Jejune to jazzy: How jam jarred me.

This past summer I found myself standing on wet gravel in a ramshackle shelter housing fresh vegetables and a stack of Yoder’s preserves. I was in lush rural West Virginia for the first time visiting a transplanted friend. She picked up a jar of blackberry jam and asked me a question that I didn’t quite know how to answer.

“Do you like jam?”

“Uh…sure.” I guess I didn’t…not like jam. It’s jam. You smear it on bread to make peanut butter taste better. It makes toast go down without sticking. You know, jam. It always tastes like overcooked fruit goo, whether it’s expensive “gourmet” pomegranate ginger jam or grape jelly on sale at the drugstore. My friend bought me the blackberry jam and assured me that it was good. I accepted the gift with no inkling of the danger hidden in that innocuous purple goop.

[Pictured: Asian pear jelly with specks of Tahitian vanilla bean]

Asian Pear Jelly

Last month I finally tasted the jam, which was more of a cross between a jam and a jelly. The vibrant color, soft set, and rich flavor didn’t change me overnight. Even Rome wasn’t built in a day. But several days later, my toaster seemed exhausted and my syrup looked forlorn when I ignored it to spread the jam on waffles. Still, I didn’t suspect anything was wrong until I started topping blueberry muffins with the blackberry jam, which was not only excessive, but insulting to the blueberries. I’d become desperate—desperate for an excuse to eat this jam without spooning it into directly into my face, or worse, throwing back my head and letting the whole jar empty into my gullet. I’m so glad that I ran out of jam before I ran out of bread, otherwise I might have started putting it on corn tortillas. Good jam rules!


I took a pile of ripe Concord grapes and made my own jam for the first time. It wouldn’t set up, so I cooked it for a loooong time, then added pectin “just in case.” It ended up too sweet, extremely overcooked, and far too firm. Yet that screwed up jam still blew away every grape jam or jelly that I’d ever tasted before. I learned an important fact: Even bad homemade jam tastes better than most store jam.

Was it psychological? Maybe the knowledge that the Amish or I and not Mrs. Smuck, Mr. Polaner, or Ms. Goober had made the jam made it taste better. To test this theory, I bought three different local and/or Amish jams from the farmer’s market, all labeled “homemade,” and opened all of them at the same time to taste straight. Not only did those jams not rule, they didn’t even quality for minor administrative posts in the culinary kingdom. Clearly something else was at work. My guess is superior fruit and love. Love makes everything taste better.

This has ruined me. Absolutely ruined me. Until I find a better source for jam, I either have to special order from Yoder’s or make it myself. Other jams won’t cut it anymore.

Grape Jam[Pictured: How much is that jam in the window? Annie’s eternal jamnation!]

My most recent effort, pictured above, is an Asian pear jelly with Tahitian vanilla bean, a variation of a pear preserve recipe. Asian pears give up a lot of liquid, more so than regular pears apparently, so I actually ended up with three jars of preserves and four jars of jelly. My instinct on the flavoring was dead on. The flowery Tahitian vanilla combined with the winey pear flavor to make something subtle yet overwhelmingly flavorful. (Do those little black vanilla specks turn anyone else on?) This is my favorite preserve so far. Please don’t tell anybody that I licked the plate after the photo shoot.

I would post a recipe, but so far the preserves haven’t set up quite yet, though the jelly has. I can’t post a recipe that may not turn out, especially when it requires peeling, coring, and dicing juicy pears that squirt you in the eye for half an hour. When I get it right, I’ll post it, and I will get it right, because I made only seven jars of the stuff.

Somebody please hide the corn tortillas.


bullet Link du jour
The beautiful delicious:days hosted the September SHF: Can you can? Ironically, it came one month too early for me. Look at all those homemade jams! ::sob:: Just look at them!

30 thoughts on “Jejune to jazzy: How jam jarred me.

  1. ooohhh. That looks great. I’ve been caught by the jamming bug as well (just did a big batch of apple butter), but as its just me and my husband at home, I think my entire extended friend and family network will be getting a jam jar at christmas.

  2. being_here: Jam and cream? Those French are geniuses!

    erin: Yeah, that’s the trouble with jam, you end up with too much…if there is such a thing as too much jam.

  3. Oh yes. They really, really are.

    And It is a great way to eat jam.


    I first saw it in a recipe for tomato jam served with cream. Have nver tried this and hove now lot the recipe, but it sticks in my mind.

  4. It hit me this year too. Between all the fantastic jam recipes on all the blogs I read, and with so much fruit from trees/CSA market baskets, etc., there was nothing to do but to can it! I just finished making a small batch of fig and blueberry… and when I say small, I mean really small, because I only had 6 figs. :-)

    Your asian pear/tahitian vanilla jelly looks beautiful!

