Strawberry season is at its peak, and all the other fruits will soon start arriving to your farmers market. Do you make jam?
By the way, what is jam? If you think this question is plain silly, you were not paying attention to the news. The heated debate over EU regulations concerning preserves, marmalade, fruit-spreads, jams and jellies is far from over, some describing those rules as an example of unnecessary red tape and “gold-plating” of European Union directives.
After reading numerous articles and even a guideline leaflet on the subject, I still haven’t the faintest idea how my grandmother’s apricot jam would be correctly labeled under European law, were it ever to be sold commercially.
See, this is because our lekvár (pron. lehk-waar) is quite unique to this region. To try illustrate the difference: jams are gelled to a quite clear consistency, fruit pieces are still identifiable. Lekvár on the other hand takes longer to make, is homogenous and thick like a puree.
You must have noticed the worldwide revolution going on in the home canning and preserving front lately. I’m also trying my hands at making small batch jams, something I honestly never thought I’d do. But let’s take a short trip down memory lane to see how we got here.
What used to be necessary frugality for our grandparents in order to save as much food as possible has turned into a creative activity, yet not so long ago during the 90’s and early aughts, granny’s jams were far from trendy.
Post-soviet era Hungary, social gap growing swiftly. I was a kid then, and I used to look at those 25 oz. jars neatly labeled and lined up on the shelves of the village pantry – I know how bad this sounds – as a sign of not being well-off. My classmates ate jams bought from the store (which now also carried Kellog’s, I mean wow!) in pretty little hexagon bottles, their relatives not bothering with at-home preserving any more.
Little did I know (and care) at the time that most of those products have never seen actual fruit; all I remember is finding our homemade apricot and plum jams uncool. Well, times have definitely changed! I’ve tried many different flavors since, and as much I liked most of them, I’ve established that none are a match to the classics when it comes to crepes (What Nutella? Please…) or carnival donuts.
Anyway. The jam making frenzy of today is different from our ancestors’ ways in many aspects. First of all, fortunately it’s not about what we’re going to eat during a long winter any more. It’s rather a culinary hobby and the result of the demand to know what’s in our food.
I respect tradition, but I also like to create new and unique flavors in my kitchen through experimenting with fruit combinations and adding spices. Standing-next-to-the-stove-stirring-all-day jam making and 1:1 fruit to sugar ratios are a thing of the past. Modern jams are made quicker thanks to natural gelling agents with less sugar needed. Shorter cooking times also preserve more of the goodness of the fruit, result in better color and a more intense flavor.
So far I’ve cooked up a festive plum jam, a cardamom and vanilla flavored apricot jam, a strawberry and raspberry jam with ginger and a nicely tart vanilla-infused triple berry (raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant) jam. Next up, strawberries with a hint of lavender. I’ll let you know how it turns out!
Last summer I did a blog series on the principles of home canning based on USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. If you feel like jumping on the bandwagon, feel free to refer back to my posts on food safety, sterilizing jars, ensuring the quality of your canned goods, and the steps of filling the jar properly.
‘Sweet jar raspberry jelly homemade’ image by mrsiraphol / Freepik