Raspberry Cognac Jam

“Do you remember the scene from Anna Karenina about making jam?” asked my grandmother as we stood over a pan of raspberries slowly melting into sugar. The passage my grandmother recalled was about a newly wed Kitty introducing a new method to Levin’s household, with somewhat tense results.

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“Agafea Mihalovna, to whom the task of jam-making had always been entrusted, considering that what had been done in the Levin household could not be amiss, had nevertheless put water with the strawberries, maintaining that the jam could not be made without it. She had been caught in the act, and was now making jam before everyone, and it was to be proved to her conclusively that jam could be very well made without water….Agafea Mihalovna, her face heated and angry, her hair untidy, and her thin arms bare to the elbows, was turning the preserving-pan over the charcoal stove, looking darkly at the raspberries and devoutly hoping they would stick and not cook properly.”*

In my family making jam is not dramatic, but it’s taken very seriously. “I no longer make much jam, because there is nobody to eat it,” says my grandmother, as she puts up jars of raspberries, plums, apricots, cherries and apples in quantities that could feed an army. If you can imagine, everything was done on an even larger scale when the family was larger. “I came home from work and made 14 jars of dill pickles,” writes my 30 year old grandmother to her parents, before expressing concerns that this might not be enough. This preserving passion must be contagious, because I’ve caught the bug too and whenever I have a free evening in the summer, I can be found in the kitchen pitting cherries and macerating apricots with sugar and brandy.

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I love making jam, because more than any other type of food preparation, it involves a kind of alchemy, the ability to capture the evanescent. The summer tastes of honeyed plums, creamy apricots and musky strawberries, and when I open a jar of peach and raspberry marmalade in December, its lush aroma instantly creates a sun-dappled fantasy. It’s not unlike reaching for a bottle of perfume that smells of warm sand and sea breeze.

If you’ve never made jam, the whole idea might seem scarily complicated–sterilizing, pasteurizing and whatnot. But none of that is complicated and homemade jam is so much better than the pectin laden, overcooked store-bought confections. Who knows, you may become as passionate about it as my grandmother and I.

This raspberry jam is one of my favorites. The berries get a kick from cognac, which is enough to unlock the violet and musk aroma of raspberries. It’s instant gratification cooking, because you get a dose of pleasure when you’re standing over a fragrant pot of simmering berries.

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In old Russian cookbooks, this jam was called Kiev style because it’s made without any water. That’s exactly what caused distress to Tolstoy’s Agafea Mihalovna. When you’re making a water free jam for the first time, you might also have doubts. But as long as the heat is low, you will eventually have a pool of garnet liquid instead of lumps of sugar. The flavor will be concentrated and the perfume will fill the whole kitchen. Soon the sugar and juices start to froth, and you should be skimming off the thick pink foam.

But don’t think for a moment of throwing the skimmings away–they are delicious. When my cousin and I were children, we jealously fought over our share of penki, foam. Even in our household, jam could inspire minor drama.

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Raspberry Cognac Jam

This recipe makes a soft set, runny jam, which is a classical Russian style preserve. Raspberries are low in pectin, but I don’t like the overcooked apple flavor of pectin powders. If you don’t mind it and want a spreadable jam, then use commercial pectin and follow the instructions on the package.

The classical proportions are equal amount of fruit to sugar. This makes for a jam that sets and keeps well, but it’s sweet. The lower sugar version tastes summery and fresh, but it will not keep for as long. You can reduce the sugar even more, but in that case, make a small quantity and eat it quickly.

This jam is wonderful spooned over Greek yogurt and vanilla ice cream. Fresh goat cheese topped with fragrant raspberries becomes the most decadent dessert. You can also dilute jam in water for a quick drink. Or slather it on a piece of buttered bread and brew a cup of Russian caravan tea.

Makes about 3 cups

500g (3 cups) raspberries
1 Tablespoon cognac
350-500g (1  2/3 cup-2  1/2 cups) sugar (see headnote)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Rinse and pat dry raspberries, then transfer to a large pot. Sprinkle berries with cognac and layer with sugar, making sure that the berries are covered completely. Leave for 3 hours (or if it’s more convenient, in the fridge overnight).

An hour before you’re ready to make the jam prepare glass jars by washing them (and lids too) in hot, soapy water. Rinse well. Place jars and lids in a 200-degree oven for 30 minutes. If your lids include rubber rings, just scald them with boiling water.

Bring berries to a boil over medium-low heat and cook until sugar has dissolved, about 7 minutes. Shake the pan back and forth to encourage the sugar to melt and stir carefully with a wooden spoon to prevent sugar from sticking.

Simmer, shaking the pan time to time in so as not to crush the berries. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. In about 15-20 minutes, jam should thicken. Add lemon juice and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and check if jam is set.

