Summer and fall are all about harvesting and storing vegetables and fruits. Our early summer fruit favorites are the bramble fruits, which grow wild and abundantly in our neck of the woods. Needless to say, I have spent my fair share of hot summer days hovering over boiling kettles and canners in the effort to put gallons and gallons of fresh berries away for the long term, but not anymore. If age is any indication of wisdom, I’ve definitely gotten smarter – at least about some things. Now, I freeze all of our berries in quart-sized freezer bags. Then, when I need a jar of jam or sweet fruity filling or topping for cakes or pastries, I just whip up exactly what I need in 15 minutes for a super scrumptious and versatile treat!
Of course, you can use any kind of fruit to make jams, fillings, toppings, and spreads using this method. You can use fresh fruit, home-canned fruit, or frozen fruit (my favorite). You can opt to add other ingredients such as extracts, candied fruit peels, raisins, or what-not to make the end product a little fancier. Or you can just keep it simple and let the fruit shine through. Since “easy” is my battle cry, I prefer the latter. For that reason, I also don’t worry too much about measuring anything. Through trial and error I have gained a grasp on how much fruit to use to get the amount of finished product I want. However, I’ll do my best to help you with some rough measurements so you don’t wind up with a gallon of jam, when all you wanted was a pint.
Like I mentioned already, any kind of fruit will work for this method, but soft juicy fruits such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and peaches are faster and easier to work with. If the fruit you have is fresh and whole, you’ll need to prep it for cooking by removing the skin, coring, and cutting into smaller pieces as the fruit dictates. This will kill the under 15 minutes timeline, but it’s still pretty quick. Unless of course, you have a lot of fruit to process. If that’s the case, go ahead and blanch, peel, core, chop, or whatever you need to do to it to ready it for freezing. Then go ahead and pack it for freezing into quart-size freezer bags – 4 cups to the quart – reserving 2-4 cups to make a jar of jam with.
Quart zipper freezer bags are perfect for freezing fruit because you know about how much is in each bag and don’t need to do a lot of measuring later on. I actually measure out the raw fruit as it goes in the bag so I don’t have to worry about it later. One quart bag holds approximately 4 cups of chopped or diced fruit, which will make a little over a quart of jam or filling depending on how juicy the fruit is. Half a bag, or 2 cups, will make a pint – a full bag will make a little over a quart.
There’s my fancy measuring in action!
Once you determine how much your going to make, place the fruit in a medium saucepan over medium, to medium-high heat. As the fruit begins to thaw, use a blunt-ended instrument such as a pestle (as in mortar and pestle) or the bottom end of a canning jar, to crush the berries to the desired consistency. If you want your fruit really smooth without any chunks or bits, you can either let your fruit thaw completely and smooth it out in a blender or food processor (but then you have to get that out and wash it afterwards, which equals more time), or simply let it thaw in the pan and use an immersion blender to smooth out the lumps while the fruit is heating up (my first choice). You can also blend up the fruit and filter it through a jelly bag for a clear, pulp-free product, but understand that doing so will reduce the total quantity in the end.
Keep in mind that as your fruit heats up and is crushed, juice will be released. Often, a surprising amount of juice. However, should you feel the need to add additional liquid to your fruit, just remember that it will increase the total amount of product in the end. You can use water, sweet wine, or any kind of fruit juice you like. I do sometimes add liquid to make the fruit go a little farther, particularly if I’m making filling for cinnamon rolls or swirl breads.
Next, if you like your jam or filling sweet, go ahead and stir in as much or as little sweetener as you like. You can use white-, brown-, cane-, or raw sugar, as well as honey, molasses or maple syrup, even stevia, xylitol, or agave.
To thicken your jam or filling you will need a small bowl, a few tablespoons of organic (non-GMO) cornstarch, and a wee bit of water. To thicken a pint, use approximately 2 heaping tablespoons. For a quart, about 4 tbs. should be used. I like to make a little extra, just in case my fruit turns out especially juicy because it’s better to have extra on hand and not use it all, then not have enough and have to stop and make more with a pot of hot sticky fruit bubbling on the stove.
For those who are used to using cornstarch for thickening, no explanation on how to use it are needed. However, for those who never or rarely use it, it’s important to understand a few things about cornstarch. First of all, cornstarch powder should never be added directly to hot liquids, as it will instantly turn into a million little lumps that you’ll never get out. You can dissolve cornstarch in cold liquids and then bring that to a boil, but you need to be sure you’ve really got it stirred in well. But, in my experience, cornstarch just doesn’t blend smoothly into cold fruit juices (I have no idea why).
The way around both of those problems is to mix the cornstarch with cold water and then add that mix to very hot or boiling liquids. Once wet, cornstarch liquefies surprisingly fast, so be careful not to add too much water. The trick is to add as as little extra liquid to your jam as possible, but if you mess it up, you can always mix up more cornstarch.
Back to the action: Quickly stir most of the cornstarch mixture into the jam, either just before or just as it is coming to a simmer. Bring the mixture to a low boil and reduce the heat, stirring continuously. At first, the cornstarch will cloud the mixture, but will quickly clear as it cooks. If, after it clears, the jam doesn’t seem quick thick enough, stir in the remaining cornstarch liquid.
Keep in mind that your jam will thicken a bit more as it cools. You can dip a cold spoon into the hot mixture and let it cool a few seconds to see how it is setting up – just like you do when you make regular jam. If all looks well and the jam is clear, thick, and shiny – which takes just a minute or two – remove it from the heat.
If you’re making jam or will be using the filling later, go ahead and pour the hot mixture into a canning jar to cool completely before capping and storing in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Otherwise, you can use it hot (on ice cream or hot brownies – oh, my, goodness!) or if you plan on using it within a few hours, just leave it in the pan to cool.
It has taken me roughly 100 times longer to write this post than it actually takes to make a pint or quart (or two) of my Quick and Easy Fruit Jam and Filling. And the best part is you don’t have to spend all day over the stove and no one will ever know the difference between it and “regular” jam. Use it to top cakes, pie slices, slather on bread, bury in rolls, buns and muffins, stir it into pancake batter and… Oh, my, I’ve got to go make some right now!!
If you give this quick jam a try, I’d love to hear how you liked it and what you used it for…
Until then, happy feasting!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.
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