The mountains are burning. The forests are parched. The hills and valleys are choked with smoke. There's no escape. The whole damn West is on fire.
I find myself yearning for the crisp clear days of fall like never before. Praying for rain or snow or even a friendly wind to provide some relief from the relentless smoke. To clear our burning lungs and clouded thoughts. It's hard to breathe deep when you can't breathe deep, you know?
So we have been spending lots of time indoors. Watching the last few weeks of summer fade slowly into the haze. Puttering around the kitchen and garden, canning and preserving. Trying to coax fall into an early arrival. There is something deeply grounding to me about putting up the summer harvest. Squirreling away a few jars for the colder days ahead. Connecting with our food and the changing seasons in a tangible, practical way.
It's no surprise that jam was one of the first foods we, as humans, learned to preserve. Take some fruit, add honey or sugar, and you have a delicious preserve that lasts well beyond the growing season. A recipe for jam was even included in the earliest known cookbook, De Re Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking), written in the 1st century AD. It is rumored Joan of Arc ate quince jam for courage before battles, and that Mary Queen of Scots used marmalade to cure seasickness. Sailors ate jam rich with Vitamin C to prevent scurvy on long voyages. And during WWII, the Women's Institute put up over 1600 tons of jam to help combat food shortages. Jam has long been our friend in times of scarcity and uncertainty. A small comfort when winter is coming.
So in the face of fires and floods, after I have called and donated and helped however I can, I make jam. If for no other reason than to carry on and lift morale. To remind myself of the quiet afternoon spent picking huckleberries under a clear sky not so long ago. To thank nature for her gifts even as we stand humbled by her power.
Stay safe, dear ones. Sending all my love to you.
Please note, this recipe is for a small batch of fresh or freezer jam (because water bath canning is a whole thing...)
Makes about four 8 oz jars.
- 2 cups crushed huckleberries
- 2 cups crushed strawberries
- 1/4 lemon juice
- 1 pkg Pomona's Universal Pectin*
*I like Pomona's because it sets the jam using calcium instead of sugar. This allows for a much lower sugar jam. Low Sugar Pectin would also work just fine. If you choose to use that, follow instructions on that package to ensure jam sets well.
- 1 to 2 cups sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1. If using Pomona's pectin, mix the calcium powder with 1/2 cup water in a small jar. Shake vigorously.
- Put a small plate or saucer in the freezer (you will use this later to check if your jam is set.)
- Make sure your jars and lids have been cleaned and sterilized.
2. After cleaning fruit and hulling strawberries, crush strawberries and huckleberries in a medium bowl using a potato masher. You should have about 4 cups crushed fruit. Feel free to adjust ratio of strawberries to huckleberries to taste.
3. Measure 4 cups crushed fruit into large pan. Add lemon juice.
4. Add 2 teaspoons of the premixed calcium water. This is all you will need for this recipe (you can keep the rest of the jar for several months in the fridge if you plan to do more canning.)
5. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and 2 teaspoons pectin powder.
6. Bring pan with fruit, lemon juice and calcium water to a full boil. Stirring to keep from burning. Add a small pad of butter to help reduce foaming. Gently spoon off any foam that forms at the top (it won't hurt ya but it makes the jam less pretty.)
7. Add sugar / pectin mix all at once. Simmer and stir vigorously for 3 mins to dissolve pectin and sugar.
8. Take the cold plate out of the freezer and spoon a small dollop of jam onto it. Let it sit for a few moments then gently run your finger through the puddle of jam. If it leaves a clean line through the jam, and it is begining to take on a gelatinous structure, it is done. If the jam runny and saucy, and your finger doesn't leave a clean line, simmer for a few more minutes and then repeat the test on another cold plate.
The longer you cook the more "set" your jam will be. If you like a softer runnier jam cook for only 2-3 mins. If you like your jam to have more structure and gel, cook for a bit longer. I cooked mine for 5 mins and it came out just right.
9. Fill sterilized jars to within 1/2" of top. Screw on lids. Let cool in fridge and then move to freezer as soon as they are no longer warm to the touch. Keeps in freezer for 1 year.
10. Spread on good crusty bread with butter. Hibernate.