  5. jam….even when it is more like syrup it is still like manna from heaven

    your jam love is contagious, now I want more jam in my life

  6. L: Thanks! My only regret is that I didn’t discover good jam earlier. Then again, I’d probably be diabetic that much faster.

    Alanna: Thanks, I vacillated on whether to put it up for a bit. Glad you liked it.

    Kate: I was afraid of accidentally making syrup until I realized it would just be that much easier to stir into my yogurt. What a relief.

  7. “Even bad homemade jam tastes better than most store jam.”

    Amen. I made my own for the first time this summer. I used Muscadines grown in my own backyard! (Planted by my grandparents 30 or more years ago.)

  8. Oh, did it EVER! I ended up making spiced pear vanilla jam which was fabulous. I left the fruit overly chunky and it came out really “fresh” tasting because of it. I added cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and 3 cases of jars later, was finished canning the pears. I now have 4 cases of mangoes in my garage that will be canned as soon as they ripen a bit. Thanks for inspiring me, now I have the canning bug! :) I’m also planning to can fresh cranberry relish and spiced apple rings for Christmas gifts. My hubby says it’s all your fault…hehe…

  9. I wanna make jam! I do, I swear! I need to read up on canning, because I think it would make a great gift for Christmas. And I need to figure out what kind… although I’m terribly tempted by your pear and vanilla one…

  10. Jesska: That sounds awesome! Ooh, mangoes, now I need to look into doing something with those too. Tell your hubby you got your revenge, lol.

    emily: Try it! The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t set up and you end up with ice cream topping, and then that gives you an excuse to buy ice cream!

  11. krista: I’m so sorry I didn’t respond, your comment got caught in my comment spam filter for some reason. Thanks for the compliments. The site design is based on the Abstrakt3 design shown here, but I’ve changed it a great deal.

  12. Oh yes, I totally agree with you. I cannot do without store-bought jams. Besides, there are so much fun to make, and make superb gifts, don’t you think? Btw, I just discovered your blog through L’s. And I am glad. Very nice place to visit!

  13. Bea: Thanks for stopping by! I have already given some pear jelly as a gift, but I have to say that my greed for homemade jam made it kind of hard. But of course, that an excellent excuse to make so much more jam that I won’t mind giving it away.

  14. Several months ago we found a mesquite bean jelly. It was the best. Since then I have been trying to wait until the end of the summer for the mesquite beans to make from our trees. While waiting I was thinking that maybe a regular vanilla bean could be used in its place. The mesquite bean tasted a little like honey yet better.
    Any comments on vanilla bean jelly/jam.

  15. Brenda: Mesquite bean? Fascinating! Vanilla jelly would be great, although I don’t have a recipe. I definitely liked the vanilla flavor with the pears.

  16. Pear jelly recipes are hard to find. I have come across two that sound similar to what you descripe as Asian Pear Jelly with Tahitian Vanilla Beans and an accompanying pear jam that did not set:

    But it would be wonderful if you posted the recipes even if the jam didn’t set. Trust your readers to figure out a solution!

    Lovely site, thanks.

  17. Gail: Our pear crop was bad this year, so I didn’t make the preserves again, but I used the recipe from this book, p. 152-153. You should be able to pull up that recipe by using “Search inside this book” for “pear preserves.” To ensure that the jam sets with the more watery Asian pears, I would likely increase the pectin, but not sure by how much. Also, I’d stir the preserves well until they thicken slightly before filling the jars. The problem I had with my batches were that the fruit floated to the top and didn’t set but the jelly below did set well. The preserves came out far more jelly-like than preserve-like. I presume that regular pears are much more dry.

    Good luck!

  18. Jam making is the most addictive thing I’ve encountered in my 72 years. It’s like putting summer in a jar for the winter. Maybe it’s because everything else we cook is almost immediately gone that it’s such fun to cook something we can enjoy for months.

    Joy of Cooking has one of the soundest jams/jellies/preserves attitudes I’ve seen anywhere. The introductory paragraphs explaining why it won’t give recipes calling for pressure cooking/added pectin are something everyone should read.

    I’ve now made jams/butters/marmalades with (either by themselves or in combination) blackberries, blueberries, rhubarb, tart cherries, wild & cultivated strawberries, fresh & dried peaches, nectarines, Key limes, tangelos, Damson plums, apples. The only additives to some of them have been orange or lemon peel, lemon juice, a pinch of cardamom or ginger, a splash of Grand Marnier or Bailey’s Irish Cream.

    (That last was a mistake. I thought I was adding Grand Marnier but grabbed the Bailey’s instead–same shape bottle, and put a goodly splash into a rather bland pot of plum/apple butter. Everyone I’ve given it to–none of whom knew what was in it–says it is the most incredibly delicious apple butter they’ve ever tasted! :o)

    I use 1/4-1/2 cup (depending on the sweetness of the fruit) sugar for each cup of pureed fruit, use the whole fruit except for seeds, sit by the stove on a stool reading a mystery and let it pop along at a gentle simmer, stirring with a flat-bottomed wooden stirrer just enough to keep it from sticking.

