-The Sound of Music
What is it with jam that it invokes such songs and smiles? Often fruity, sweet, and at its best, unctuously textured on the tongue make jam, especially strawberry balsamic jam, an easy to eat early morning treat. Spread it on biscuits, toast or stirred it into yogurt. Doctor it up with vanilla bean studded whipped cream, decadent sponge or flaky pastry and jam is elevated to a smashing dessert.
Did you know there is a museum dedicated to preserves like jam? Thanks to Georgina Regàs this is a reality. The Museu de la Confitura was the site of my virtual field trip for this post. Can’t get to Spain this summer? Neither could I! Read on! Since this post is all about highlighting my favorite summer jam, let us use the resources at this museum to find the roots of this sweet treat.
How did jam begin? The etymology of jam is quite vague, actually. This last winter, marmalade in particular was explored in depth and jam seems to be related in its beginnings. According to the Museu de la Confitura, “The word marmalade derives from the Latin melimelum which means ‘sweet apple.’ Another theory claims that the origin may be the Portuguese word marmelo, which means ‘quince jam.’ The word jam is probably related to the verb to jam, which by the early 18th century meant to ‘press tightly,’ but its origin is unknown.” Looking back in history we can find some clearer examples.
Food preservation dates back to the Paleolithic era according to the museum and as I discussed in my marmalade post, the Romans had a thing for fruit preserves. Ah, the decadence of the Roman Empire! Quince “cheese” or sliceable jam was one of the more popular preserves for some time in Europe and remains so. Come the medieval period in Europe and the soon to follow Renaissance, jam became a royal luxury as sugar was not cheap. Catherine de Medici probably had mostarda (a typical sweet and savory Italian preserve with candied fruit in a mustard flavored syrup) in her dowry when she left Italy to marry the King Henry II of France in 1533. Imagine that. “Hi, I am Catherine and I bring you jam! You really are lucky you are marrying me.” I should have a line of suitors!
One of the greatest surprises was that the well-known seer Nostradamus wrote a treatise on “confituras” (fruit preserves) in 1552, prior to his seminal work on prophesy. Among some of the recipes in his treatise were a jelly of cherries and candied orange peels. Since these are close cousins to jam, we can thus conclude that he could clearly “see” that sweet fruits were delicious!
The museum more specifically cites Queen Mary Stewart as bringing jam to Scotland in around 1560 and Voltaire even lamented in a letter how difficult it was to send jam from Geneva to the Marquise de Deffand due to a protectionist policy against foreign goods from the French confectioners. Wow! What we know as jam, started to materialize through these incarnations, at least in Europe.
As for the actual preservation element of jam or other fruit preserves such as jelly and marmalade? Nicholas François Appert, a Parisian pastry chef, is credited with heating food in closed containers in a bain-marie in 1795. When Louis Pasteur came around, his research on pasteurization provided the evidence for how this worked and why it was such a brilliant idea. Thank you, museum! I hope to visit soon.
After all that beautiful history, is our sweet tooth piqued? This strawberry balsamic jam recipe is one that has been tweaked for many years. My grandfather and mother taught me how to make strawberry freezer jam and I followed in their footsteps for many years until I took classes on water-bath canning. The balsamic was added after many trips to Italy and experiments with macerating strawberries and sugar with the vinegar for eating. Strawberry Balsamic Jam was a revelation! Adding the balsamic does not add a vinegary taste. The tartness of the balsamic elevates the fruitiness and the aging brings depth and a sophisticated smoothness to the fruit no matter when in the season it is picked. This could even be done with frozen or store bought strawberries.
This strawberry balsamic jam is my favorite jam. I make enough to last the year whenever I am around. It uses Pomona’s Pectin for two reasons. Firstly, I want to maintain the fresh berry taste and when you don’t use pectin, it needs to be cooked longer, giving depth but sacrificing freshness. Additionally, Pomona’s Pectin allows the use of less sugar, again, enhancing the fresh berry taste without being cloyingly sweet. The proportions in this jam are taken directly off the Pomona’s box, with the addition of the balsamic.
I really hope you enjoy one of my favorite recipes ever.
- 4 cups mashed strawberries
- 1 cup of sugar, divided
- 2 teaspoons calcium water
- 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Pectin powder
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- Before You Begin: Prepare your calcium water. Combine ½ teaspoon calcium powder with ½ cup water in a small jar with a lid. Shake well. Store extra calcium water in the refrigerator for future use. It is good for 3 months or so.
- Mix half of sugar or 1/2 cup with pectin powder and set aside.
- Wash jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water and rinse. Set aside on a clean towel.
- Place mashed strawberries in a bowl with half of your sugar, or 1/2 cup. Stir to combine. Let macerate overnight in the refrigerator.
- The next day, fill a large stockpot or water bath canner 2/3 full of water. Place lid on pot and bring to a full rolling boil. Get your jar lifter, canning rack and chopstick or jar stirrer ready and set aside.
- While the pot is heating up, place your jam pan, dutch oven or large wide saucepan on another burner.
- Pour in strawberries. Add calcium water and mix well. Bring to a full boil. As foam rises to the surface, skim with a strainer.
- When berries reach a full boil, add pectin-sugar mixture and stir.
- Bring fruit mixture to a full boil. Stir for 1 minute while mixture returns to a full boil. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Stir until combined, about 30 seconds.
- Remove from the heat.
- Using a wide mouth funnel and ladle, fill jars leaving about ¼” headspace at the top. Run chopstick or jar stirrer along the sides of the jam to release excess air. Tap jars on counter a few times if necessary. Wipe rims clean with a clean cloth. Place on lid and screw on jar ring just enough to hold. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil 10 minutes (add 1 minute more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level).
- When time is up, carefully remove jars from water with jar lifter and set aside on a towel to prevent temperature induced jar breakage.
- Let jars cool undisturbed for 12- 24 hours. Check seals. Lift up the lid with your fingers. If it does not separate from the jar, it has sealed well. The center should also be flat or concave. Remove rings to store.
- When stored in a cool, dark place, preserves should last about a year. They last about 3 weeks once opened.
Extra Berries? Put them up quick by freezing them in syrup!
Wondering about jar sterilization? The National Center for Home Food Preservation, whom I fastidiously follow, says if you process your jars for at least 10 minutes they will sterilize during this time. But be as clean as you can outside of this.
Looking for canning supplies to get started?
Here is what I use:
Graniteware Water Bath Canner (I scored this one free from a friend and it works great.)
Norpro Magnetic Lifting Wand (I use this or a metal chopstick for bubble removal.)
Oxo Good Grips Nylon Ladle (no scratching the enamel!)
Jam Spoon, wooden (Mine is from a trip to Nicaragua but this is similar)
Le Creuset Enamled Cast Iron 5 1/2 Quart Dutch Oven (jam pan) (Sure I covet a copper jam pan but as you know, I am a minimalist at heart. It conducts heat perfectly even!)