Introduction: Homemade Jam, the French Way...

...or, Smucker's Jam Scam.

Last May I had the pleasure of reading Robert Arbor's Joie de Vivre, a how-to guide on everyday living the French way. In it Arbor professed the pleasures of simplicity in food and day-to-day living, and because I was finishing my last semester in grad school with a five-month-old, and moving in two weeks; I was grateful for his perspective on how Americans should slow down and adopt more of the French culture.

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Step 1: Take Some Fruit.

In his book, he had the simplest recipe for homemade jam: take a bowlful of mixed berries, toss them in a pot, add enough sugar to your liking, a bit of water, and boil down on a medium heat. Easy. The simplicity of a fruit and sugar combination makes for a jam that suggests (French) country living and since then, I've snubbed Welch's and any other store-bought brands.

Step 2: Toss It in a Pot and Add Some Sugar.

Unlike chef Arbor, I do not have an orchard, or even a balcony garden at my disposal (but I just may tackle the latter one day), and I've substituted the fresh fruit for a frozen bag of mixed berries. In my opinion, very little taste has been lost in the alteration. The steps are the same, except that the frozen berries have enough moisture in them that water is not needed and will only make more of a berry soup than jam.

Step 3: Cook on Medium Low Heat.

I am a bit amazed at the lack of sugar that I put in the mix as I like my jam a bit tart. If you use a lot of sugar in your coffee or Kool-Aid, do yourself the favor and add about 1/2 a cup of sugar to the mix as I do not want to turn you off from fresh jam simply because of its tartness. Gradually decrease the amount each time you make it and I am certain that you will enjoy it with just a coating.

Step 4: Slather on Freshly Toasted Bread

You don't need to watch the jam or stir it constantly. I think that one of the reasons why jam making is a dying tradition is because we have fooled ourselves into believing that anything homemade means that an arduous task lies ahead. Making jam is not difficult at all; I am boiling up a pot right now as I am writing to you.

I am certain that one of most telling characteristics of a good cook is being able to determine a food's readiness by its smell, and right now my house is wafting with a fresh, tangy scent of pie filling. And being the good chef that I am, I will pause to head over to the stove and give the pot a good shake.

Step 5: Nosh.

Okay. No spoons or spatulas are needed until you pour the mixture into a container (I reuse an old jelly jar and am thinking of making my own label) and ladle every last drop of ruby-colored syrup covetously. I do suggest checking the jam once every five or ten minutes to give the pot a good shake over the burner to keep the berries from burning. Once the fruit has cooked down and the mixture is the consistency of the jam of your dreams (smooth or chunky), take the pot off the heat and let cool.
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