    When it starts thickening up I do the blob-on-a-cold saucer thing several times, jar it in sterile jars, process for 5 minutes.

    I’ve had just two failures. The Key lime peel turned out hard as dried untanned leather. (But I just unjarred it, strained the peel out, turned it into Key lime jam that is out of this world.)

    And my Concord grape jam was like very firm rubber. I ditched it, but am trying again next week with a huge gift batch of NH grapes. This time I’ll follow a French recipe I found that warns that grape jam firms up in the jar and to only cook it until all foam disappears.

    If it doesn’t get firm enough I can always redo it. Live and learn.

  19. Hello Annie,

    I have just finished making the pear jam and pear jelly and am pleased with the results. I used three different kinds of pears: Red Bartlett, D’Anjou, and Comice. I bought 3 lbs of each. The fruit was just barely ripe but still firm. Pears contain very little natural pectin but apparently when fruit is just becoming ripe, it contains the maximum amount of pectin.

    I made the jam using the Comice pears. I peeled and cored the pears and sliced them into 8ths, dropping them into an anti-oxidant solution of 1.5 T citric acid dissolved in 2 qts cold water. They sat in this solution for about 10 minutes. It keeps the fruit from turning brown. Then I put the well drained chunks into a large pan, added 1/2″ of cold water and cooked them gently for about 15 minutes. Over-cooking also destroys pectin. I let the fruit cool and used a food mill ( to puree the fruit.

    I had previously picked some fresh lemon verbena from the garden, about 1/2 cup of clean, picked-over leaves, and steeped them in 2 cups of boiling water for about 10 minutes. I added 1/3 cup of this tea along with 2 T lemon juice, and the rind of 1 lemon, grated fine to the pureed pears. I had 4.5 cups prepared fruit in total.

    To this I added 1 package of powdered SureJell (1.75 oz) and brought the mixture to a boil in a large pan. Then I added 4.5 cups of sugar and brought the mixture back to a hard rolling boil and boiled it stirring constantly for 1 minute. Then I put the jam in clean jelly jars with 2 part lids, screwed on the caps just hand tight and processed the jam for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. I set a bit firmer than I would have liked, but is not tough or rubbery.

    I made two batches of jelly, one each using the D’Anjou and Red Bartletts separately. I did not peel or core the fruit but I did remove the stem and flower end. I cut each pear into 8 chunks, let the pieces sit in the citric acid solution for about 10 minutes, and then put the fruit in a pan with enough water to cover the fruit halfway. Then I cooked it gently for about 45 minutes. While the fruit was still pretty hot, I poured each batch into its own jelly bag set in a collander over a bowl and let them drain overnight. The next day, I squeezed out the remaining liquid into separates bowl and then filtered this through 4 ply of cheese cloth. I had about 4.5 cups of juice from each. I added 1/3 cup of the lemon verbena tea and 1/4 cup of strained lemon juice.

    This time I used MCP pectin, which has no added citric acid. The box weighs 3 oz. To each batch, I added the pectin and brought the mixture to a boil. Then I added 7 cups of sugar into which 1/8 tsp of cinnamon and 1/8 tsp of cardamom had been mixed. and brought it to a full rolling boil and kept it boiling while stirring for 2 minutes. Then I took the jelly off the heat for a minute and added 2 T of pure vanilla extract and mixed it well. There was a very little bit of foam that I scrapped off and kept to put on some yoghurt. I filled the jelly jars and processed as before. The jelly is lovely and clear. The batch from the Red Bartletts is a deep auburn and from the D’Anjou is a golden yellow. Again, they set up well, even firmer than I prefer but not rubbery or stiff.

    Now, all I have to do is affix the labels. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  20. It’sadisease: Wow, you’re a jamming machine! My concord came out rubbery too–it must have more pectin that I think.

    Gail: I’m so glad everything came out well! I’ll definitely refer to your tips if I make pear preserves again.

  21. Hello, your wild grape jelly didn’t gel because you used only ripe grapes. You have to include some green ones to get enough pectin to jell. I made some wonderful wild grape jelly without adding commercial pectin, and it set up beautifully.

  22. any news on a recipe yet?
    I’m trying my own anyway as I type, cos my pears are desperate to be cooked, but would love to know how you did it also?
    Here is to another summer gone (in Australia)

  23. My mom does jam in jars every spring. I used to love doing it, but now it’s just a little boring because I actually have to buy all the fruit instead of picking it outside on our trees… Apple jam is amazing!

Comments are closed.