If you’ve been noodling around in this blog, you’ve noticed that when the fresh fruit comes on the market in the good old summertime, I’m making jams at least once a week. It’s simply what I do. I haven’t bought a jar of jam in so many years, well, I can’t remember how long it’s been. Making my own works on a number of levels for me - it’s a creative endeavor, it gives us a far superior product that can’t be replicated on a mass market model, and provides a stock of ready to go gifts in a pinch.
New to my neighborhood? Expect a few jars of jam. Christmas? Expect jam. Feeling blue? How about some toast and jam?
So, why then, is this post titled ‘Confiture’?
Pretty simple, actually. I quit making jams - the American way - with pectins and more sugar a few years ago; taking up the French method, instead. That means simply cooking fruit, sugar and lemon juice in a nice copper pot until it thickens. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the pectin method - except that it really got in the way of making jams the way I wanted, with the ingredients I wanted, rather than some fussy recipe. And, trying to get the pectin in at the right time, before or after the boil, and getting things to thicken consistently - well, it was just stupid.
The French method gives me amazing latitude with ingredients - without as much sugar by weight. I can use sugar or honey. Toss in some herbs or spices. Liquors? Of course! And I cook the product until it’s thick enough. Nearly 40 years of experience making jam gives you a ‘feel’ for that.
One of the other delightful aspects of making confiture is passing the tradition along to others. I’ve actually taught several friends to make their own jams, marmalades and such in my kitchen.
I digress. Now I’d like you to make some confiture.
It’s not really very difficult or expensive. You don’t absolutely need the copper pots. They are nice, and I recommend them to produce a nicer product - once you really get the hang of it and really get into this. The beauty of the copper is the wide top - which allows for faster evaporation during the cooking process - and the even heating. That means no burnt spots on the bottom of the pot and the faster cooking means not having to cook the life out of your beautiful fruit. But to start? Just get yourself a good quality pot with a heavy bottom. A good quality stainless steel soup pot will work. That’s what I used for a very long time.
Go to the farmers market and select some good fruit. Yesterday, I told my husband that it was time to get the apricots - as they aren’t available but for a short time in June and into July. Away we went, and I want to tell you that when you’re going to make a big batch of jam, bargain. Don’t pay the going price per pound. You need more fruit - and this is the time to negotiate. My apricots were marked $3.00 per pound. I asked how much I needed to buy to get the fruit for less - in this case it was $2.50 per pound for 10 pounds and over. Sometimes, if you can buy a case or box, you can get it down even less. Peaches are a obvious choice for this. But, I came home with about 12 pounds of apricots.
When selecting fruit for jam, appearance isn’t your first criteria. I’m selecting fruit that is intact - without obvious bad spots - but intentionally picking fruit that is across the ripeness spectrum. The more ripe that fruit is - the more flavor and color. The less ripe? It has more naturally occuring pectin for gelling. And the thing about apricots - they really aren’t the most flavorful fruit to eat out of hand, but oh la la when they are cooked! You can take a so-so apricot and cook it, and it becomes something wonderful.
And vanilla pairs with apricot like bees and honey. It’s a natural.
You need the following to make confiture:/jam two heavy pots - one for cooking the jam and the other for ‘processing’ the jam filled jars. We’ll talk about ‘processing’ in a moment. A ladle. A good long-handled wooden spoon. Some basins or bowls for prepping fruit, weighing ingredients. Measuring spoons. Metal soup spoons in the freezer - cold. A canning funnel to fill jars with. Canning Tongs to grip the jars - to put them into and out of the hot water processing bath without burning yourself. Jars and new lids. A paring knife. Paper towels. Hot pads.
I recommend measuring solid or dry ingredients by weight. It’s far easier and more accurate. And I also suggest using grams/kilograms. Again, it’s far easier to measure ratios of sugar to fruit ( I use 50% to 65% sugar to fruit, by weight, as a general rule of thumb). Measuring is what you will do - instead of using a ‘recipe’. So try to beg, borrow, buy or steal a kitchen scale with a Tare measurement function - Tare is where you can zero out the measurements as you add ingredients.
What do I mean by ‘processing’? That means putting the filled, capped jars of confiture/jam into a large pot of boiling water - and then ‘processing‘/cooking it for 15 minutes. This is how you ensure a good vacuum seal of the lid, and ultimately a safe product that will last on the pantry shelf for at least one year. When you remove the jars from the water bath and set them out on a table to cool, you will begin to hear the ‘POP’ of each lid. That’s how you know the seal is successful. The center ‘button’ of a canning lid will draw in - concave, and you won’t be able to push on it and have it spring back out. Tap on the lid with a spoon, and the sound will be higher pitch ‘ring’. When you open a correctly sealed jar lid, you’ll hear a sharp sound like a ‘pop’. Here is a nice little graphic of how to test your jar seal.
