It’s Summer Jam Season—Here’s How to Make the Most of It

Strawberries, cherries, peaches, and more are all ripe for the picking.

June 29, 2021
Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

We’ve teamed up with our friends at All-Clad to bring you Pans With a Plan—a series sharing smart techniques, tasty recipe ideas, and all sorts of handy tips for cooking novices and seasoned pros alike. Here, food writer and recipe developer Posie Brien shares her top tips for making summer jams, with a little help from All-Clad’s D3® Stainless 8-Quart Stockpot.

If you ask me, produce—specifically, fruit—is the real star of summer. I wait all year long for ripe peaches and crimson cherries at the farmer’s market, their juice dribbling down my fingers with each bite. I'll buy as many nectarines and plums as I can carry home without bruising any, and I eat blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries by the handful. But what I most look forward to are summer jams.

Making jam feels like a sneaky magic trick to me. It’s as if you’ve been able to freeze time and capture the pure, intense flavor of ripe summer fruit in a jar. Best of all, it’s an easy (and family-friendly!) cooking project. You can take two approaches with your jam-making: Quick and simple freezer or refrigerator jams, which are stored for shorter periods of time without canning; or preserved jams, which require you to go through the canning process (it’s more work, but canned jams will keep for a year, so you can savor the taste of summer all winter long).

With summer in full swing, now is the time to jam out—here are a few things to keep in mind when making your own, plus a few ideas to try.

Maximize the Flavor of the Fruit

When you have such exquisite produce to work with, you’ll want to highlight it at its peak, taking care not to overpower the flavors of the fruit. I like to emphasize flavors that complement the fruit rather than overshadow it, like delicate herbs and spices or a bit of citrus (anything from grapefruit to lemon to yuzu).

Here are a few ideas:

  • Peaches + Rosemary
  • Raspberries + Tarragon
  • Blueberries + Strawberries + Basil
  • Sour Cherry + Lime
  • Blackberries + Thyme
  • Apricot + Lavender

There’s More to Jam Than Just Toast

Once you’ve made your jam, don’t feel like you have to stick to just toast or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jam is an incredibly versatile ingredient and can (and should) be the star of all sorts of summer meals.

The Right Equipment Is Key

The key to making a great jam is to go low and slow—it’s crucial that you let the fruit soften and develop flavor without burning. To that end, you want to use a very sturdy and high-quality pot here. All-Clad’s D3® Stainless collection stockpots are tri-ply, with two stainless steel outer layers and an aluminum core; they conduct heat quickly and maintain that heat at an even distribution, so you won’t run the risk of your jam burning in any hot spots.

Use a big pot, too: I like an 8-quart (even for small batches of jam) because the mixture is going to boil and bubble much more than you think. You’ll need to keep a close eye on it no matter what size pot you’re using, but make sure you have plenty of space for the fruit to do its thing.

Let’s Jam

If you’re familiar with making jam, the first question you’ll probably ask is: pectin or no pectin? Well, it depends. Different fruits vary in levels of pectin; some fruits naturally have high pectin levels, and will set up into a firm jam easily. Other fruits don’t have much, so adding some pectin will help achieve a good texture. If you prefer a softer, runnier jam, skip the pectin regardless.

If you’re not using pectin (which I prefer for simplicity’s sake), you need to rely on time to thicken your jam. You’ll boil your jam low and slow—sometimes it can take up to an hour to get to the right consistency.

The best way to check if your jam is ready is with the freezer test: Pop a small plate in the freezer when you start making your jam. When you think the jam might be ready, grab the plate and dollop a small spoonful onto it, turning the plate sideways. If the jam runs down it easily, it’s too thin. If it slooooowly slides down the surface of the plate, it’s ready.

Once your jam is good to go, you can choose to store it in the fridge or freezer for the short-term (because of course you’re going to use it right away!), or you can opt to can it for longer preservation. If you go that route, follow careful instructions.

My Favorite Summer Jam

Of all the jams, I like cherry jam best for how well it works in so many applications: Spoon it over vanilla ice cream, add a layer of it to strawberry shortcakes, swirl it into banana bread batter, thin it with water and brush it over chicken thighs before grilling—there’s really nothing it can’t do. To take it up a notch, I like to add lime juice and lime zest to the fruit, which adds a beautiful brightness without the intense tartness of lemon. But no matter what type of jam you make, it’s sure to be one sweet summer.

What’s your favorite summer jam? Tell us in the comments!

In partnership with All-Clad we're bringing you tips, techniques, and lots of delicious recipe ideas for every piece of cookware in your kitchen—from sauté pans to slow cookers. Need to stock up on some new cooking equipment, or upgrade your current collection? All-Clad’s D3® Stainless collection has all the essentials you need to turn out a variety of dishes.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.