To test, spoon a bit of hot jam onto a small plate. Transfer it to a freezer for 1 minute. Now, tilt plate and see if the jam “wrinkles.” If so, it’s done. (If you’re using a candy thermometer, the temperature should be around 221F/105C).

jam-test

Fill each jar with hot jam up to 1⁄2″ from the top. Wipe the rims with a clean towel.** Cover with the lids, screwing them on tightly.

If I use an equal amount of sugar to berries, I end the process right here and simply put the jars upside down to cool them. I check that the seal is tight (the center of the lid shouldn’t move) and store them in a cool, dark place.

For the low-sugar version, you either need to store jam in the fridge or pasteurize the jars. To do this, transfer filled jars to a large pot, cover with water and bring it to a gentle boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Jars should be covered by at least 1″ of water. Carefully lift jars from water  with tongs and place on a kitchen towel to cool undisturbed.

Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

*Quote via Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

**At this point, you can follow another jam making advice from Tolstoy. “Do it, please, by my receipt, said the princess; put some paper over the jam, and moisten it with a little rum, and without even ice, it will never go mildewy.”  Substitute cognac for rum and use wax paper rounds that fit neatly over the surface of jam.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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93 Comments

  • Aisha: I bet this is absolutely heavenly spooned over Greek yogurt, as you suggest, or a slice lemon pound cake!

    One of the items on my “bucket list” is to learn how to make my own jams and jellies. But yes, the whole notion of dealing with boiling water and glass jars is kind if intimidating. I do like the method you use, however, and may have to try it. 🙂 August 21, 2013 at 8:06am Reply

    • Victoria: If you’ve never made jam, just make it half of the recipe or less. 1 cup of raspberries is about 150g, so you will need at least 1/2 cup (100g) or 2/3 cup (150g) of sugar, you decide. Cook it for only 10 minutes or so on low heat and then store it in the fridge. It’s a good idea to bake a jar you’re going to store it in anyway. Imagine that you’re making a fruit compote rather than a preserve, and it will take some stress out.

      It’s so delicious, and it’s quick. Once you try the classical version, you can add all sorts of things to it–cardamom, rosewater, cinnamon, vanilla, pistachios. And then you will be tempted to try it with other fruit–strawberries, apricots, plums, pears when the late fall comes around. It’s like bottling summer itself. 🙂 August 21, 2013 at 9:34am Reply

      • Aisha: Well, when you say it’s like bottling summer itself, how can I *not* try. I’ll also start with smaller quantities, as you suggest. Thanks! I think my husband would love this, especially if I bake some scones for him too. August 21, 2013 at 10:24am Reply

        • Victoria: That would be a wonderful combination! Raspberry jam spread over warm scones is one of the best treats. August 21, 2013 at 3:00pm Reply

          • Karen: Just want to reinforce that jam/jellies, and preserves are not that difficult and worth the effort! I used to sell my homemade jams at a local farmers market and although I have no desire to make them on that scale again, the smell and taste are incredible!

            Just had some peach with vanilla bean on homemade bread, yum yum! August 22, 2013 at 5:09am Reply

            • Victoria: True, it’s not all that timeconsuming. For instance, my mom doesn’t can jam. She just makes it in small quantities throughout the year to store in the fridge, and it’s such a simple production. Plus, it’s fun to experiment with different fruit in different seasons, from berries in the summer to pears in the winter. August 22, 2013 at 9:22am Reply

              • Karen: Yes! Again, thank you Victoria for making something which many consider out of reach either time, space or money wise (as you have done with perfumes) accessible. Good reminder that we can all integrate beautiful things into our lives easily! August 22, 2013 at 9:43am Reply

                • Victoria: It’s one of those things that seem more complicated than they are. And it’s a good point that making jam at home is a great money saver. Of course, some fruit are more expensive than others, but in season it’s much easier to find great deals. A pound of raspberries cost me only $10 at the market, and that’s probably the most expensive jam I’ve made this summer. August 22, 2013 at 10:07am Reply

    • Aisha: I made a small amount of your jam today (minus the cognac because I wanted my kiddo to taste it too), and it’s delicious! And yes you’re right, it was very easy to make. I’m going to try it with strawberries next. They were on sale at the grocery store.

      Thank you! August 26, 2013 at 6:47pm Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you for letting me know! I’m so happy that it turned out well. You can also add some rose water to berries, which is another great flavor match.
        Enjoy! 🙂 August 27, 2013 at 2:38am Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: My mouth is watering… especially the picture with yoghurt! I can almost smell that jam out of the pictures.

