You. You like berries, right? You like jam, right? That blueberry stain on your shirt tells us all we need to know. This post is just for you!
Berries. Jam. Picking berries and making jam. Rinse and repeat. Do you need to pick the most stunning fruit, the ones that look like an airbrushed wax centerpiece? Nope, that's a load of rubbish. Produce doesn't need to be pretty to taste amazing, and you should stop believing TV commercials that would have you believe otherwise. What you really need is a good blend of fruit that includes some ripe examples, and some that are slightly under-ripe. By the time they're all mixed together and you inhale the jam on a perfectly-toasted piece of bread, the taste will make you want to paint the town red. Berry red.
Well, not during the winter, as a rule. Different states and different climates have different seasons that are best for different types of fruit. Usually the summer months from late spring to early fall are prime picking times. Plan to show up bright and early, unless you enjoy battling crowds of sweaty folks who will pick those branches clean like a swarm of locusts. Be early, so you can be the locust.
Also, don't get all procrastination-like on us after escaping with your fruit loot. Get the lead out and whip up that jam with a quickness, because waiting until all the pectin escapes when you aren't looking is very not cool. Then you are left with unhappy, wilted fruit that's not good for much except chucking at trees. And what did trees ever do to you?
Pick away, anywhere that isn't private property. You can pick along trails, or find Pick Your Own farms, which are usually in rural areas that can accommodate RV parking. Double check lots of things before you go: address, directions, picking hours, pocket cash, and how closed the toes of your shoes are. Anyone wading through raspberry patches with sandals or shorts gets zero sympathy points. Ok, maybe a few points—that is a recipe for days of pain. We like recipes that result in super-tasty jam.
Why? Because. Jam is awesome and tasty and everyone loves it. What's with all the questions?
Oh, were you hoping to put your feet up while the jam just makes itself for you? Well ... you can't. Fire up your RV cooktop and get cracking.
Just like honey can vary widely in color and taste, depending on which flower blossoms the honeybee visited, jam taste can vary from week to week depending on the berries. Weather messes with them, animals come along and lick them or who knows what else ... that reminds us, remember to wash the fruit you pick before cooking or consuming it.
Here's our insider secret: It's all in how you mix the amounts of sugar and lemon juice. The wise old sages will be nodding their heads sagely, with wisdom, while the newcomers are glancing around, wondering how confused they should look. Explanation: You must learn how to judge your fruit.
To be clear, this has nothing to do with developing a bias against your citrus or placing a ripe apricot on trial before some irritable retiree named Judy. This is all about being able to analyze those fresh strawberries and then knowing exactly how to adjust the ingredients to come up with the perfect result. Now keep in mind, your idea of perfect might differ from your Aunt Marge, who is fussy to the point of vexation, and insists your cherry jam is way too sweet. Maybe invite her over less often.
Ripe fruit usually has more pectin in it, so you won't need as much sugar. Slightly less ripe fruit doesn't have as much pectin, so you'll need more sugar, and then some lemon juice to tame it down just a bit. Firmer, muscle-bound fruit like apples, pears, or peaches will generally need less sugar than flimsy little weaklings like blackberries or raspberries, which need all the help they can get.
Chances are good you won't get it right the first time. Real talk. This takes practice to get right, just like riding a bike or sinking that ridiculous backwards half-court basketball shot that finally goes in when nobody is looking. Make a batch, turn up your nose, make another, and the next thing you know you'll have it down.
Step 1—Pick the berries.
Step 2—Wash the berries.
Step 3—Mash the berries.
Step 4—Mix in the sugar and lemon juice. Start with 4 cups of sugar (or 1 cup of raw honey, even) and ¼ cup of lemon juice for 2 lb. of fruit, and go from there. For some fruit, like plums, you may want to skip the lemon juice completely, like a boss.
Step 5—Stir the berries over low heat until sugar dissolves.
Step 6—Boil the berries, stirring frequently. If you don't stir, and the bottom of the mixture burns, someone might snicker at you.
Step 7—Pour the berries jam into warmed containers and let cool. Leave at least a half inch extra space at the top of the containers if you're going to freeze it, or the jam might expand too much and make a mess. Then someone will definitely snicker.
Step 8—Put the jam in the fridge or freezer. Or, eat it all up at once. Be near an emergency room if you try this.
Berry good! That's all, folks—please don't forget to tip your server on the way out, and by all means share your favorite berry picking or jam making stories in the comments below!