For the dirtbag Laura Ingalls Wilder in all of us
It happens to all of us. We get that wooden box of blushing farmers market peaches home to discover that there is that one at the bottom that is all mushed and sad. You send your kids off to camp with a colorful mix of Ranier and Bing cherries to find them after dinner, untouched in the lunchboxes, having baked all day in their plastic containers because today was the surprise ice cream social and ice cream trumps fruit every time. You open the crisper drawer to discover those two plums you thought were gone had just been hiding behind the grapefruit and are now all wrinkly and trying to embrace their inner prune. The last half-pint of strawberries all have those unattractive pale pink bruises.
Never fear; it is a waste-not-want-not time of year because the saddest, bruisiest, mushiest fruit is usually the best fruit for jam.
I can hear you now saying, ”I’m not getting all involved in jam. Hours of boiling and temping and sterilizing jars, I’m not Laura Ingalls Wilder up in here.” And you are so right. If conserving and preserving is not your, um, jam, but you don’t want to keep throwing away fruit, let me free you: You can make mini-batch fast jam. By mini, I mean mini. As little as half a cup of chopped past-its-prime fruit can be made into jam. And by fast, I mean usually less than 20 minutes all-in.
How does this magic happen? Well, first off, this is not a preserved jam for your pantry, this is a jam that you store immediately in the fridge where it would last up to a month if it weren’t so delicious that it will be gone within the week. If you aren’t preserving, you don’t have to sterilize anything, you don’t even have to store it in glass, Tupperware will do just fine.
This isn’t a jam that requires you get all sciencey, because you don’t really care if it jells. No pectin measuring, no candy thermometer, no chilled plate in the freezer. This is a loose, slumpy jam that can ooze over ice cream or swirl easily into yogurt as well as glaze your toast or glisten your biscuit.
Even better, it’s not a recipe, it’s a ratio, and the easiest ratio possible. One to flipping one. On your worst day you can remember that. I’m not even going to give it to you in recipe format, I’m just going to explicate.
Take your bunged-up fruit, give it a wash, inspect for mold (there is no saving that stuff, you’re not making penicillin), and chop it up in smallish chunks, no peeling necessary, and dump it into a measuring cup. How much do you have? Half a cup, two-thirds of a cup, a full cup? Great. That is how much sugar you are going to need. Easy, right?
Measure out your sugar and set it aside. Put your fruit into a small saucepan, deep is better, for spattering sake. Add a tablespoon or two of water. Put the heat on medium high and bring to a boil. Stir in all the sugar. Bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let boil, stirring frequently, until it gets thicker and drips off your spoon in a sheet. It should look, well, jammy. The fruit chunks swimming in a very thick syrup, think molasses or corn syrup consistency. This will take about 15-20 minutes depending on how big a batch you are making, super tiny will go faster, if you had over a cup of fruit, it will take a bit longer.
When it gets to a good consistency, you can dribble in a little squeeze of juice if you have a lemon or lime or even grapefruit lying about, but it isn’t necessary. Let it cool for 5 minutes off-heat while you find an appropriately sized container. Make sure if you are using plastic that it is microwave-safe, that means it won’t melt with the hot jam. Carefully pour your jam into its new home, this is hot sugar and will burn like the dickens if you get it on yourself. Pop on the lid and let cool to room temperature on your counter, and then refrigerate.
That’s it. One plum makes about half a cup of jam, enough for one round of toast for a family of four or two generous PB&Js. One large peach makes about a cup of jam. And a half-pint of berries or cherries can make nearly two cups of jam. So, stop feeding your waste bin and start feeding yourself.