I have a nice stash of jam in the back closet. I have been adding to it since the spring when I first made Meyer Lemon and Orange Marmalade. Next up was apricot and then strawberry. I thought my making jam days for 2009 were over once the calendar turned to September. But I was wrong. At the farmer’s market in San Francisco this past Saturday (on the 3rd of October!) I found the most beautiful looking and tasting strawberries. Most were small and some were tiny, perfect for jam making. Before I knew it I was asking for a case. So much for the rest of my afternoon.
When making jam it is very very (Yes, I said very twice for emphasis.) important to cook it in small batches. Small batches allow the berries and juice to thicken quicker. The faster they cook the more flavor the jam has. It is tempting to make a big pot so you can get a lot of jars done at once but you will regret it. You lose the freshness of the fruit. This goes for any type of jam you make. Use a heavy bottomed pot at least 10 inches in diameter.
Once I finished making the strawberry jam I had a few empty jars that had not been filled. I hate putting away empty jars for a year so I decided to make some pear-vanilla bean jam with some pears that I also had picked up at the market. Pears can be cooked into jam very quickly as they are full of natural pectin. The pectin helps the fruit thicken. Berries have very little natural pectin.
There are several pear varieties you can use. In California I like French Butter pears and the small Seckel pears. You can find Bartlett and Comice in grocery stores across the country. Check out your farmer’s market to find local varieties specific to your area. Make sure they are ripe.
I like to give jam as a hostess gift when I am invited to someone’s house for dinner. It is unexpected and gives everyone a break from the usual bottle of wine. I also give it as gifts for Christmas. When it is snowing and cold it is nice to have a reminder of the warmer time of the year.
Here’s my recipe for pear-vanilla bean jam. Pears are plentiful at the market. No sense giving you my strawberry jam recipe as the season is over. I’ll give it to you next spring.
Chunky Pear-Vanilla Jam
Yield 1 pint jar
You can double this recipe but this is the amount of pears I had at home when I tested it. It is quick and easy. Don’t make more than a double batch. I know it is a small amount but it really is worth it. Don’t reserve this just for toast, it’s great with cheese too.
3 cups apple cider or apple juice (no sugar added)
2 vanilla beans
3 pounds ripe pears, Bartlett or French Butter (about 9)
3/4 cup sugar
Put the apple cider in a large pot or saute pan. With a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Run the knife along the pod, releasing the seeds. Put the vanilla bean and seeds in the pot with the apple cider. Bring to a boil. Boil for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has reduced to 3/4 cup.
While the apple juice is cooking, peel, half and core the pears. Cut the pears into 1/4 inch pieces.
When the apple juice has finished reducing, add the pears and sugar to the pot and cook at a high simmer, stirring frequently, until thick and jam like, about 10 minutes.
Put up in jam jars or just refrigerate until cold and eat right from the fridge.