    I only tried making jam a few times with my mum – somtimes with microwave :-). It’s not really part of my culture. The equivalent of jam making would be making kimchi and storing them in special jars buried in the ground. This was a lot of work for my grandma’s generation. Much like jam, a lot of people buy them from supermarkets these days. August 21, 2013 at 8:33am Reply

    • Victoria: When I was in Seoul, I was blown away by the variety of kimchi and pickles. The kimchi museum alone was probably worth the trip. I came back and tried making kimchi at home. I have to say that while time consuming, it was very rewarding. The only downside is that I didn’t realize how penetrating the scent would be, and for about a month everything we ate from the fridge had a slight kimchi flavor! The next time I made kimchi, I made sure to wrap the jar really well in several heavy duty ziplock bags.

      Now, you’ve made me crave some crunchy water kimchi. 🙂 August 21, 2013 at 9:39am Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: Wow, I’m impressed that you tried making your own kimchi. 🙂 The best way to store kimchi is to put it in an air-tight container like lock & lock. Even then, the smell could spread everywhere in the fridge (yes, I also had to have kimchi flavoured butter for a while!) and for that reason and also to maintain a constant temperature, we have fridges especially made for storing kimchi. August 22, 2013 at 2:04am Reply

        • Victoria: In Ukraine, pickling cabbage is very common, so it was not such a big leap (at least, in terms of my willingness to try it). 🙂 I remember a kimchi fridge at my Korean friend’s house! When I was in the midst of trying different kimchi recipes, I also wished I had one. Well, it doesn’t help that the fridge we have here is small (the freezer is the size of an average shoebox).

          I will start making kimchi again once it cools down. At one point last winter, when the temperature was constant, I could store it on the balcony, and it worked really well. August 22, 2013 at 9:11am Reply

    • Aisha: Oh my gosh! Now I’m craving kimchi from that Korean BBQ restaurant I always visit when I make a return trip to see my parents in Hawaii! August 21, 2013 at 3:03pm Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: Glad to see another kimchi fan! I’m always pleasantly surprised that so many people (non-Korean) like it despite its strong taste. I just had some kimchi jjigae, a stew with kimchi and pork. August 22, 2013 at 2:09am Reply

  • Natalia: This text is simply delicious! Never made jam myself (nor am I a great jam eater) but it is a great read, indeed, very beautiful, sincere and, well, passionate about the art of jam-making 🙂
    For someone who, at the moment, is translating some excruciatingly dull Wall Street Journal article on something about aluminum warehouses, this text is a true resque! August 21, 2013 at 9:17am Reply

    • Victoria: The thing is that between the two of us there is only so much jam we can eat. But it doesn’t prevent me from making liters of it every summer. It certainly makes nice gifts, and people always appreciate a jar of homemade jam.

      And thank you for a nice compliment, Natalia! August 21, 2013 at 9:45am Reply

      • Natalia: “it doesn’t prevent me from making liters of it every summer”

        This reminds me of my father who loved making jam in our summerhouse during the season. I am not sure he was quite as artistic in his efforts but it’s the aspiration that counts 🙂 I remember all those jars of jam popping out of everywhere and my dad practically forsing me to eat the “healthy food”. Sadly, back in those days I demanded “Snickers. ” August 21, 2013 at 9:54am Reply

        • Victoria: Ah, tell me about it! I remember when my grandmother would offer me her homemade pies, and all I wanted was the fried, awful stuff sold in the street. 🙂
          I don’t know if the process of my jam making is artistic, but I love dreaming about a dark snowy evening when I’m going to open one of my jams and enjoy it along with a cup of tea and a nice book. August 21, 2013 at 2:50pm Reply

  • Jillie: Just wonderful descriptions….. I have never made jam, and I don’t think that at the moment I have enough room to store lots of jars any way, but I hope to do this in the future.

    A friend just gave us some of her blackcurrant jam, and the flavour is so intense and fragrant. Even though I don’t really like scones or clotted cream (from Cornwall), I ate three, just because the jam was so tasty!

    Writing of scones, I have seen a recipe in which you add freeze-dried strawberries and strawberry yoghurt to the mixture, and I am tempted to make them, even though they are not my favourite cake! Imagine what they would be like with strawberry and rose jam… August 21, 2013 at 9:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Jam making doesn’t have to be on my grandmother’s industrial scale. I usually make small quantities of different preserves, rather than lots of one kind. It still means that we always have a surplus to share with others.

      Scones with black currant jam and cream sounds divine! August 21, 2013 at 9:48am Reply

      • Karen: You can just make up a few 1/2 pint size jars – it does not have to be a big production. The full jars always remind me of jewels. I made up lots of rose jelly and jam (with the petals) this year and they remind me if rubies. August 22, 2013 at 5:14am Reply

        • Victoria: I believe that it was you who mentioned making cherry and rose syrup in one of the threads here. Well, I had some syrup remaining from making sour cherry preserves, so I added rosewater to it. We diluted it in sparkling water and added mint leaves, and it tastes very good. August 22, 2013 at 9:20am Reply

          • Karen: Yes, that was me. Sounds extraordinary! What a festive drink! August 22, 2013 at 9:45am Reply

  • Alicia: Thank you, Victoria. This I will try. I am sure it must be delightful over many things, but what tickles me the most is the combination with goat cheese. Thank you again. August 21, 2013 at 9:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you like it! I can eat goat cheese with jam or honey or fruit every day and not get tired of it. 🙂 August 21, 2013 at 9:50am Reply

  • Ilia: Oh the pictures are great, they just smell of fresh raspberries. What do you do with apricots? I remember my old granny used to put a whole or half pod of vanilla into each jar of apricot jam, and it worked brilliantly. Don’t have her recipe anymore though, which is a great loss. August 21, 2013 at 9:47am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m actually making apricot jam tonight once I return home. I make a thick jam by pureeing apricots and adding 300g of sugar per every pound of puree. You can add a little bit of vanilla or a piece of vanilla bean as you cook the jam.

      But the recipe I’m trying today involves orange zest, lemon zest, cardamom and vanilla. I tried it at my friend’s house, and it was so good that I immediately asked her for the recipe. August 21, 2013 at 9:52am Reply

  • Bela: I adore raspberry jam, but I have to have the seedless kind because of my digestive problems. Your recipe sounds absolutely scrumptious.

    V, you forgot to mention the delicious Russian tradition of using jam to sweeten tea – one of the habits my father kept even after decades spent in France. August 21, 2013 at 10:06am Reply

    • nikki: I love that! My Russian friend Fima always did hat with black currant jam. August 21, 2013 at 2:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, you’re absolutely right! That’s an oversight, especially since raspberry jam stirred into tea is the taste of childhood for me. In Ukraine, it’s considered to be a cure for minor colds, and whenever one of us got sick, my grandmother or my mom would bring out a jar of raspberry jam.

      Or else jam would be served as a part of evening tea in small crystal saucers. August 21, 2013 at 2:54pm Reply

      • Bela: OMG, I’d completely forgotten that. My mother, who was from Ukraine too, used to give a spoonful of raspberry jam when I was poorly. August 22, 2013 at 5:14pm Reply

        • Victoria: My grandmother also made what she called “a living jam” out of blackcurrants. She just ground fresh berries with an equal quantity of sugar and stored it in the fridge. A botanist friend once explained that blackcurrants contain certain enzymes that slow down fermentation, which is why such a concoction could last easily through the water without being cooked or pasteurized. It also set into the most gorgeous deep purple jelly. August 23, 2013 at 10:16am Reply

  • Lucy: Gorgeous! It looks like a must while reading Count Tolstoy, with a big white linen napkin to catch the juices. I am not a cook, but was recently exposed to a non cook’s easy way to get a preserves effect. My hair dresser (originally a country girl from Texas) showed me how to do a freezer jam with cranberries and smoky bourbon. It is to die for on salted thin crackers. Basically you soak the fresh cranberries in bourbon, put them in a deep glass jar in the freezer, and a few days later, voila. Great for intoxicating nibbling on as you are sit at the hairdressers waiting for this and that process to unfold in the fullness of time. August 21, 2013 at 10:09am Reply

    • Victoria: This sounds wonderful, Lucy! I will definitely try it the moment I see cranberries in stores here. It’s funny how much you begin to crave things you can’t get easily. For instance, cranberries and corn are rarities around here. We get lingonberries though in season, and I use them instead of cranberries in various recipes. Around Thanksgiving we start getting Ocean Spray cranberries (NA imports!), but they are very expensive. August 21, 2013 at 2:59pm Reply

  • nikki: Victoria, this is just the best summer jam recipe and story~love it! Thank you! Lucy mentioned the Texas Countrygirl style cranberries in bourbon, amazing, I will try that recipe! My grandparents used a fruit called Josta (in German), a hybrid of black currants/gooseberry, highly aromatic and dark purple/black. We use it for both making drinks with vodka and delicious jam and also syrup to pour over vanilla pudding. August 21, 2013 at 11:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I have never tasted josta, but since I love both black currants and gooseberries, I’m sure it will be a new favorite. When is it in season? Same time as currants? August 21, 2013 at 3:03pm Reply

      • nikki: Yes I think so, you should be able to find them in the markets. Maybe you can ask somebody about them? Here is a link to the German site with photos for you:
        http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jostabeere August 22, 2013 at 8:37am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, Nikki! I now have enough information to track down this curious berry. August 22, 2013 at 9:56am Reply

  • Eastofeden: Ahh makes me think of summers spent picking berries (Oallieberries were the favorite as there are no thorns on the canes and no stooping) and making jams and pickles for the county fair.

    Have not made jam in so long…must take the time. Thank you for the reminder. August 21, 2013 at 12:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: We used to live not far from a farm that grew olallieberries, and I loved picking them too. We never brought home enough to make jam, since we finished most of them on the way from the fields. August 21, 2013 at 3:04pm Reply

  • MaryAnn Hardy: Elderbery jelly. For gathering the elderberries at the very end of summer, when the hills are dried grass and the roads are dusty, we have to drive far out into the countryside. I say “we” because it’s always more of a pleasure to have a friend along. The berries are easy to gather. They hang in dark, plump clusters, there are no thorns to avoid, and the branches seem to be relieved to give us their heavy burdens. Little insects scurry and fly away as we disturb them. We gather them in bunches and the buckets fill fast, but it takes a lot of fruit to make enough jelly for the year and enough wine for New Year’s Eve. It’s nice to stop and sit on the tailgate of the truck to drink something cold or to each lunch, and to laugh.

    When there is enough, we can go home and do the washing which is also easy and refreshing from the heat of the day. A hose fills each bucket of fruit which will loosen the dust and dislodge any tiny persistent insects. Tomorrow we’ll wash them again and start the process of making them into jelly: crushing them, turning up the heat and stirring them until fragrant steam rises, fills the kitchen and wafts out the open windows.
    And when I get to this part of the memories, I nearly swoon, because that’s what I do when those clouds of fragrance rise up from the big kettle. Cooking down elderberries for jelly always makes me drunk with desire, with joy, with pleasure, with happiness and hope. I feel better just remembering it. 🙂 August 21, 2013 at 1:16pm Reply

    • nikki: Lovely description, Mary Ann! August 21, 2013 at 2:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for sharing this beautiful memory, MaryAnn! Just reading this makes me feel serene and happy. 🙂 August 21, 2013 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Maiyra: Such a touching story! August 22, 2013 at 1:22am Reply

      • Karen: Yes! Elderberry jelly! One of my treasured memories is making blue corn pancakes with my elderberry syrup – earthy and smoky, perfect in the winter time. August 22, 2013 at 5:18am Reply

        • Victoria: Gosh, this sounds amazing! In France, you can find elderberry jellies and syrups easily, since the berries are considered very healthful. I haven’t seen fresh ones anywhere, but I will look again. I also really want to try elderflower jelly. August 22, 2013 at 9:24am Reply

          • Karen: Elderberry jelly (and syrup) really have this earthy quality – as do wild grape and choke cherry jelly. I think it is something in the non-domesticated plants, but that may just be my imagination! August 22, 2013 at 9:40am Reply

            • Victoria: Wild grapes tastes like grapes to the power of 10! August 22, 2013 at 10:08am Reply

          • Annikky: I bought a bottle of elderberry syrup (and thyme syrup as well) when visiting St Amour jam Factory in Durbuy a few weeks ago. And sure enough, both syrups are classified as medicinal products. Now this is some health advice I approve of 🙂 August 23, 2013 at 5:06am Reply

            • Victoria: Exactly what the doctor ordered! 🙂 August 23, 2013 at 9:56am Reply

              • Karen: Yes! August 23, 2013 at 11:31am Reply

  • Devon H: I live in the US and it’s fascinating to read about much more relaxed standards for preserving in Europe and Russia. 🙂 I make quite a lot of jam, with or without pectin (depending on the fruit and the amount I use depends on whether I want a firm set or a softer set). We always water bath sterilize jars first and water bath process them after filling the jars in order for air to be removed inside the jar, creating a vacuum, making the sealed jars completely shelf-stable until you open them (then you must keep them cold at that point). This is done not only to eliminate mold, but also botulism, and other food borne illness. “Baking” jars to sterilize them is more commonly done in large commercial operations.

    This summer I have made black raspberry, blackberry, red raspberry, beautiful mauve gooseberry, and strawberry jam so far, as well as a double batch of jam of a hybrid fruit new to the market called a Black Velvet aprium, which is an apricot crossed with a black plum. It is heavenly! Tonight I will make nectarine-lime jam, as well as plum jam that I make using 6 different varieties of plums. Apricots and tart sour cherries are in the freezer to be made into jam as well, and I have been making canned jars of brandied dark sweet cherries that have a cinnamon-tinged sugar syrup with equal parts brandy. By Christmas, they will be perfect. Luscious boozy cherries to eat with desserts and aromatic cherry flavored brandy liquid can be used to make decadent cocktails. They will be gifts for special people. 🙂 thank you for sharing this recipe! August 21, 2013 at 2:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Goodness, your jams sound amazing, Devon! And those boozy cherries must be irresistible. Now I will be dreaming of some vanilla ice cream topped with cinnamon scented cherries.

      I wouldn’t necessarily call this method relaxed, certainly not in a sense of taking food safety precautions lightly. I asked some of my friends who worked in food industry, and they generally agreed that since botulism spores don’t survive in high sugar solutions, a water bath in those cases (ie, when you use 1:1 fruit to sugar) is not mandatory. Plus, we’re making a fairly small quantity in this recipe. If you use less sugar, then yes, do use a water bath, as I recommend in the recipe, or store it in the fridge and eat within a couple of months. But of course, if one feels better giving their jars a water bath, they should do so. It’s nothing complicated and hardly adds more time to the whole thing. For instance, I made apricot cardamom jam tonight using only 500 g of sugar to 1 kg of fruit, and the jars are water bathing as we speak. 🙂

      (By the way, I picked up the “baking” method from the American books on home preserving, and I have been using it for the past 6-7 years with very good results.) August 21, 2013 at 3:21pm Reply

  • behemot: Wonderful recipe. We used to make similar jam at home, but without cognac. I think the cognac version is more interesting and will try to make it soon:) August 21, 2013 at 3:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: My grandmother adds vodka, because she says that it keeps berries firmer. I like cognac more though, because as you say, it’s more interesting. August 21, 2013 at 3:52pm Reply

  • Nancy A.: Mmm…raspberries. I can never get enough of these beautiful berries (the goldens) can even be sweeter. As a child my sister & I were handed little galvanized pails for berry picking when we spent summers away from the city. These berries were transformed into magical jams that my Mother would make & the perfume they gave off when she cooked them. I don’t recall picking raspberries but blackberries or a brambleberry. Thanks for the memory! August 21, 2013 at 3:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: This is such a summery vision! When I was little, we had a big plot of land covered by raspberry bushes, but to me it seemed like a forest of thorns. My grandmother gave my cousin and I bowls of milk and told us to go forage. Time to time I do this for dessert–cover raspberries with milk and add a tiny bit of sugar. August 21, 2013 at 4:34pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I have never made jam, but my parents used to. Blackberry, plum, elderberry and sometimes strawberry jam.
    Reading this almost makes me want to make my own jam, but my kitchen is tiny so I think I’ll just buy mine. Not at the supermarket though. I buy mine from small local producers in France. August 21, 2013 at 4:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: You really should try it, at least once. Jam making doesn’t require much space, and I say this as someone who has been making jam on a one burner electrical stove. I know that for many of us jam making is associated with a production on some industrial level, but it need not be.
      Yes, yes, I can be downright evangelical on the subject. I’ll stop now. 🙂 August 21, 2013 at 4:31pm Reply

      • maja: Evangelical, hahahha. Jam making is such a gorgeous process and I try telling people all the time to make it at least once. That is how I realized that a store bought ones should not be called jams, after making it once at home learning from my mother and Google. I started three years ago and can not stop myself from making it all the time. Oranges, lemons, raspberries, strawberries, there’s a glorious abbundance of smells, colors and nature’s goodness in one little jar. August 22, 2013 at 4:38am Reply

        • Victoria: Two years ago I found a wonderful French book full of recipes for preserves, jams, homemade liqueurs and other things, and I couldn’t wait for the summer to arrive to try some of them. When we moved to Belgium, my friends inherited two large boxes of homemade jams and ratafias. Of course, you can buy jam and even find something good from artisanal producers, but in almost all cases, the homemade jam will be better. Mostly, because unlike the commercial producers, you don’t have to overcook the jam. August 22, 2013 at 9:18am Reply

      • Austenfan: No, please go on. As I am sure I will finally give in! August 23, 2013 at 3:48am Reply

        • Victoria: In fact, I’ve just tried something at a Danish colleague’s house that you might enjoy. It’s called rysteribs, and it’s just fresh red currants mixed with sugar. Use half as many currants as sugar by weight (say, 200g currants and 100g sugar), pack everything in a jar scalded with boiling water, cover and leave in the fridge. Next day, everything will be syrupy and soft, and it’s absolutely delicious served over yogurt or porridge. My friend drizzled it over grilled pork, and that’s another great pairing.

