Taste It, Don't Waste It: Refrigerator Jams

There are certain times in the harvest when flavor feels particularly fleeting. When, Pac-Man like, I need to gobble what's in front of me before -  in a blink -  the season will shift and I will have to wait another year to enjoy those tastes again. Spring and fall always send me into a produce driven panic. Can't get enough of the new season, can't get enough before it shifts into winter. And often I turn to my canner, which allows me to jar up produce and set it on my shelf for a year, to freeze that moment or at least make it last a bit longer. Canning isn't difficult, but it does take a little time and advanced planning which, sometimes in my produce-induced mania, I don't always have. 

Stopping Time - Quickly

Refrigerator jams (and other refrigerator treats), on the other hand, are quick and easy to make with common ingredients you already have on hand. And, because they rely on the chill of the icebox to preserve them, you can leave the science of home food preservation - pH levels, processing times and equipment - behind. And by using the easy methods described below you don't even have to dust off your canner - or even know what a canner is. 

This edited approach to preserving can be the difference between enjoying delicious fruit from the farmers' market or passing it by. This speedy little method also allows you to make tiny batches so you don't need a whole flat of fruit to get going. And it's a great trick to pull out of your sleeve when you have fruit that is breathing its last breath. Just pop it in the pot and fruit that was destined for the compost is now a treat for your toast. 

Refrigerator spreads last for about two to three weeks. It's easy to tell when it's reached the end of its life - it will go furry with mold. Some eaters actually just scrape that off and keep going. I am not a fan of the fuzz, and neither is the USDA

You can stretch the spread's half-life to the limit by avoiding the introduction of any bacteria. Ladle your finished spread into a super clean jar, never dip in a finger and use a fresh, clean spoon (one that hasn't met the butter or a lick first) each time you dig in. 

Refrigerator Spreads

Some fruits such as grapes, apples and cranberries have more of the naturally occurring pectin that makes them gel. These fruits will set up stiffer than fruits with less pectin. But, regardless of which fruit you use and the texture you end up with, they all will taste great. The following techniques are very versatile and can be used all year long. I've listed some of my favorite fruits and flavors for each, but you needn't limit your imagination to those. You can also turn any recipe for a spread that you would normally can into a refrigerator spread - just skip the canning part and pop in the ice box. 

Recipe: Basic Fridge Jam

This recipe can be used for any non-citrus fruit. It's terrific for berries, stone fruits, figs, pears, apples, quince, tomatoes, cranberries and more. You can also try fruit combinations, such as strawberry and rhubarb, mixed berries, peach and tomato and cranberry-apple. Or, if you want to put a spin on your spread, add flavorings such as cherry with chili powder, blueberry with basil, strawberry with vanilla, blackberry with lemon verbena, peach with bourbon, plums with five spice powder, tomato with chili flakes, pear with cardamom, apple with cinnamon. This recipe can be scaled up or down. 

Ingredients:

1 quart of fruit, stones, seeds, stems and peels removed (except for berries, cranberries and figs) and roughly chopped

1 cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Method:

In a medium saucepan, bring the fruit and a splash of water to a simmer. Cook until the fruit falls apart, aiding the process with a potato masher as necessary. Add the sugar and lemon juice and simmer, stirring frequently, until the jam thickens (the mixture will fall off a wooden spoon in sheets rather than drips). Transfer to clean jars or a bowl. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to three weeks. 

Refrigerator Chutney

With a few extra ingredients, you can turn your jam into a chutney. Chutneys are a natural pairing with cheese. They are phenomenal when served with a cheese plate or spread on a cheese sandwich or grilled cheese. They are also terrific served along grilled or roasted foods. And, of course, they add a sweet note to the plate when served along spicy dishes such as curries. Try making them with apples, pears, plums, peaches, tomatoes or cranberries. This recipe can be scaled up or down. 

Ingredients:

1 quart of fruit, stones, seeds, stems and peels removed (except for cranberries) and roughly chopped

1 cup diced onion

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup of sugar

¼ cup of vinegar 

Method:

In a medium saucepan, bring the all of the ingredients except the sugar and vinegar to a boil. Cook until the fruit is tender and the onion is translucent. Add the sugar and vinegar and simmer, stirring frequently, until the chutney thickens. Transfer to clean jars or a bowl. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to three weeks. 

Refrigerator Fruit Butters

Fruit butters are smooth and spreadable. They are often enjoyed on toast instead of butter but they also make a delicious layer in a tart. Or try them instead of mayo on a sandwich. Apples, pears, quince, peach and pumpkin all make great butters. 

Ingredients:

1 quart fruit, peels and seeds removed, chopped into 1-inch dice

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice 

Method:

In a medium saucepan, bring the fruit and a splash of water to a simmer. Cook until the fruit falls apart. Use an immersion blender or transfer to a traditional blender to puree until smooth. Return to the pot. Add the sugar and lemon juice and simmer until the mixture has the texture of apple sauce and a dollop on a plate does not weep. Transfer to clean jars or a bowl. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to three weeks. 

'Fridge Fruit Cheese

High pectin fruit can be cooked down to a point where it will cool to a solid paste. The resulting "fruit cheese" is traditionally served with cheese. It can also be cut into small cubes and dusted in confectioner's sugar for a sweet treat. Membrillo is a fruit cheese that is made from quince and is popular in Latin America and Spain. Damson plums, black currants and apples also make terrific fruit cheeses. 

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon neutral flavored oil

1 quart fruit, peels and seeds removed, chopped into 1-inch dice

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice 

Method:

Line a ramekin, muffin tin or small loaf pan with plastic wrap and coat with a thin layer of oil. Set aside. 

In a medium saucepan, bring the fruit and a splash of water to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until the fruit falls apart. Use an immersion blender or transfer to a traditional blender to puree until smooth. Return to the pot. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently until thick. Continue to stir the mixture constantly, and lower the heat to low if necessary to avoid burning, until the paste forms a solid mass that pulls away from the sides of the pot when stirred. Scoop into the prepared vessel and allow to cool to room temperature. The cheese will firm up as it cools. Cover and transfer to the refrigerator where it will keep for at least three weeks and often more.