After writing about family farms two weeks ago, I heard from many of you, including Paul Buxman, one of our region’s leading practitioners of sustainable farming. He and his wife Ruth were making jam. “You wouldn’t want to write about that, would you?” I asked. Here’s the second part of his reply. It made me want to go buy fruit from the nearest corner fruit stand, and I hope it has the same effect on many of you. — Trudy Wischemann
So you’ve decided to try your hand at making jam. This is happy news, and not just for you. Everyone that joins you for a meal, especially breakfast, will share in the delight. Here we are already late summer. What fruits might you try? There are late peaches that are huge, sweet, and perfectly colored. You can find them at local fruit stands along with late nectarines, plums and pluots. Most of the fruit at these stands are seconds, ones that did not have the visual perfection required for the supermarkets. But here’s a secret you should know. The USDA ran tests on fruits of every kind, including citrus, and they discovered that, in every case, the scarred fruit was not only sweeter but more nutritious than the so called “perfect” fruit. The tree’s natural defense against adverse conditions, like heat, cold, wind, hail and insects, is to strengthen the fruit with higher nutrients, especially calcium, along with higher sugar levels. Odd as it may seem, adversity strengthens and sweetens fruit. I really think it’s the same for people. So don’t be afraid of fruit with a few scars and dings. Select fruit that has good color, feels heavy, and displays sugar dots. These dots always indicate sweetness and higher flavor. These are fruits from higher up in the tree where they received better sunlight. Avoid fruit that is too soft, misshapen, has rot or is not fully ripe.
It’s good to have fruit with some variation in ripeness. All dead ripe fruit does not make great jam. You will need some firm ripe fruit which has more natural pectin to help thicken your jam. Leave skin on all your fruit except peaches. Peach fuzz just doesn’t boil away. Use a serrated peeler. They make peeling peaches easy.
Now, you’re home with your fruit. You’ve washed it all, taken out the pits and cut off the scars, and cut the fruit into chunks. You are now ready to start the magic! Find your largest pot. An eight-quart size is perfect. I like a thick aluminum pot. They spread the heat out evenly. Stainless steel is not the best choice. The bottoms may be thick, but the sides are thin, and the fruit will often stick or scorch there.
Weigh out five pounds of prepared fruit and get it started cooking on low heat. Five pounds of fruit will make about 10 half pints or 5 pints.
While it’s heating up, place your clean jars in your oven at 250 degrees. Place your lids into a shallow pot with water and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Place the lids into canning rings and you’re set to close your jars when filled. Check your fruit and stir using a long wooden spoon. Once it boils, it’s time for the lemon juice (2 Tablespoons) and the sugar (4 cups). Stir the mix until the sugar is fully dissolved. Bring it to a rolling boil. At this point you will need to stir continuously to keep the jam from scorching and to keep it from boiling over. Using a thermometer (I like digital with metal probe) boil until the jam reaches 220 degrees. Cook at that temperature for three to six minutes, no longer. Turn off the burner and pour the hot jam into half gallon pitchers with good handles and a pouring spout. (We like Rubbermaid.) The jam will fill two pitchers a little over half full each. Take your jars out of the oven and place them on a wooden cutting board. Let them cool for about two minutes till the glass and the jam are about the same temperature. Fill your jars to within a ¼ inch of the top. Wipe off any splatters, then screw on the lids. The best gloves to use are ones with rubberized palms for a good grip. (We like Atlas gloves). Tighten firmly and allow to cool. You’ll soon hear the satisfying “ping” as the lids seal. There is it! You’ve done it! All you need now is some great bread for toast in the morning.
Toast, butter, homemade jam = pure joy!
Trudy Wischemann is a longtime admirer of the Buxmans and their beautiful Sweet Home Farm. You can buy this jam at their annual Thanksgiving weekend open house in November. Send Trudy your favorite jam session experiences c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247, and she’ll share them with Paul and Ruth.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.