Here’s an important safety note: Never, not ever, re-use the liners in two-piece canning lids. Always use new ones. The same goes for one piece lids. The chance of a bad seal, and a jar going ‘bad’ just isn’t worth the pennies for a brand new lid.
Successful canning is also dependent upon setting up your workspace intelligently. Mise-en-place in the French culinary tradition! Everything in it’s place and ready to go. If you are hunting around for a necessary tool or ingredient during the process, you risk scorching or other mistakes.
Once you have it all rounded up - your equipment and ingredients - it’s time to go to work prepping your fruit.
As you can see, I get these handy plastic basins from my local restaurant supply house. They come in handy for many cooking tasks and are a real neat item to have. I also pull out a smaller one to catch all the trimmings and scraps - making it easier to toss them into the compost or the trash. The fruit just got a good bath in the sink.
Because I want a finished product that is smooth and spreadable, I got the food processor involved. Just a few pulses is fine. If you like it chunkier, don’t do this step, but stone fruits like apricots aren’t going to cook down quite as readily as say, raspberries, for example.
Now we get to the measuring part. I had nearly five kilograms of fruit - pitted and pulsed. So that meant about this much sugar - just about 65% sugar to fruit by weight. Using this method means that you don’t have to worry about getting just a certain amount of fruit - get what you can, or use what you get off the tree. Whatever X number of boxes of raspberries from Costco weighs, is what you will use. Figure the sugar accordingly by weight.
Then you will need lemon juice. You will always want to put the juice of at least one fresh - never, ever bottled lemon juice! - into each batch. What you are seeing above is two batches. It takes too long to cook that much at once, and would overcook the fruit. So I used the juice of two whole lemons.
When you’ve got your fruit, lemon juice and sugar all mixed together, it’s time to pour a batch into your cooking pot. Now is when you can add those special ingredients - in this case a vanilla bean paste. I added about two tablespoons to the batch. Always taste your way through recipes like this! Flavors are never the same - but are dependent on the variety of fruit used, its ripeness and other factors. So more or less will be needed. And remember, the cooled product tastes a little more muted than when it’s hot. This means being a little more assertive with the flavors.
Cooking until you have a good ‘set’ is part of the art of making confiture/jam. There are a couple ways to do it: by temperature, using a candy thermometer (which I’ve always found annoying), or having several metal spoons or small plates in the freezer. When the mixture has cooked to the point that it’s starting to feel thick - I start testing with the frozen spoons. Put a bit into a spoon, and set it in the fridge for about five minutes. Drawing your finger through the chilled sample, you’ll know when it’s thick enough for you. And, the chilled mixture won’t run when you tip the spoon sideways - it might come off in a ‘blop’ but not drippy runny.
Here’s a graphic to illustrate the jelling point. If you are new to making confiture, don’t stress out over getting this ‘just right’. There is no ‘just right’. There’s only what you like. And, shoot, if it turns out that it’s a little runny, big deal. Drizzle it into yogurt or over ice cream, use it as a base for a sauce or vinaigrette dressing, glaze chicken or fish with it, serve it along side cheese and prepare to accept kudos anyway.
One last point - the jars. I used good old Mason or Kerr jars with the two-piece rings and lids for a million years. They’re just fine. Until you really get into this thing and want something a little classier. Then I discovered SKS bottles and jars. I happen to like the clear glass oval hex jars - with black lids which I think are richer looking than the gold. The 3-3/4 ounce jars are perfect. I also use the 6 ounce. The folks at SKS are really nice, and will be happy to help and answer your questions.
Here are some additional resources and links for making jam and confiture:
Fresh, healthy, fast and easy: Strawberry jam from the maven
If you want the added pectin method, try this from the maven - Summertime in a jar: A step by step guide to making homemade jam .
Cantalope jam is summertime harvest at its best from the maven
Bacon Apple Jam from the maven
Jam I Am: A Lifelong Sticky Obsession from the maven
Carrot Confiture: C’est si Bonne from the maven
California Cook: Making Jam in small batches (with big pleasure) Los Angeles Times
SKS Jars - a wondeful selection of jars for jams and confiture
Mauviel Copper pans at Amazon, although I recommend you search around for better deals like on eBay.
Kuchinprofi canning funnel is the absolute BEST I’ve ever used, and works flawlessly with the smaller jar openings of the SKS jars and bottles.
My favorite book on confiture is Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber