Back a few years ago when dairy farmer Emma Lewis-Van Vorst only had two young children, she decided to start a small jam business out of the family’s central New York farmhouse. This summer, Emma and her husband are expecting their fourth child, adding another to the eleventh generation on Brookbound Farm where the Van Vorsts first settled in 1760.What’s more beautiful – and delicious – that homemade jam on toast? We’ve got recipes and tips that will help you turn fresh seasonal fruit into the best jam ever. Click To Tweet
In addition to juggling three youngsters age seven and under, Emma still helps her dad, Andrew, with their small herd of 36 milkers. It is understandable that right now jam-making is not close to the top of this busy woman’s to-do list, but she still shared some of her favorite flavor combinations and tips on how to make homemade jam.
One of the joys of farm life is being in tune with the seasons and, for Emma, preserving local fruit harvests has always been part of the natural rhythm of the year. She has fond memories of her mother and grandmother’s strawberry patches by the side of the house, and of picking sweet, juicy berries warm from the sun to make strawberry jam. “It’s so seasonal, a way to celebrate the abundance,” she says.
These days when Emma makes jam, she mostly buys the fruit from local farms and orchards, beyond her own rhubarb and raspberries. Pears, plums, peaches and apples are all grown in a nearby orchard where she worked for half a dozen years. The blueberries and strawberries come from another farm about 30 minutes away.
Emma will sometimes freeze earlier-season fruit to combine it with something else later in the summer, like strawberries with peaches. She credits preserving and canning expert, Food in Jars blogger, and cookbook author, Marisa McClellan, for some of her flavor inspirations, like combining blueberries with rhubarb for “bluebarb” jam, and juicing fresh ginger for ginger-pear, a crowd-pleaser from when she sold her own jams. Her plain strawberry was also a perennial favorite, she says, some calling it the best strawberry jam recipe ever. “I do a long cook, low sugar, a little lemon juice and no pectin. It really tastes just like the berry.”
The family is looking forward to the arrival of their newest member and sharing the joy and sweetness of life on the farm. The Van Vorsts are in the process of conserving a portion of their land to keep it open forever for future generations. “I was always so proud of how old the farm was and all the people that came before me,” Emma reflects. “My biggest reward is getting to wake up and work in a barn my great-grandfather built, and milk cows my grandfather bred. Really my job in the long run will be encouraging my children to love this life as much as I do.”
Tips for the best homemade jam:
Balance sugar with fruit. Emma Lewis-Van Vorst suggests no more than 1 cup of sugar for each cup of fruit, or you won’t be able to taste the fruit. Marisa McClellan’s favorite ratio is two parts fruit to one-part sugar.
Get creative. “You can stick almost anything together,” Emma says, though, if you are not an experienced jam-maker, try to find an example of the combination from a reputable source to make sure you’re maintaining a safe level of acidity.
Don’t waste the foam! If you’re skimming the foam as you simmer your jam, scrape it off and eat it. “It’s delicious!” Emma says. (Some people add a little butter to the jam as it cooks, which will keep it from foaming.)
Best Blueberry Jam Ever
Courtesy of Marisa McClellan, “Food in Jars” (Running Press, 2011)
Makes 3 pints, or 6, 1/2 pints
6 cups smashed blueberries (from about 3 quarts of whole berries), picked over for stems
4 cups sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 (3-ounce) packets liquid pectin
Prepare a small water bath canning pot and boil jars. (See more specific instructions at foodinjars.com if needed.) Place the lids in a small saucepan, cover them with water and simmer over very low heat.
Combine the smashed blueberries and sugar in a low, wide, non-reactive skillet.
Place the pan on the stove over high heat and bring the fruit to a boil. Add the lemon zest, juice, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Cook, stirring regularly for 15 to 20 minutes, until the jam is shiny and thickened. Add the pectin and return to a rolling boil for a full 5 minutes.
Funnel the jam into the prepared jars. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
When the time is up, remove the jars and set them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. When the jars have cooled enough that you can comfortably handle them, check the seals. Sealed jars can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used promptly.
This recipe is great as a sandwich condiment, slathered on burgers or served on a cheese plate with aged cheddar!
Orange Tomato and Smoked Paprika Jam
Adapted slightly from “Preserving by the Pint” (Running Press, 2014) by Marisa McClellan of foodinjars.com
Makes 2 to 3 half-pint jars (depending on juiciness of cherry tomatoes)
About 2 pounds orange cherry tomatoes, halved
1¼ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup bottled lemon juice (Note: important to use bottled so acidity is assured.)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely milled sea salt
1 to 1½ teaspoons red chili flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine the tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, chili flakes, ginger, paprika, and cayenne in a large, nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil and then lower the temperature to a simmer.
Stirring regularly, gently boil the jam until it reduces to a sticky, jammy mess. Boiled at a fairly rapid pace, it should take about 45 minutes of cooking.
When the jam is nearly done, prepare a boiling water bath and 3 half-pint jars. Place 3 lids in a small saucepan of water and bring to a gentle simmer.
When the jam has cooked down sufficiently, remove from the heat and fill the jars, leaving 1/2 inch/12 mm of headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
We love pairing our cheeses with all kinds of jams and other spreads! Check out our favorite pairings here. Looking for recipes that use Jam? We’ve got you covered: