick as many berries as I can whenever I get the chance.
On top of my neighborhood scavenging, we’ve developed quite the berry patch ourselves for varieties that don’t pop up on the side of the road. Now we have strawberries, raspberries, currants, and elderberries, although we haven’t seen much of the later two (nor am I even sure if a currant is a berry). Last summer, I did manage to make strawberry jam, but the raspberries came on slowly—a little at a time—and mostly when I had a 0- to 2-month-old baby. Needless to say, I wasn’t doing a lot beyond the basics in the kitchen. We did pick the berries, though. Each afternoon, my four-year-old and I would head out the door with little containers and pick berries in the sunshine. I inevitably ended up eating most of the ones I picked, but I was amazed by her self control. She was adamant that she was picking them for “the cold months ahead,” and would save every one. Every few days, we added our booty to a bag in the freezer, to be dealt with at some later date.
Well, the other day, I licked our last jar of strawberry jam clean and realized I would have to break out those raspberries or be forced to either buy jam or not use it at all. Once you have had freezer jam from fresh, Oregon berries, you can never go back to the store-bought stuff (at least not anything reasonably priced), so that would mean the later option.
This recipe only took about 30 minutes to make (once the berries were thawed) and the results were oh-so-delicious. The secret to great jam is to use far, far less sugar than called for. Most recipes use more sugar than fruit, and even the low-sugar ones use about equal proportions. These recipes always make it sound as though reducing the sugar will ruin the recipe, too, which is utterly ridiculous, in my experience.
I use low-sugar pectin in mine, which is what “sets” the jam, giving its firm, spreadable texture. In the past, I have actually, in the interest of saving money, used cornstarch at times. This seems to work pretty well, but you have to boil the jam after you take it out of the freezer, or it has a funny consistency. I’ve also tried agave or honey, but this is a traditional sugar and pectin recipe. I’ll be more adventurous in my jam posts next summer. For now, if you can get your hands on some frozen berries, this is a great time to bring a little summer into your kitchen. I couldn’t believe how enjoyable it was to do this in January. In the summer, I’m usually sick of the fruit, tired from a long day of picking, and already hot when I start in on this project. (And I usually am making a mammoth amount, instead of the nice, manageable amount this recipe produces.) It was so fun to smell the hot fruit on the stove, sample the sweet berries, and have beautiful jars of ruby-red fruit cooling on my table, all while rain pelted the windows and clouds hung dark in the sky. What a pleasant afternoon. Because it was such a relaxed endeavor, I also brought my daughter in to stand on a stool and watch the jam bubble and help stir and wipe jars. Usually it’s such a hot, sticky affair, full of boiling pots and mounds of stains waiting to happen that I ban everyone else from the kitchen. It was fun to do together, and she was delighted to see how her work the summer before paid off.
Special Diets & Allergies: Vegan and dairy free if you omit the butter (which is definitely not essential), vegetarian, soy free, nut free.
Mostly Fruit Raspberry Jam
Makes around 7 pints
Unlike most jams which are basically sugar with a bit of fruit, this sweet spread is truly berries. It has just enough sugar to give it a delicious sweetness, but it’s still fairly tart. It’s essentially a spoonful of smashed raspberries. It’s wonderful, of course, used in the traditional way on a piece of toast or a muffin, but it’s also great mixed with plain yogurt or, my favorite, eaten by the spoonful straight out of the jar. The butter is not essential; it keeps the jam from foaming while cooking, but it’s fun to skim the foam off and eat it, so by all means omit it if you like. Also, if you freeze the jam in glass jars, as I do, then make sure you leave plenty of headspace—at least 2 inches. The jam will expand as it freezes, and if there is too much in the jar, the glass will crack. This is why the yield is estimated. If you use plastic containers, you can fit far more into each.
11 C fresh or frozen raspberries, thawed
2 C sugar
2 packages (1.75 oz each) low sugar fruit pectin
1 t butter
Wash the pint jars and set aside.
- Mix 1/2 C of the sugar with the pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
- Put the berries in a large soup pot, or other heavy-bottom pot. Stir in the sugar and pectin mixture and the butter.
- Bring to a full rolling bowl (a boil that does not stop bubbling when stirred) over high heat, stirring constantly. As you stir, mash the berries with the spoon to break them up.
- Stir in the remaining sugar quickly, bring back to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for one minute.
- Remove from heat.
- Ladle into prepared jars, leaving at least 2 inches headspace. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours, then put int he freezer.