Welcome to January, the not-so-gentle reminder that the warmth of the holidays is behind us and most of winter’s snow has yet to fall. When the fields have frozen over, bakers and chefs alike begin to dig deep into their pantries and freezers to gather stockpiled ingredients. Faced with an over abundance of fresh fruit and garden vegetables during the summer harvests, and imports far past their prime on the grocery shelves come midwinter, learning how to preserve food becomes an important and rewarding task. And while traditional canning is the preferred method, freezer jams offer a slightly less complicated alternative for small scale storage.
In this approach, the cooked preserves are cooled to room temperature and then immediately stored in the freezer, where they will last the winter, or kept for up to one month in the refrigerator. The best part is that there are few, if any, strict rules for freezer jams. All you need is a lot of fruit and at least some sugar.
Once you have made your custom condiment, it can be put to many uses. Spread it on toast, sandwich it between two cookies, or use in a recipe that calls for a similar jam. We took the opportunity to make a variation of the Linzer Torte, a traditional Austrian dessert composed of a thick, crumbly almond pastry filled with a layer of raspberry or apricot preserves. Its robust, nutty flavour just might have you saying Auf Wiedersehen to raspberry pie forever.
Note: It is crucial to work with the largest and most non-stick pan that you can acquire. A Dutch oven is always a safe choice when making jam, but I used a heavy-duty non-stick frying pan with great success.
Begin by piling as much fresh or frozen fruit into the pan as possible, then simply pour sugar over top and turn the heat up to medium. As for the amount of sugar required per batch, the decision is entirely yours. Some fruits, such as peaches, need very little additional sweetener and are lovely when reduced in their own naturally sugary juices. On the other hand, rhubarb is a very tart, lemony plant, and it needs a good deal of sugar to temper its sour punch. For approximately 4lbs of chopped frozen rhubarb, I would estimate I used at least 3.5 cups of sugar.
Once the sugar has melted and dissolved, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan often with a heatproof spatula. At this point you may add any additional flavourings.
As the mixture begins to thicken, continue to scrape the pan to prevent it from scorching. When the jam is very thick and begins to gel to the point where it can be scooped up with a butter knife (think apple butter), you are done. This process can take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, so make sure to plan accordingly. Cool completely and use or store as desired.
I chose to take a warm, spicy route and added a few tablespoons of molasses (brown sugar and rhubarb are a great pair), as well as some cinnamon, ginger, and a pinch of nutmeg. The zest of a lemon and half of its juice was also included, to compliment the rhubarb and help keep the flavour bright.