Making jam is something I had wanted to do for a long time. It is the next step along the do it yourself path in cooking that I am following. The problem was that I kept finding reasons (excuses!) why making jam wouldn’t work out. I wouldn’t get the jars clean enough; I didn’t have the requisite canning equipment; there is too much sugar involved in canning. Then I decided that first I needed to can with other people and learn from those with more expertise.
Well, today I got a phone call from my neighbor. The red currants and gooseberries in her yard were begging to be picked and – ready or not – it was time to make jam. Today. Right now. Did I have time? Was I interested? Yes!
The red currant is native to Europe. In Austria, red currants (Ribes rubrum) are called rote Ribisel. The word Ribisel is clearly related to the Latin genus name Ribes. In Germany, red currants are rote Johannisbeeren, or red John’s berries, because they become ripe around June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist. A member of the same genus, the gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) is also native to Europe. Its stems are prickly with spines (hence its name Stachelbeere in German, or spiny berry).
The first step in making jam is to obtain a large enough amount of fruit to make the canning effort pay off. Our jam team of three picked a total of 3 kilos of red currants and 1 kilo of gooseberries. Then the big decision came: what kind of jam would we make? After considering various options, we settled on three variations: gooseberry-strawberry-cinnamon, red currant-lemon balm jam, and red currant-lemon-mint jam.
Now we could finally get cooking! The berries are combined in a pot with gelling sugar, which includes pectin, in a ratio of 2 parts fruit to 1 part gelling sugar. Once the mixture is brought to a boil, it is important that it doesn’t cook too long so the gelling sugar doesn’t lose its punch. The hot jam is then poured into sterilized jars.
There are different techniques for sealing the jars. We chose the most glamorous, pyrotechnic one. First, you pour a splash of rum on top of the jam in the glass. Then you light the rum on fire. Finally, you carefully screw on the lid before turning the glass over. And that is it. No extra cooking or pressure canning.
It took us a little under four hours to pick fruit, prepare the jars, cook the jam, label the jars, and taste the results. Though the red currant-mint jam was tasty, the gooseberry-strawberry-cinnamon jam was everyone’s favorite. Since my first jam-making experience went so well, I am already dreaming about what to combine with apricots and with plums.
Making jam is a great experience to share with others, a very convivial process. What kind of jam are you going to make with your friends and neighbors this year?