Growing up on my grandparents' farm, I learned at an early age that preserving summer's bounty was a way of life—a time-consuming way of life. We would spend days picking, cleaning, and chopping fruit. Next came hours over a hot stove making jam and sterilizing jars. But all that work was worth it, when long after we had forgotten the flavor of a fresh peach, strawberry, or fig, we opened one of those jewel-colored jars and vividly recalled the taste of summer.
Since then, I have discovered another, easier way to get that sunny flavor in the middle of winter: freezer jams. Unlike traditional canned jam, these preserves do not require long days of preparation, exact cooking times (or any cooking at all sometimes), sterilizing jars, and hours of time.
All that's needed is fresh ripe fruit, clean jars, sugar, and pectin to help the jam set. Since freezer jams use much less sugar and often are uncooked, they look and taste more like fresh ripe fruit than conventional jam. They're versatile, too. Enjoy them on toast for breakfast, of course, but they're also delicious spooned over yogurt or ice cream for dessert or stirred into a sauce for a roasted pork loin or chicken.
There are only a few things to keep in mind before starting in order to get the best-tasting results. First, since the fruit will not be cooked, make sure it is perfectly ripe—the jam is only going to be as good as the fruit used. Also make sure to use the right kind of pectin; otherwise the jam won't set. All fruit contains pectin, some more than others, and it is the combination of the fruit's natural pectin and acid along with added sugar that causes jam to set after it has been cooked to 220°F. Because freezer jams aren't cooked and use less sugar, the fruit's natural pectin needs to be boosted with commercial pectin, which is available in most supermarkets.
There are two main types of commercial pectin: regular pectin, which needs to be boiled with the sugar and water in order to set, and "no cook" pectin that is designed specifically for uncooked freezer jams. While the great thing about these jams is the ability to control the amount of sugar, it's important to remember that the less sugar you use, the less firm the jam will be. The directions on most boxes of pectin advise using the exact amount of sugar recommended, or the jam will not set properly. This is simply a matter of taste; I prefer to have a jam that is a little runnier and a lot lower in sugar. The main thing to remember is to stir the pectin into the sugar thoroughly or it will clump together.
I made two types of luscious freezer jam last summer. The first one requires no cooking and takes only about 15 minutes from start to finish. The second requires just a little cooking in order to infuse the flavors of vanilla, lavender, or rosemary into the sugar before it is stirred into the crushed fruit.
Both were simple, delicious, and unlike anything I could ever get at the store. Unfortunately, I ran out a few months ago, but it's almost time to make a few more batches. I can't wait.
Try these No-Cook Freezer Jam recipes: