Autumn is traditionally the time of year to make jams, pickles and preserves from the recent harvest so you can have some fruits and veggies to last you through the winter. Well, globalization has made it a lot easier for us to get fresh and preserved fruits and veggies at the supermarket all year round, but there’s still something to be said for making things from scratch and according to the seasons. Mostly, it tastes a lot better that way.
With that in mind, I recently tried my hand at making jam for the first time. Thankfully, I had a much more experienced and informed friend to help me out with the process: Casey Holland, farm manager at Red Tractor Farm and local food advocate extraordinaire. She very kindly lent me her knowledge and her kitchen for this endeavor.
Being a little overambitious (and, perhaps, a little cheap) about it, I decided to make my jam from the prickly pear fruit that grow in bushels on every street corner at this time of year. Yes, that does mean that I was running around my neighborhood gathering fruit from people’s front yards. And that I got an armful of the little spines that grow in clusters on the purple fruits (if you decide to try this yourself, please wear gloves).
Prickly Pear Jam
The recipe that we used went something like this:
• Approx. 3 lbs. prickly pear fruit (yielding 5 cups of juice)
• 9 cups sugar
• 1/2 cup lemon juice
• 1 package pectin
First, start a big pot of water boiling. Ideally you’ll use a pot and aluminum basket that are made for jarring, but any large pot with a rack or steamer basket will work. You can sterilize your jarring equipment in this water while you’re making the jam, then use it to actually seal the jars at the end. You can also get a pressure canner if you’re really fancy.While the water heats, wash the fruits, then cut off the ends of each and peel them, carefully. I recommend using a paring knife to accomplish this speedily and with relatively few injuries. Throw out any fruits that look overripe or rotten. Keep in mind that tuna is a deep, dark purple, and the juice will stain just about everything that gets in its way.Once you’ve got all the fruit peeled, throw them all in a blender or food processor. Blend until it’s all pretty liquid, going in batches if you need to. Then, pour it all into a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth that you’ve placed over a bowl to catch the juice. Squeeze the hell out of that cheesecloth to get every last drop of juice out of that stuff. You can discard the pulp and seeds.Put the juice into a pot over high heat, then add the pectin and lemon juice. Stir continuously to dissolve the pectin. Bring to a boil.Add the sugar, then bring it back to a boil, again stirring constantly. Once you’re there, let it cook for about three minutes, then remove from the heat. It should be pretty thick and lava-like in consistency.Pour the hot jam into sterilized preserving jars (sterilize jars, lids and rings by boiling them for at least 10 minutes) to about 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe any excess jam from the rims, making sure not to touch the inside of the jar with your fingers (you don’t want to get any bacteria in there).Top with the lids and screw on the rings.Lower the jars into your now-boiling water, making sure that the water covers them by at least an inch. Let this boil away for 15 minutes. You may hear subtle pops coming from the jars—that’s the sound of them getting an airtight seal. You want that.Gently remove the jars from the water and set them somewhere to cool for at least 24 hours before you open ’em up to devour. Keep the jam in a cool, dark place, and in the fridge once you’ve opened it.
This homemade jam makes a great holiday gift for your friends and family, and an even better one if you top it off with some fresh bread and goat cheese to enjoy it with. It tastes good on just about anything grape jam would, and it’s chock-full of vitamin C and fiber, too.