Now, let's hand it off to Suzanne!
I love to make jam. There is sometime primitive about it; storing and preserving food feels like going back to our hunting&gathering roots from our ancestry. Gathering your own food from nature makes it feel that much more primitive and innate. The first batch of jam I ever made was from tart lingonberries that I picked out on the tundra in the heart of Denali National Park under the watchful eye of Mount Denali ie (McKinley). The summer I graduated from college, I banded birds as an intern for the Alaska Bird Observatory in the heart of Denali at a very small rustic lodge in the least accessible part of the national park. I banded birds in the morning and roamed the tundra in the afternoons.
I observed Brown Bears and Caribou almost daily with the occasional sighting of a pack of wolves or a Moose. The tundra in the fall is the most breath-taking place I have ever had the pleasure to witness. The low growing tundra plants turn vibrant shades of reds, oranges, and yellows, punctuated with the evergreen from the spruce forests. Picture the vibrancy of a hardwood forest in the fall of New York or New England, all at knee height, with the tallest mountains in the United States looming in the background. I digress, back to jam. (I wish I could share a picture, but, alas digital photography was still a few years off and all of my pictures are still slides!) In the Alaskan tundra grows a gorgeous little plant called lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) a close relative of the cranberry. In the fall, the tundra is covered with lingonberries and blueberries, the perfect jam making fruit! I had befriended some of the chefs from the lodge and they took me out to gather these gorgeous little berries to teach me how to make jam. We gathered lingonberries and blueberries and made a few batches of jam. I was hooked after that, and although I couldn’t recreate the beauty of the tundra in the fall or pick berries directly from the wild, I could make cranberry jam and remember the wonderful time I spent in Denali National Park. Even when I was living in a tiny trailer on a National Wildlife Refuge in the middle of the desert, I still managed to make jam that year and most years after that. Now, my kids and husband help me berry pick every year at local fruit farms- we make jam and always have many bags of frozen fruit at the ready!
Jam making is fairly simple. You need fruit, pectin (you can get natural pectin from the fruit itself), sugar (not necessary for all recipes), canning equipment and time, approximately 2 hours or so. Making jam with powdered pectin is the simplest way to make jam and definitely the way I would start if you haven’t made jam before. Pectin is the thing that will turn your fruit into the gel-like consistency. I love making long-boil jams that are all fruit (no sugar of any kind) and have naturally derived pectin, but, they take a long time to make and it can be tricky if you haven’t seen it done before. This recipe is a great starting point into jam making!
Before you get started you will need a big pot to boil water, a biggish pot to hold the jam, and jars, lids, and rims. During the summer most hardware stores sell a preserving kit that come with a huge pot, a jar lifter, a funnel, and a magnet for the lids. But, you can certainly try it before buying any of these extra tools. When purchasing jam jars just make sure to buy the ½ cup (4 oz) or smaller jam jars. With bigger jars you need to have a really big pot to process the jam.
Faux Alaskan Lingonberry Jam (ie Cranberry Jam)
12 four-oz jam jars, lids, rims or 6- eight ounce, jam jars, lids, rims
4 ½ cups sugar
1 box of low sugar Sure Jell powdered pectin (look for the pink box!) (it may so “no” sugar. But what they mean is a sugar substitute!)
4 cups of cranberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries
¾ c water
Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
Preparation: wash all jars, lids, & rims in hot soapy water. You might want to have an extra jam jar at the ready just in case. Depending on how full your fill your jars you might need an extra one. Start boiling water in your biggest pot to process your jam once you are done. Once it starts boiling turn the heat to simmer. After you have washed your jars, you will need to keep them warm until you need to use them. I recommend cleaning your sink and fill it with very warm water to keep everything warm. **I recommend pouring boiling water in your canning jars or using your dishwasher to ensure they are sterile. (Ejay)
Fruit: Cranberries are not always easy to find in the grocery store, so, I usually grab a very big bag of them when they arrive fresh in the late fall. They freeze wonderfully as well. For this recipe, I used all frozen fruit and did not thaw any of it. Using my food processor, I chopped up all the fruit, one cup at a time. (chopped! Do not purée- I like chunks in my jam!) I threw the chopped fruit into a large cast iron pot. If you do not have a food processor, you can use a big ol’ potato masher and mash them as you cook them.
Make sure to throw on some of your favorite music, too, you can’t make jam without a little JAM! (I was rockin’ out to Martin Sexton’s new live album while making this batch! But, Greg Brown’s live album that contains a song about canning is always a favorite, too!)
Sugar and pectin: Measure out the 4 ½ cups of sugar exactly into a bowl. Being that I’m prone to mommy brain, I actually use a piece of paper and pen and mark every cup I pour into a bowl. (I do the same thing with the fruit as well!)(was that 1 cup or 2? 2 or 3?) Then, take ¼ cup of sugar from your measured out amount and mix it with the bag of pectin in a smaller bowl.
Time to start Jammin’! Put your pot of fruit on the stove and mix in the pectin/sugar mixture. (Leave the 4 cups of sugar for later!) I start my pot on medium and turn it up after it’s been cooking for a little bit. Add in the water and bring your fruit to a full rolling boil- one that doesn’t stop boiling when you turn down the heat. Make sure to be vigilant about stirring the boiling fruit to prevent it from burning.
-Stir in that remaining sugar once you’ve reached that full boil. Then, you will bring the heat back up and make the fruit boil again. Add in the cinnamon and nutmeg to taste about 1 teaspoon each or so. It will start to darken up as it boils! Once you’ve hit that full rolling boil, let it boil for ONE minute, stir constantly. You’ll notice that if you take a spoon and dip it into the jam and let it fall off, that it will start looking thick and come off as a big sheet. (When making jam without powdered pectin this is what you call the gel stage and this is what you are looking for when doing a long boil recipe!) Take it off the heat. Cranberries have lots of natural pectin, so this ends being a very thick jam!
Jam into the jars! Using some oven mits, ladle the jam into the warm empty jars. Fill the jars leaving about 1/8 of an inch of head space. Or, just fill it to right below where the rim screws on! Make sure to wipe off any jam that gets on the rim of the jar. Having some towels at the ready is always helpful!!! Place the two piece lids on the jars. Screw on bands. Work quickly! (If you find that you have extra but can’t fill a jar, just fill the jar and then let it cool a bit on the counter and put that jar straight into your fridge!) Place the filled jars into your prepared huge pan of boiling water- do this carefully. You want to make sure that you have at least a full inch of water above your jars. You can add water as needed. Bring the big pot to a gentle boil and let them boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars from the water and let them sit on your counter for 24 hours. Make sure to test the seals once they’ve cooled and tighten the rims! If it springs back, it hasn’t sealed and make sure to refrigerator immediately.
Store in a cool dry place! Use within a year!
Once you've done this recipe, try other jam recipes and enjoy the harvest all year round!