When I lived in New York's Hudson Valley, my perfect summer day included hitting up my favorite farm stand and collecting all kinds of fruit, so I could take it back to my tiny little apartment and turn it into jam. Marisa McClellan’s blog Food in Jars was my bible, and I owned every annual copy of the Ball Blue Book. It didn’t take long for this hobby to take over my whole life; after all, I lived alone. Pretty much everyone in my life was getting canned goods as gifts. Once, when my brother came to visit, he looked all over my entertainment center for a DVD and only found row after row of jams and pickles, crammed in as tight as I could fit them.
Since moving closer to New York City, I don’t preserve as much. When I do, it’s rarely in large batches. Instead, I make just one or two jars of something when I have some fruit really worth preserving (or, more often, when I have something excellent that’s teetering on the edge of spoilage). I often don’t mess with proper canning at all, opting to just refrigerate the preserves and enjoy them within a few weeks, or freezing them to bring out when I need a reminder of summer come December. When I’m particularly lazy, I turn to the easiest jam making method I know, what I’ve come to call roasted jam or sheet pan jam. This is a jam so simple, adaptable, and pretty much hands-off that you can even make it the morning while your toast toasts or your biscuits bake and enjoy it that same day.
To make this jam, just toss your fruit of choice on a sheet tray with a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and any other flavorings you might want to add (a pinch of salt, some dried spices, some vanilla bean seeds, a splash of booze, that sort of thing). Let it macerate and get a little juicy, then put it in the oven for a bit of a roast. The oven time concentrates and thickens the juices, and also softens the fruit.
When it comes out of the oven, I like to use a potato masher to mash it all up, then I scrape the mixture into a jar and let it cool.
The best part of this technique is the ease, but I also love that it allows me to add much less sugar and still create a jam-like product (note: less sugar does mean it can have a shorter shelf life, but it still keeps in the fridge for up to 1 month and freezes nicely). I also love the ability to use fruit at any stage, even under-ripe fruit, because the roasting process really intensifies the flavors on even mediocre produce.
A Perfect Vehicle For All That Jam
Best of all, it can be done with pretty much any fruit, in just about any quantity. I’ve done it with just a couple handfuls of overripe berries, and also with just a few bruised plums. You can easily adjust the amount of sugar to the type of fruit and level of sweetness, really tweaking it to your tastes. You can keep the flavor really simple, just using fruit, sugar, and lemon juice, which creates a really lovely jam with pure fruit flavor. Or you can get creative and add what moves you. I love the way vanilla beans intensify the flavor of blueberries, and I often add a splash of amaretto and a few pinches of cinnamon to peaches. Also, side bonus: Kids really love helping mash the fruit on the tray.
- 3 pounds (1.36 kg) fruit of choice, not peeled, pits/stems removed, and sliced or chopped (can be overripe, underripe, or perfect – doesn’t matter!)
- 3/4 cup (149 g) granulated sugar (can be more or less, depending on how your fruit tastes)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 handful flavorings (such as a few pinches of salt or dried spices, vanilla bean seeds, a splash of booze, etc.)
What’s your favorite easy way to use up ripe summer fruit? Share your preservation tips with us in the comments!