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Oh Yeah, We’re Jammin’ August 27, 2009

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, random stuff.

I’m going to start by saying that I’ve been making jams, jellies, and preserves for a really long time.

I’m talking close to 25 years – I first started when I was a child young bride, and I wanted to take advantage of the local pick-your-own place and a backyard full of blackberries.    After all, what better gift for urban-dwelling grandparents and busy teachers than a nice assortment of homemade jams?

I’ve always used commercial pectin for my preserves – liquid pectin being generally preferred over powdered.  I’ve found it to be (usually) pretty fool-proof – providing you follow the directions TO THE LETTER.  And that includes an approximately 1.5 to 1 sugar-to-fruit ratio.  That’s right – up to a cup and a half of white sugar for every cup of fruit.   That’s an awful lot of white death, isn’t it?

I’ve always known that it’s possible to make some preserves without additional pectin, but let’s face it – most of this was to be for gifts, and who wants to experiment on her elderly grandparents?

Well, the years went by, and before we knew it, my grandparents weren’t around any more, and I no longer had teachers to remember at holiday time, and, well, Peeps and I don’t really have much need for jams and jellies and the like,  so I really haven’t made any in a while.

PhotobucketThen a couple of things happened – first, I picked a bunch of blueberries.  That’s not the thing, though. The thing was that when I picked the blueberries, I also managed to score several pounds of apricots.

Then, round about the same time, I just happened to be reading yet another food blog, and there was Lisa the Homesick Texan, making apricot preserves with no added pectin!


I know that even “lower sugar” versions of preserves still need plenty of sugar – plain cooked fruit is surprisingly not very sweet – but there’s absolutely no reason to completely overwhelm the fresh fruit with sugar!

Obviously, it was time for me to get jammin!


The first thing I did was slice a bunch of apricots – since they’re small, I basically cut them in half, removed the pits, and then cut each half in half again.

Don’t bother trying to compost the pits – you’ll dump them in the composter, then next spring, when you spread it on the garden, they’ll still be there in their original form, and you’ll toss them.  You may as well just save yourself the extra step.

I ultimately ended up using about 4½ cups of pitted, sliced apricots and about 3½ cups of sugar.  You’ll note that that’s significantly less sugar than the traditional recipe calls for.  But since we’re not depending on the pectin+sugar reaction, well, I can just use as much or as little sugar as I want, can’t I?



Apricots, like their brethren  Peaches and Nectarines, need a little acid to help keep them from turning brown – so in addition to the basic lemon juice (I squeezed about half a lemon), I also had an orange knocking around the fridge, so I squeezed that in as well.  And I zested it, too – what’s not to love about zesty preserves?  Besides, the orange would add a little extra character to the apricots!

Stir together the fruit, sugar and any add-ins (you’re only limited by your imagination – within reason!) in a fairly decent-sized saucepan.  I like to use my stainless dutch oven – it’s big enough to contain the boiling sugar, yet easy enough to clean when we’re done.

PhotobucketBring the mixture to a boil and simmer gently until it starts to darken and get thicker, stirring regularly.

Seriously, this is going to take at least a couple of hours, so don’t make any plans for a while . . .

You’ll start with a basic, well, apricot color, then, as it cooks down, the color will darken and become richer.  Still in the “apricot” family, to be sure, but, well, if you compare the final product to some leftover fresh fruit (without having to fuss with light and flash and balance and all that other camera-y stuff), you’ll see!

The fruit will break down almost completely – that’s OK.  If you want whole fruits, well, maybe you should be trying freezer jam!  Seriously, it will still be plenty chunky, just not so much the discrete slices of fruit we started with.  All the better to spread on toast . . .

PhotobucketYour jam will be done when you stir it with a spoon and it thickly coats the back of the spoon.  This is NOT quite done, though it’s getting there.

PhotobucketRemember in math class, we had to “check our work”?  Well, to check and confirm this was done (enough), I had previously placed a small dish in the freezer.  I just spooned a bit into the dish and let it quick-cool – otherwise it’s really hard to tell how thick molten sugar is actually going to be!  This was a little on the thin side, which, given that I didn’t use any added pectin AND I cut the amount of sugar way back AND I’ll most likely be using the preserves primarily as an ingredient (as opposed to with peanut butter) AND I was running late for an appointment (Remember how I said not to make any plans?  This is why!), I decided I could live with it!  (In hindsight, a little more sugar probably would have resolved this.)

PhotobucketI ladled the boiling preserves into jars and lidded them, and, well, Bob’s your uncle!  Since this was such a small batch (2 and a half pints altogether), and I really was going to be late if I didn’t get a move on, I didn’t bother with the whole USDA recommended water bath method.  I gave one jar away, and the rest is in the fridge, where it’ll be fine!

So there it is – my very first non-enhanced preserves!  And I think I’m seeing a batch of English muffins in the near future.

I’m submitting this to Home-Ec101.com’s Fearless Fridays because, well, it’s PRESERVES!  With NO PECTIN!  YAY!!!!

Be sure to visit Heather and Ivy for some fun tips and all-around great information and to see what other new things people are working on.



1. Melinda - August 27, 2009

oh ALMOST got me there. when it was just mini-James, James and myself we would make jams never could keep them in the house it seems James family would come knocking on my door as soon as they jam was settled,maybe i will give it a try later next month you have inspired me!! the boys and i might find some place to pick fruit in the next couple of Sundays maybe…..
but i think my next big project might be tamales, if i can find some fools, i mean friends that want to go in with me. and my nephew to bring me some venison.

– You know, you could probably have some preserves just simmering on the back of the stove while you’re making tamales. And who knows, if you tell your tamale buddies, that just might (ahem) sweeten the pot! 😆

Tell you what – you make tamales and send some to me, and I’ll make some English muffins and send them to you. Mmmmm. . . tamales! 😉

2. sjbraun - August 30, 2009

Love the way you write, because as I read I’ll think of something, and then I swear you usually address it in the very next sentence 🙂 For instance – wishing jams/jellies didn’t have so much sugar … composting the pits only to find them totally unmolested 6 months later in the garden …. etc. I’m so impressed that you even found the desire to try making jam without pectin, but I suppose that’s what you do when the kids are grown up, right? It looks wonderful, btw.

– Hi, SJ, and thanks! You’re too kind. . .

I’ve got to admit about the jam without pectin thing, though – it’s as much about “if THEY (whoever “they” are) can do it, there’s got to be no reason I can’t!” Years and years ago, I experimented with a pectin called “Pomona’s Universal Pectin” – it basically worked with a combination of the fruit’s own pectin and whatever amount of sugar you used; as I recall, the directions were a combination of charts and formulas. . . it wasn’t quite an unqualified success (rubber sour cherry preserves come to mind!) but it was a great way to lower the amount of sugar – it just kind of made my brain hurt when I had a small Surly Boy running around. 😕

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