Currants

Marion Owen photo

Red currants are not only beautiful but they are also juicy, flavorful and great for eating fresh on oatmeal or in jams and jellies. 

It’s been a dry summer. Precipitation is down 20% below the average for this time of year. Consequently, flowers, veggies, herbs and wildflowers and berries are moving along quickly. Wild grasses and Puschki are going to seed. So if you want to taste summer this winter, get out and pick the last remaining salmonberries, clean out your freezer of last year’s berries and have a jam party. 

I’m going to share two jam recipes. The first one follows the old-fashioned way of making preserves (without pectin) and my new favorite jam recipe that replaces sugar with dates.

Before we dive into the jam pot though, here is a list of four late-summer tasks things that need attention:

1. De-slug as often as possible. On sunny days, get out in the cool of the morning to pick slugs. Too squeamish for you? Then place flat boards on the soil around your plants. They’ll seek cover under the planks. How you dispose of them is up to you.

2. Last call to harvest rhubarb.

3. Keep up with weeding to prevent seeds from jettisoning all over your garden. 

4. Last call for fertilizing your lawn. Spread sifted compost over your lawn for a soil-building boost that will enhance your turfgrass’ rootzone and ensure a better winter survival rate.

Back to jamming ...

I love making jams and jellies is the old-fashioned way. For one thing, it does not involve pectin, which tends to be temperamental and results in a lot of syrups, not thick jams. Preserves made the old-fashioned way are gloriously rich and fruity because as the simmering fruit passes the boiling point of 212 degrees, the sugars in the fruit start to develop a deep fruity taste. As more water evaporates, the flavor concentrates. With pectin, the liquid is never driven off and remains with the fruit, diluting the flavor.

ANY BERRY JAM

4 cups raspberries, gooseberries, salmonberries, etc.

3 cups sugar (3-1/2 cups for tart berries)

In a medium (non-aluminum) saucepan, add berries and crush a few on the bottom layer to produce moisture. Simmer the fruit until warm, add sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 221 degrees F (at sea level), which is 9 degrees higher than the temperature of boiling water. It can take up to 30 minutes, but don’t rush the process by turning up the heat. Select some nice “jamming” music.

Once the mixture reaches the right temperature, spoon it into hot, sterilized jars, allowing for 1/8 inch headroom for half-pints or 1/4 inch headroom for pints. Wipe the rims with a damp towel and screw on the lids. Invert the jars for 30 to 60 seconds then upright them again. As the jam cools, the lids will pull down and snap.

SUGAR-FREE

“NATURAL” BERRY JAM

In this recipe, taken from “Plant-Powered Families” by Dreena Burton, the jam is sweetened with only berries and dates. The dates also help thicken the jam, along with ground chia seeds. 

3 to 3-1/2 (roughly 1 pound) whole berries (blueberries, raspberries, currants, sliced/chopped strawberries, raspberries or salmonberries)

1/2 cup finely chopped pitted dates (see note below)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon ground black or white chia seeds

1/2 - 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Extra sweetener (coconut sugar, for example) to taste (optional)

Combine the berries, dates and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat.

Allow the mixture to heat up so the fruit breaks down and begins to bubble, then reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer until the fruits break down further, about 10 to 20 minutes. Add the chia and lemon zest, and let cook for another five minutes until the chia helps the jam thicken.

Taste, and add extra sweetener if desired. Let cool, then refrigerate. Makes about 2 cups.

Berries note: Measuring 3 cups of berries can produce quite variable amounts — for instance, if measuring whole strawberries, just a few can fill up 1 cup. So, for larger berries like strawberries, simply slice them a few times or roughly chop before measuring.

Dates note: The dates will darken the mixture slightly if using strawberries or raspberries instead of blueberries. Still, they don’t darken it much, and they also help thicken the jam. Give them a try: It’s a different twist on jam, but it’s delicious!

Like most good things in life, the best jams take their sweet time.

Have a great week, and if you have a garden question, pop me an email to: mygarden@alaska.net.

Get Marion’s free Photo Tips PDF, a collection of her favorite photography tips, on her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com. Connect with Marion: Facebook and Instagram or send an email to Marion at mygarden@alaska.net.

 

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