I’m not much of a fruit person, but, dang, do I love berries.
I love berries so much that, while I wait for my own berry bushes to grow, I will drive out to the middle of nowhere to pick gallons of them. Yes, gallons. I’m mainly able to do and afford this because the dude I pick them from offers pickers to take half, leave half, or pay a reasonable sum per pound. I usually go with the former option, as much as it pains me to leave half of my bounty.
That being said, I’ve done this twice this year – once for blueberries in late June, and once a few days ago for blackberries. Bees, thorns, and sweat later, we’re blessed with a bounty of berries (ahhh, alliteration, you beautiful thing). What’s different this year is our own crops (and our friend’s shared crops) are filling up our fridge and freezer, so I needed to make something that would still preserve the deliciousness of berries, but take up a lot less space.
I think you know what I’m getting at here. I’m talking preserves, or jam. And I’m talking the easiest method of making jam – refrigerator jam.
I’ve been itching to try true preserving and canning since we’ve been getting all of this produce, but while the air’s out, I’m avoiding having long spells of boiling liquid on the stove to keep the house cool. Enter refrigerator jam – shorter spells on the stove, with no boiling sanitation. We go through jam pretty quickly around here, so the space and shelf life aren’t much of an issue.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Use fruit that’s in-season, ripe, and as local as you can get it. If it’s not great while fresh, it won’t make very good jam. If you’ve never gone berry picking, try it – it’s great exercise, an excuse to put on a cute brimmed hat, and a really fun thing for kids to help with! (At least, I remember having fun picking berries as a kid, and my friends with kids agree that they have fun 🙂
- The boiling/heating process, especially without added pectin, can take over an hour in some cases. The fruit will also take on a caramelized flavor and turn darker because of the longer cooking. I personally like this.
- Be judicious with your sugar – too little will not allow the jam to set, while too much will make an unpleasant texture and will drown out the berry flavor.
So if you’re like me and have an absurd amount of berries or other fruit, and looooove homemade jam, why not try your hand at this? It’s easy, customizable, and delicious.
Berry Refrigerator Jam
This can make as little or as much as you want – the general proportion of berries to sugar is 3/4-1 c sugar per cup of berries. (Hey, I didn’t say it wasn’t sweet!) I tend to go big or go home.
You will need:
- 5 c in-season, ripe berries – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, a mixture – whatever! If using strawberries, make sure to slice them before cooking.
- 4 c sugar
- Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2-3 tbsp)
- Additional, optional spices and herbs. I’ve made strawberry basil jam, blueberry cinnamon, and blackberry vanilla with excellent results. Experiment and see what you like!
- Place a small plate in the freezer. You will use this to test the gelling of your jam later in the process.
- Stir berries and lemon juice in a medium to large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, until the berries begin releasing juice and breaking up. If using hardier berries, such as blackberries or raspberries, you can mash them a bit with a potato masher or fork at this point to create a more homogenous jam and speed up the cooking time.
- Add the sugar all at once, and stir to combine thoroughly. Continue simmering on medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. The mixture may boil up and bubble – this is fine, as long as you continue to stir and not allow it to overflow. Lower to the heat to medium-low if it bubbles too high. The mixture should reduce and thicken slightly. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, so watch your mixture carefully.
- You can begin checking the mixture for doneness after 15 minutes or when it has reduced by about a quarter. Place a dollop of the jam onto the cold plate from the freezer, and return to the freezer for a minute. Test the jam by pushing your finger into the dollop – if it wrinkles and stays put, it’s done. If it slides back, keep simmering, checking with the plate test every 5-10 minutes. (You can also live on the wild side and just let the jam simmer for thirty minutes total with stirring, and hope for the best! It usually turns out all right.)
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Pour hot or warm jam into thoroughly cleaned jars and allow to cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator. Jam will keep, at the very least, for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, but often keeps longer.