We take for granted the sweet confection we spread across the toast in our morning meals, and for most of us knowledge of jams and jellies doesn't go beyond what's at the local grocery store. But before refrigeration, preserving fruit was a necessity — and jams and jellies remain easy to make, as well as a good way to hold on to summer flavors well into the fall.
THE BASICS: WHAT YOU'LL NEED
If you don't want to make a pantry full of preserves, you won't need too much — just some glass mason jars 12 for $9 at Target). The recipes here are for several jars of preserves, but can be reduced to make just one jar. While some recipes call for sterilizing jars, most can be made without this process — simply store the jam in the fridge for several months. And if you prefer chunkier jams, don't process the fruit quite so long in the Cuisinart or chop it too fine.
TO PECTIN OR NOT TO PECTIN
Pectin helps fruit set, giving preserves that gel-like quality, and it occurs naturally in fruits — but not all fruits have the same amount or quality. Apples have a lot; strawberries, not so much. How much you cook a fruit can also alter pectin content. We've put together some great recipes with and without pectin.
LEMON MARMALADE (PECTIN FREE)
Luscious lemons, sugar, and water are all you need to make this delicious marmalade. This recipe can be spiced up by adding a bit of vanilla, rosemary, cardamom, or cinnamon during the first stage of cooking. Just remember to remove any whole spices before adding the sugar.
Recipe: Simply Recipes
PLUM JAM (PECTIN FREE)
With their high sugar content, plums are a perfect fruit for jam. Tip: you can make the jam thicker by boiling five or six times instead of three, but the boil-and-cool method already can take a bit of time.
Recipe: Natasha's Kitchen
GRAPE JELLY (PECTIN FREE)
This is a particularly great recipe for kids — not necessarily to cook, but to eat, because it tastes just like the store-bought varieties kids love so much. It's simply grapes, sugar, and a little bit of lemon juice, so it's easy to prepare and tastes delicious.
Recipe: Farm to Table
PEACH & LAVENDER JAM
You may think of lavender as fragrance for soaps, but it is an excellent complement to the sweet taste of peaches, and there's something innately summery about the combination. If you don't want little bits of lavender in your jam, create a "lavender tea": Boil to reduce the liquid and simply add the lavender essence to your cooking.
Recipe: Craving Something Healthy
STRAWBERRY & RHUBARB JAM (PECTIN FREE)
The trick to getting this right is using a candy thermometer to ensure the preserves have reached 220 degrees Fahrenheit. (Be careful not to touch the thermometer to the sides or bottom of your pot, because you won't get an accurate temperature reading.) This slightly tart recipe is great with toasted English muffins and melted butter.
This recipe calls for just kiwi, pineapple, sugar, and pectin. We found that increasing the pineapple by one-third cup brings a denser jam — but if you're using canned pineapple, best to get it unsweetened and use it drained.
Recipe: Genius Kitchen
WILD BLUEBERRY JAM (PECTIN FREE)
BANANA JAM (PECTIN FREE)
We love this caramelized banana jam. It's as great on biscuits, toast, and scones as it is on ice cream and deserts. There's no pectin, but there is a secret ingredient: lime juice. The limes add just the right amount of pectin and the citrus brings pH levels down, which prevents bacteria — so don't skip this step and this delicious confection will hold up to a month in your fridge.
Recipe: The Café Sucre Farine
Yes, jam made from "beer." You can make it with just about anything, so why not? You'll need pectin, vinegar, and ahigh-quality stout, resulting in a jam that is excellent with summer sausage, pumpernickel bread, and a sharp cheddar cheese. The recipe provides the fruitier flavors of hops without a bitter aftertaste.
Recipe: Men's Journal
WHISKY AND GINGER MARMALADE (PECTIN FREE)
Traditionally a Scottish treat found with oatcakes and scones, but a winner on everything from pancakes to crackers and a strong, heady cheese. The recipe uses oranges and lemons and takes a bit of time, as the ginger root takes time to soften. As for the whisky, feel free to use your favorite brand or experiment with different ones.
Recipe: Larder Love
FRENCH APPLE JAM
This jam calls for cardamom pods — a versatile Indian spice with a strong, pungent aroma. It's often used in combination with cinnamon when baking sweets and in Scandinavian apple pie, and gives this apple jam a hint of exoticism. Apples have a lot of pectin naturally, so if you want to skip the pectin here you can.
Recipe: The View From Great Island
FIG JAM (PECTIN FREE)
Feel good about this one: Figs are high in phytonutrients, antioxidants, and B-complex vitamins. Substituting plain sugar for coconut or date palm sugar will give the jam a bolder flavor, not too sweet with just the right amount of tart. Fig jam also goes great with just about any kind of cheese and crackers.
Recipe: The Whole Tara
RASPBERRY AND CHOCOLATE JAM (PECTIN FREE)
There's something insanely delectable about this flavor combination, and neither of the ingredients compete for the palate, but rather complement each other perfectly. This jam also pairs well with a goat cheese, brie, or smoked gouda for a late night snack.
Recipe: Love & Olive Oil
SALTED HONEY CANTALOUPE JAM
If you haven't tried cantaloupe jam, you're missing out. While this recipe calls for one cup of water, the trick to getting this at just the right consistency is to mash the fruit like a potato and use slightly less water. Add natural vanilla bean during the cooking to enhance the flavor.
Recipe: Bon Appetit
ROSE PETAL JELLY
This is a delicately scented, floral jelly. Cooking with rose petals is common in India and the Middle East — here, rose petals that are edible and safe for cooking can be bought online from Spices Inc. or Amazon, while rose water should be found at a local grocery store. Liquid pectin is needed for this recipe.
Recipe: Martha Stewart