Although the oranges my father sent weren’t the Sevilles I anticipated, I found a place where I could order some, and promptly did so. While I waited for my order to ship, I began to research marmalade recipes, and of course the internet has many to offer. The internet also has Amazon, which has books on jam-making, and as you peruse the titles, helpfully suggests other books and even jam-making supplies.
This is how I discovered that there are special pans just for jam-making, made in France. Since Christmas was still in the air – in spite of its fire-hazard status, our tree had not yet come down – I ordered one last gift, for myself. Since I made quite a lot of jam last year, most of which was gifted to others at Christmas, it seemed like a Christmassy thing to do.
Having spent a tidy sum on the pan, I didn’t buy any of Amazon’s cookbook recommendations. Instead, I reserved three titles at our local library: The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, Blue Chair Cooks with Jam & Marmalade, and The River Cottage Preserves Handbook.
The books arrived a few days later; two massive volumes, alongside one small, rather modest one. The Blue Chair books are so big they don’t fit in my cookbook holder, nor leave any work space when lying open on the counter. They are, however, filled with glorious photographs of fruit, and orchards, and the author, wandering wistfully among the fruit trees in an orchard.
The photographs don’t interest me, of course; I’m looking for recipes, and there are many, and they are detailed, and though the ingredients don’t contain too many surprises – fruit + sugar = jam – the technique employed is a marvel of detail, requiring three days to make each batch of jam.
I wouldn’t necessarily mind taking three days to do nothing except wander in an orchard and make jam, but according to the author of River Cottage Preserves, as well as my own jam-making experience, I don’t actually have to: just a few hours will do the job.
That said, I did pick at least some of the fruit involved, though it wasn’t in an orchard, it was on the campus of the college near my house, sections of which are overgrown with blackberry bushes. I filled my freezer with bags of berries in August, something I may not be able to do again, as the college recently bulldozed the blackberry bushes, leaving behind a wide swath of mud and a number of homeless bunnies.
Making jam – or in this case, fruit butter – in a pan designed expressly for that purpose is a hypnotic experience. The pan is wide and shallow, with sides that flare out, all of which is intended to increase the speed of evaporation and reduce the cooking time, resulting in a fresher tasting jam. I was a little skeptical that a pan could make that much of a difference, but once the berries and apples got started, the steam coming off the pan was something to behold – rapid evaporation, indeed, but also rather beautiful to watch.
I’ve always liked apple butter, though often I am disappointed when I buy a jar – dull color and flavors can be somewhat dispiriting, especially in the dark days of winter. Adding blackberries creates a butter with a bright, lively flavor and a regal purple color. The house smells like Christmas as it cooks.
I used honeycrisp apples, but any good baking apple will work. I accidentally increased the amount of sugar the original recipe called for, but the final result was a slightly more firm butter with wonderful spreadability and a very smooth texture, so I wouldn’t change it.
- 2¼ lbs blackberries
- 1 lb, 2 oz cored cooking apples (no need to peel them)
- 2½ cups apple cider
- 7 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp cloves
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- white sugar
- Cut the apples into fairly large pieces, trimming away and bruised or bad bits. Place in a pan with the blackberries, cider, lemon juice, and 2½ cups water. Bring to a boil and cook gently, until the liquid is greatly reduced and the apples are very soft.
- Run the fruit mixture through a food mill into a bowl, and clean out your jam-cooking pan. Measure the volume of fruit pulp and return it to the jam pan (I had five cups). Add ⅔ cups of sugar for each cup of fruit pulp, along with the cinnamon and cloves. Slowly bring to a boil, then simmer until the mixture begins to sputter and is very thick. Stir frequently to avoid scorching.
- Remove from the heat and pour into sterilized jars. Put lids on the jars and process in boiling water for 15 minutes. Let cool completely, and use within a year.