          She said that it lasts in the fridge for a week, but I don’t imagine that my rysteribs will survive for this long. August 23, 2013 at 10:03am Reply

          • Austenfan: That sounds good, I love redcurrants! August 23, 2013 at 2:57pm Reply

  • Maiyra: The picture of bread and jam is making my mouth water. We don’t make jams at home but chuntneys and pickles like chilies in oil, sun lime pickle, hot mango chutney. My mother made my favourite hot sweet lemon pickle yesterday. August 22, 2013 at 1:19am Reply

    • Victoria: When my mother in law visited she made a delicious lime pickle which she tossed in salt, turmeric, chili powder, fenugreek and lemon juice and left in the summer. We had several consecutive days of intense sunshine, so we took advantage of it. She said that the older it gets, the better it becomes. August 22, 2013 at 9:05am Reply

  • Deborah: I love the way the post is written. I read Anna Karenina at school and probably glossed over the jam episode. You make me want to make jam and read Anna Karenina. 😀 August 22, 2013 at 3:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Deborah! I read Anna Karenina when I was a high school student, and I missed many things in the novel. It always gets better whenever I re-read it. August 22, 2013 at 9:13am Reply

  • Annikky: In Estonia, it’s traditional to make jam and other preserves in industrial quantities. Strawberry and rasperry jam and apple juice are the most common, but everything from blueberries to mushrooms to cabbage (sauerkraut) gets put in a jar. My grandmother used to make what seemed to me endless jars of jam, I remember how the entire kitchen table was filled with them. And then there were the 3-litre jars with pickled cucumbers and bottles with red currant and aronia syrup.

    It’s a great tradition but I also think that sometimes the joy can get a little lost, if you feel that you HAVE to do this. For some it’s an economic necessity, some do it because it has always been done and some just want to beat the birds to the berries 🙂 My generation is luckier as we can often do it simply for fun. With all the memories of picking tens of litres of red currants every summer, I certainly prefer a more relaxed approach.

    My personal favourites are jams from wild berries, cloudberries in particular. I also like plum and cherry preserves – like raspberries, they benefit from a splash of alcohol. And gooseberry with thyme is a more adventurous option that works well with meat (as do cranberries and lingonberries). August 22, 2013 at 5:44am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that anything becomes tedious if it’s a chore, and people differ very much in their love for cooking. For instance, my great grandmother did it only because she had to, and while she was a great cook, she would rather do something else than spend hours in the kitchen. My grandmother, on the other hand, takes enormous pleasure in cooking. She collects recipes, subscribes to various food magazines and always tries something new. As kids we always were trying to get her out of the kitchen, which was an ordeal. So, instead I joined her, and I remember many a summer picking red currants together, coring pears or deseeding gooseberries (yes, deseeding gooseberries) to make my grandmother’s famous cherry leaf flavored gooseberry preserve.

      Thyme flavored gooseberry jam sounds like something I would love. If I can still find them, I will make a small jar. August 22, 2013 at 9:29am Reply

      • Annikky: Deseeding gooseberries! I’m speechless. August 22, 2013 at 9:34am Reply

        • Victoria: Deseeding a pound of gooseberries takes 20 minutes or so. If they’re large, it’s not as crazy as it sounds.

          On the other hand, in France there is a famous red currant preserve, which is traditionally made by removing seeds from currants with a goose feather. As you can imagine it’s hardly ever made these days. Removing seeds is not just a fancy though, because they taste green and slightly bitter. Even if you press the juice out of the berries, you can’t avoid capturing some of the bitterness too. Without the seeds, the jam tastes floral and bright. August 22, 2013 at 9:42am Reply

          • Austenfan: Apparently the presence of bits of branches and other parts of the vine are one of the reasons for the difference in taste between hand harvested grapes and wines made from mechanically harvested crops. August 22, 2013 at 6:04pm Reply

            • Victoria: I didn’t know this, but it makes perfect sense. You can find parallels in the raw material processing. Some machines catch more of the foliage than the pickers would, so the oils acquire a sharp green accent. August 23, 2013 at 10:11am Reply

              • Austenfan: Generally only the more prestigious houses will hand pick their grapes. And occasionally a small independent viticulteur will do the same. I visited one last year in the Languedoc-Roussillon. It was very interesting being shown around his small business. He grew his grapes organically as well. August 23, 2013 at 12:09pm Reply

                • Victoria: With perfumery ingredients, it’s quite the opposite–most producers, if they can, mechanize their production. On the other hand, picking something like black currant buds by hand is an awful task. Still, it’s surprising to realize how many important perfume ingredients are hand picked and wild cropped. August 23, 2013 at 12:18pm Reply

          • Annikky: Yes, I can actually see the point of removing the seeds – in case of gooseberries they can be quite bitter, depending on the variety. And the red currant preserve sounds like haute couture of jam-making. Trust the French to come up with something like that… August 23, 2013 at 4:37am Reply

            • Victoria: True! Now, pitting currants is a thankless task, even if the jam tastes terrific. August 23, 2013 at 9:58am Reply

