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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Plum and apricot refrigerator jam, or jam making for germaphobes

Plum and Apricot jam

I made my first ever batch of jam this weekend. Ok, it's probably an exaggeration to say a batch of jam, when the entire thing came out to be just about 18oz, just enough to fill one antique Pyrex refrigerator jar - newly acquired from a flea market (in the photo, cute or what?) - and a small Weck jam jar.

I had not thought of making jams before. I'm a germaphobe so home canning and preserving scare me half to death. I'm always afraid that I'd end up killing my friends - or worse yet, myself - with an improperly sterilized jar of jam or tomato sauce. It's true that last summer I ventured to make a whole big batch of tomato confit, but those of you who saw that post should remember how I fretted through the entire process. The good news is I am down to my last jar of said confit, and am so far unaware of anyone having died from it.

I was also forced into making that tomates confites because I could not find anything like it to purchase, so I had to make it myself. Jams, on the other hand, are plentiful to buy. I always keep my pantry stocked with a variety of Christine Ferber's and June Taylor's delicious creations - not to mention a random assortment from my travels.

I was inspired to try this time when my friends Dave and Ally came to visit with a bag full of plums from their tree. The plums were too sour to eat, but they were so amazingly fragrant I just had to find something to do with them. I also had a few sweet, sweet Frog Hollow apricots in the case I bought from the market a few days ago. They were softening quickly, and must be used up before they were too far gone to salvage. Then an inspiration struck - jam! The deep red, fragrant plums and bright orange, sweet apricots would make a very pretty - and might even be delicious - batch of jam, I thought.

So out came a big pot and in went the fruit, the plums roughly cut into wedges and the apricots halved and pitted, all skin on, of course - I had no pectin nor a desire to go and buy any so I had to rely on nature to help me along. How much sugar did I need? How should I know? I went to my office to get the copy of Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures and looked quickly through her various jams made from plums and apricots. Her golden ratio appears to be about 2:3 parts sugar to fruit. That seemed a bit much, so I began with 1:2, then added more as I went along. She also recommended juice from one small lemon. I had no lemon so a lime would have to do - what Thai girl doesn't have a constant supply of limes in her fridge? Oh, yes, and old habits die hard so I also threw in a pinch or two of sea salt.

The jam was incredibly easy to make. I was astounded. There was no real recipe to go by, so I added enough sugar until it tasted just as sweet as I like, and cooked the jam until it reached the consistency I like. When the water evaporated just a bit too quickly for my fruit to breakdown to the texture I wanted, I added a bit of water and let it cook a bit more. It's cooking by instinct, and mine is well honed for this from years of being obsessed with superb jams.

I was even more astounded when I tasted the final product. No more Goldilockean complaints - this jam is too sweet, this one too sour, that one too loose - as this jam was perfect. Incredibly fragrant, bright, orange-tinted red, at once sharp and sweet, with a great, complex flavor magically enhanced by that pinch of salt. Ok, not exactly perfect in the Platonian sense of the word, but perfect as in...that's the way...ah-ha, ah-ha...I like it...ah-ha, ah-ha.

The germaphobe in me doesn't have to worry about sterilizing the jars and the tops and the pot and the funnel and the whatnots, as this batch of jam is going directly into the refrigerator and shall reside there until it is finished. The small batch will also ensure that it will all be gone in not too far a future. Refrigerator jams, just the perfect thing for a germaphobe - who wants to make her own jams - like me.

What to do when I want plum jam in the winter? I see Mme.Ferber and my dear June coming to my rescue.

Plum and apricot 'refrigerator' jam - a rough recipe

2.5 pounds (just a bit over 1kilo) of apricots and plums
2 cups (16oz or 450g of sugar), add more as needed
about half cup of sugar
juice from 1 small lime (or lemon)
a pinch of salt -“ or two, or none at all, comme vous voulez

Into a large pot, cut the plums into wedges around the pit, halve the apricots and discard the pits. Add the juice from one lime or lemon, 2 cups of sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Turn the heat on low to melt the sugar and bring the content of the pot into a low simmer. Spoon off the foam that forms on top. With a wooden spoon, stir the pot frequently but gently so as not to turn the fruit into mush.

Taste the jam as you go along, adding more sugar if you think you need. Add a bit of water if the content of the pot evaporates too quickly and the fruit hasn't broken down to the texture that you like. Stop when everything is....just the way, ah-ha ah-ha, I like it, ah-ha ah-ha...yeah, sing it baby!

You shouldn't need more than an hour to do this.

Pour the jam into clean jars, put a piece of paper towel across the top. Let cool to room temperature, discard the paper then put the jar top on and refrigerate.


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