Berry Picking & Raspberry Nectarine Jam

Today was one of those great days of summer when nothing was more pressing than heading out berry picking with a good friend.  I know I have mentioned it before but I love berry picking and come to think of it, fruit picking in general. I’d probably relate differently to the activity had it been a job but for me it was always about picking for pleasure.  To bring home fruit to nibble on, bake into pies, crisps, cobblers or muffins, make jam, milkshakes, smoothies….whatever…it was all about eating and using the fresh fruit in season.   We never froze any fruit when I was a kid.  I didn’t start doing that until I was an adult and realized I picked way more than I could use at one time.  Nowadays I usually always stick some in the freezer for a little reminder of summer later in the year.  Blueberry muffins and raspberry muffins are particularly welcome as a winter treat. I also like to use frozen berries as the “ice” in smoothies.

This morning’s weather was looking a little iffy after the fabulous sunshine we had yesterday but it ended up not raining and the slight cloud cover actually kept us from warming up too quickly.  There are no shade bearing trees in the berry fields which is perfect for the ripening fruit but when the sun is out in full force, it can get downright hot.  Not that I mind, as it reminds me more of the summers of my childhood in southern Oregon than the cool, drizzly days that often plague the month of June in the Willamette Valley.  However unlike childhood when I was able to throw caution to the wind, I make an effort to protect my skin from the sun.  So though I had thought to bring a hat, I left it sitting on the back seat of the car.  Luckily by the time the sun was asserting itself, the berry buckets were heavy enough to call it quits.  It turned out my girlfriend was on the same page.  We both knew if we gathered too many berries, the whole remainder of the day and evening would be spent in our respective kitchens.  So there was no need to grab the hat…or more buckets.. yet neither of us could resist ”just a few more” as we trailed through the berry rows. But finally, we really did stop picking.

Raspberries in large quantities don’t do so well sitting around.  They need to be tended to; ideally the same day you bring them home. This meant getting right to work as I wanted to be done with my raspberry business before I started in on dinner prep.  I set aside a couple of pints in the fridge for nibbling on, I froze 3 quarts, made some raspberry frozen yogurt and because I had recently made a terrific raspberry ice cream using organic California berries, I decided to see if I could replicate it with my fresh Oregon berries.  Oh, and of course I had to make some jam.  Though I would be happy to pass on the ice cream and frozen yogurt recipes, the jam recipe is the one I want to feature today.  

Jam, for the most part, is simple to make once you get past the intimidation factor.  Freezer jam is especially easy because it requires no canning equipment nor much cooking, if any.  Less processing means a shorter shelf life but the flavor is intensely fresh.  Freezer jam lives in your freezer or refrigerator and is not meant for hiding in your pantry.

I often don’t use pectin in my jam.  If I am working with a fruit that is low in natural pectin like raspberries, I try to add a fruit that is higher in natural pectin.  In this case I add lemon juice and fresh lemon zest.  I also use less sugar than is found in most recipes I’ve seen (I know you can get a pectin for that), so I sometimes will add another fruit to bring up the natural sugar. For instance in this recipe I add nectarines. I have also used apricots.  Both equally compliment the raspberries.  Peaches would work as well.  Cutting the sugar and omitting pectin, the finished consistency can be a bit of a guessing game.  It is hard to tell before your mixture has set in the fridge or freezer but if in doubt, you can tweak the recipe with a little more fruit or dare I say, sugar.

I’m happy when my jam is just thick enough to spread on toast.

Raspberry Nectarine Jam

7 cups fresh raspberries

1/4 cup honey

2 1/4 cups sugar

a pinch of salt

3 medium sized ripe nectarines (or 5-6 apricots)

lemon juice and zest from 1 lemon

Put the berries, honey, sugar and salt in a 2 quart heavy bottomed saucepan (such as a Le Creuset pot).  Over medium low heat, let the sugar dissolve while stirring the berries with a wooden spoon.  The heat will break down the fruit so you don’t need a masher.  Add the chopped nectarines as you bring the fruit mixture to a low boil.  Continue to cook for about 5-10 minutes over low heat. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest. Taste for flavors.  Tweak if you need to.

Ladle into clean jars leaving some space for expansion.  I prefer to use a variety of glass jars and let the jam cool and set in the jars.  If using plastic, wait for the mixture to cool before ladling into your containers.

Once the jam has cooled a bit, seal your containers and put in the freezer.  Keep at least one aside to put in your refrigerator for immediate use.