My grandmother used to make jam every year out of the summer bounty of berries. It was a multi-day project involving scorching-hot vats of berries, thickened by pectin and pounds of white sugar, which she balanced with the tang of lemon or lime juice. A simple slab of toasted country bread slathered with her homemade jam and some salted butter was my favorite way to start the day.
Now, in a world that favors high-protein egg whites for breakfast, or if there is a piece of toast to be had, it’s covered in smashed avocado and tomato slices instead of rich red jam, I wondered if it was even worth the hassle to create a healthier version of my Grandma’s recipe. Turns out, it was.
The resulting recipe is so easy, a hefty jar of jam can be whipped up in minutes, keeping my fridge stocked for weeks. As a mom of four daughters, I jump on any opportunity to remove processed sugar from our treats, and this jam stayed delectably sweet and comforting in the process.
We use this jam to top toast like Grandma did, but we also use it instead of syrup on almond flour waffles, or to sweeten plain Greek yogurt for snacks, breakfast or dessert.
The challenge in removing the traditional white sugar is achieving the gel-like texture that makes jam, well, jammy. The secret is in using blueberries and apples, which both contain natural pectin, and boiling at very high heat, stirring constantly for the few minutes it takes to get the jam to thicken.
To mimic some of the sweetness of sugar, I add a few finely chopped dates, but you could actually skip them if you don’t mind a little less sweetness. With the sugar and canning process gone, the jam must be eaten within a few weeks and kept in the fridge, but given how tasty the jam is and how easy it is to make a new batch — I even use readily-available frozen mixed berries! — this doesn’t seem to be a problem.
NO-FUSS NO-SUGAR-ADDED BERRY JAM
Servings: 32 (About 2 1/2 cups of jam)
Start to finish: 20 minutes
3 dates, finely chopped
1/2 cup water
1 small tart cooking apple, like granny smith, peeled and finely chopped (1/4-inch cube)
3 cups frozen mixed berries (no need to thaw)
2 teaspoons lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Place the chopped dates and water into a medium sauce pan and simmer for a minute or two to soften the dates. Add the chopped apple and frozen berries, and increase heat to medium high, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Once the mixture is boiling, turn up the heat to high, and let boil vigorously, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and turns jammy, about 3-4 minutes. (Carefully add a tablespoon of water if mixture starts to get dry.) Once the jam feels like it’s thickening, turn off the heat and stir in lime zest, lime juice and vanilla extract if using. Cool before serving.
Will keep fresh for 2-3 weeks in a tightly-covered jar in the refrigerator.
Nutrition information per serving: 8 calories; 0 calories from fat; 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 0 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 0 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.”