Every summer we would travel to the Okanagan Valley in BC where we’d climb ladders and pick fruit while other kids got to go to the beach. No really. We’d race home with the car packed full and our feet resting on boxes of fruit in the backseat. Upon arriving at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night, we’d go to bed and my mother would start canning. She canned everything and made delicious jams of which apricot was the family favourite, hands down. She loved doing it and for years, you could not go over there without leaving laden with beautiful golden orange jars. The jam varied from year to year – sometimes runny, sometimes thick enough to cut out of the jars. But always unbelievably good. I hate to use cliches but it truly was like sunshine caught in a jar.
Once Mum was no longer with us, I began to experiment with jams. And always, in the back of my mind, was the belief that there was a way to make jam with bigger chunks of fruit and less sugar. Mum’s method was to mix the fruit and sugar and cook long and slow until it was no longer runny. This however, results in carmelization if you leave it too long. I played with pectin recipes and managed to figure out ways to get pieces of fruit in strawberry jam. And then I found the cookbook, Mes Confitures, by Christine Ferber. She is called the godmother of jam and lives in France. A new world of jam making opened up for me. There were combinations and a method I’d never heard of. I marked the pages with sticky notes only to eventually realize that I’d marked almost every one as a recipe to try. Combinations that sounded heavenly, and some just weird. For instance, I made two pumpkin jams – both weird. Must be an acquired European taste thing. So armed with the book and two copper confiture pans, I began. It took me a long time to get the hang of it. Particularly when I live at 1010 metres (3,300 feet) above sea level and things take longer to reach a boil and aren’t as hot when they get there. In all my technique failures, there was rarely a batch that still didn’t taste good. Better than good. Eventually I was ass deep in jam and so began to timidly sell it at a farmer’s market. That was 3 years ago. I make a lot of jam and sell almost all that I make. My quest for learning all I can about jam making lead me to a course this past August at the French Pastry School in Chicago. And it’s going to lead me to a course in Berkeley with June Taylor early next year (have to nail down my marmalade technique).
So welcome to all you fellow jam makers and ping addicts. You know who you are.