            • Victoria: P.S. I just responded to Austenfan with a Danish currant recipe that you might like as well, since if I remember correctly from the earlier comments, you were interested in the Scandinavian cuisine. August 23, 2013 at 10:05am Reply

    • Austenfan: I had to look up both cloudberries and lingonberries. Cloudberries do not exist in the Netherlands and lingonberries only in a very small part of the country.
      When I was a child,I had to help my parents when they were making jam, and of course I rather wanted to be doing something else. I remember once trying to figure out how many plum stones I could fit inside my mouth. I managed to put in an amazing number; I believe I managed 42 stones before I felt I was going to choke on them. It seems really bizarre now, but I was always very inquisitive. August 22, 2013 at 6:01pm Reply

      • Annikky: Your plum stone experiment has made my morning, thank you 🙂

        Cloudberries are not that easy to get even in Estonia, as they are not commercially grown and are more difficult to pick than wild blueberries or cranberries – cloudberries are mostly found in wetlands, plants tend to be quite far apart and only have one berry each. Even a few years ago it was almost impossible to get store-bought jam and it’s still very expensive.

        So part of my fascination might be the rareness, but I do love the look of those small golden clouds and their honeyed taste. A small jar of jam is worth picking up when travelling in Scandinavia (or Estonia), although as Victoria points out, the commercial versions tend to be too sweet and overcooked (in my opinion, cloudberry is especially sensitive to this, as their taste is quite subtle). If you are curious and happen to have an IKEA store nearby, its worth checking – they sometimes carry cloudberry jam in their food section. August 23, 2013 at 4:52am Reply

  • solanace: What a nice read! I love when you mention your grandmother, it’s always a beautiful glimpse on Russian culture and it always has that universal quality that makes me think of my own grandmother. I gotta buy some jam jars. Just made 2 kg of banana preserve and I’ve been giving it away. (Next time I’ll add a splash of the rum vanilla extract I made.) My brothers in law will eat just about anything :-), but I’m sure my labour would be more appreciated if it were stored in cute jars. Jar (Not JAR, hélas!) hunting in the city center should be fun! August 22, 2013 at 5:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Lucky brothers in law! 🙂 How do you make your banana preserve? August 22, 2013 at 9:31am Reply

      • solanace: I just make a caramel, put the diced bananas in the pan and let it cook for about an hour. It’s about 1/2 part sugar to 1 part ripe bananas. I had a huge quantity our neighbour gave us! Thinking again, it was actually more like 4 kg. The boys won’t be lacking potassium! 🙂 August 22, 2013 at 9:51am Reply

        • solanace: And when it is almost ready, I squeeze a bit of what we call vinegar lime, “limao vinagre”, which is actually a bergamot. (A regular lime works fine, too, but this is the real deal.) It improves the taste and also gives the bananas a deeper, reddish, more appetizing hue. I used one lemon for the 4 kgs. It is pretty delicious with cheese, cream or yogurt. And the house smelled so delicious that day! But I’ll be trying the rum next time, I bet it will be even better. August 22, 2013 at 9:57am Reply

          • Victoria: This is a must try for me! Thank you very much. I don’t know if I can find bergamots here, but I will try it in the winter with bitter oranges. I once made a chocolate banana jam from Christine Ferber’s book, and it was one of the most decadent jams I’ve tried. Yours sounds tropical and lush, and I can just imagine how great it must smell when it’s cooking.

            It’s now in my jam recipe booklet titled “Solanace’s Banana Jam.” 🙂 August 22, 2013 at 10:01am Reply

            • solanace: What an honour! 🙂 I have recipes from you copied in my notebook, and hopefully my grand grand children will be able to read Bois de Jasmin in the hyper internet of the future. August 22, 2013 at 3:56pm Reply

          • Annikky: This sounds wonderful. It never occurred to me that my idea of jam is so Europe-centric, but clearly it is, as I’ve never even considered banana jam. Must expand my horizons and experiment. Thank you! August 23, 2013 at 4:59am Reply

  • Tora: I loved reading this, and I smiled at the reference to the jam making in Anna K. I never understood the water vs no water argument, because I have never made any jams or marmalade with water. I look forward to trying this recipe! Raspberry is my favorite jam. My husband’s, too. If you add a quarter teaspoon of butter to the jam while cooking, it decreases the foaming. And you cannot taste any butter. Thank you very much for sharing this! August 22, 2013 at 8:31am Reply

    • Victoria: In New York I worked with a woman whose family owned a small farm, and they’ve done a lot of cooking and preserving. She also mentioned using butter. Thank you, Tora. I will have to try this method. August 22, 2013 at 9:52am Reply

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