Here’s the thing about making jam from scratch—it’s lovely in principle, although not often likely in reality. It’s not the act of preserving that’s hard. It’s the notion of putting up preserves that can give us pause. The sterilizing of all those jars. The worrying about the seal taking—or not. The potential of scrubbing jam splatters off the ceiling.
And so rather than go without, some of us cheat. We make a small batch of whatever flavor we fancy at that moment, then flirt with danger, keeping it close at hand in the fridge in an unsealed, unsterilized, unthinkably handy little container. The batch lasts just long enough—a few weeks, perhaps—before we grow tired of any particular flavor.
The beauty of this is that you don’t need a special recipe. Any reliable preserves can be easily adapted, as we’ve done here with the strawberry jam recipe from cookbook author Tessa Kiros. Just simmer and ladle. Recipes that make a modest amount are preferrable. As Kiros notes, “It’s incredibly easy to make. It’s not necessary to make a supply for the whole year and the whole neighborhood—although wouldn’t that be nice?” Um, in theory, perhaps.
Some of those who’d stumbled upon this surreptitious summer act dubbed it the very telling yet rather clunky “refrigerator jam.” That changed with the publication about a decade ago of a charming cookbook whose title now eludes me. It bestowed the consummate title on our little trick: Instant Gratification Jam. (Editor’s Note: If anyone has a book they suspect to be the same—a small, slender, squarish book with, I think, a blue cover—we’d be grateful if you left a comment, although please note that many other, lesser books have since stolen the title for their own purposes.) —Renee Schettler Rossi
Beyond Toast Note: This is great dolloped onto pancakes or homemade white or brown bread and can also be used to sandwich together a simple sponge cake. I love it spooned into tiny sweet tart shells with another miniature dollop of whipped cream on the top. If you like you can make this with some bits of strawberry in, but you can easily tweak it to make it all smooth.—Tessa Kiros
3 1/2 cups strawberries (try to find the small ones, which have more flavor than the large ones), rinsed and hulled
1 cup superfine sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Special Equipment: 4 ounce jelly jars (optional) or other small resealable containers
1. Quarter the strawberries or, if they are large, cut them up into smaller chunks. Place them in a non-aluminum bowl, add the sugar and lemon juice, and toss them around to distribute everything evenly. Cover and let them rest overnight in the fridge to draw out the berries’ juices.
2. The next day, drain off all the liquid from the strawberries into a large heavy-bottomed jam pan or wide saucepan. Add half of the strawberries and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently until the juices are thickened somewhat, about 15 minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes.
3. Transfer the strawberry mixture in the pan to the blender and purée until smooth or pulse if you prefer your jam quite chunky. Return the mixture to the pan, add the rest of the strawberries, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes more. To test if the jam is ready, drop a heaping teaspoonful onto a plate and slightly tilt the plate. The jam should not run off, but cling and slowly glide down. If the jam isn’t ready, put it back on the heat for a while. It should be a lovely red hue and look quite sticky.
4. Spoon the jam into small jars and refrigerate or spoon into resealable plastic containers and freeze. You need to keep it in the fridge and use it up fairly quickly.
Raspberry Jam: You can make raspberry jam like this, too. Just pass it through a fine sieve to get rid of the seeds.
Canning Tip: If you wish instead to actually can the jam, don’t let us deter you. Be sure to sterilize your jars before you have a panful of hot jam ready to put up.
1. Preheat the oven to 250°F (121°C).
2. It is always best to use several small jars, rather than one or two big ones. Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water, or in the dishwasher, and rinse well in hot water. Then place the jars and the lids on a baking sheet for at least 20 minutes, or until you are ready to use them. Don’t use a dish towel to dry them. They should dry thoroughly in the oven.
3. When the jam is ready, spoon it into the warm sterilized jars and close the lids tightly. Turn the jars upside down, cover with a dish towel, and let stand until completely cool. This creates a vacuum that can be seen with the lid. Turn upright and store in a cool dark place.