If you’re ever in a jam (to clean out the pantry)

As March draws to a close, I start counting the weeks until the farmers market returns. (Ten, thanks.)

After a long winter rounded out by a handful of late snowstorms, I’m really looking forward to the first local salad of mixed greens, the first fresh asparagus, and the chance to restock my garlic stash. Along with the uninhibited indulgence of all those returning delights, I’ll also start my annual round of food preservation: filling jars with pickles and jams, drying vegetables and fruits, and tucking bags of blanched produce into the freezer.

Until then, I have an even more daunting task ahead of me: cleaning out the pantry and the freezer to make room for this year’s bounty. I never get everything fully cleaned out, of course, because some of those items won’t be replenished until later in the summer, but I do need to make a serious dent in the baskets and shelves of jars.

Where to begin? I’ve opened up large portions of the freezer already, thanks to winter soups, stews, and curries. Almost all of my "cold storage" produce has been used up, save for the last garlic and one lonely sweet potato. I’ve even made good, steady progress at working through all the tomatoes and sauce I put up last August and September.

But the jars of jam… ah, now there’s my weak spot. I happily put away several kinds of homemade jam, even after giving away many jars. And though you might think that a die-hard jam-maker wouldn’t deign to stock up on anyone else’s preserves, I found several intriguing varieties at the market this past year and simply couldn’t resist tucking away the occasional jar of Niagara grape jelly or rose-hip jam.

So how on earth does someone blessed with a full pantry of homemade preserves make room for the next year’s jars? It ain’t easy…

Bread and bored

The most obvious way to use up jam, of course, is to pile it up on regular helpings of toast. Since I love to bake bread, you might think that would be a no-brainer for me, but I rarely remember to reach for the jam when I make toast — not to mention I rarely indulge in toast.

Instead, I try to remind myself to pull out the jam when I make pancakes. I’ll skip pouring maple syrup on top of the cakes because I like to cover them with a tasty apple jam (almost like pie filling) from one of my favorite farmers or with one of my own berry jams. I can easily make pancakes for breakfast even on a work day, so this ends up being one of the most consistent ways for me to clean out jam jars.

On weekends, if I feel inspired to bake biscuits, I’ll remind myself to pull out the jam jars then, too — maybe even a sampler of what’s open so that each biscuit half gets a different flavor. Of course, that works better when you have company, so cleaning out your jam jars makes an excellent excuse for having a brunch for friends or family.

But all of those ideas only get me through just so many jam jars, and it takes ever so long to clean out a jar when you’re only using a spoonful or two at a time.

Just desserts

That’s when using jam in recipes comes in handy. Since jam is essentially fruit puree with sweetener, it can easily fit into baked goods that call for cooked fruit, applesauce, yogurt, sour cream, or other thick binding ingredients, and it can help you lower the amount of sweetener you add to the final product. It can take some tinkering to get the consistency right, as thick purees can make baked goods gummy if not balanced well by the dry ingredients, but you can usually find a basic recipe that can be modified without much difficulty.

For example, muffins with jam in the batter (recipe below) offer a simple way to use a small jar of jam in its entirety while giving you a hidden hit of fruit in your morning. And if, like me, you’re usually too lazy to scoop batter into individual muffin cups, you can dump it all into a loaf pan and end up with a jam-sweetened quick bread. (Be careful, though. The larger pan used for quick bread may then affect your baking time. Quick breads tend to have the most problems with gumminess, I’ve found.)

If you’d rather have a definite taste and texture of jam in your baked goods, you might want to consider using it as a layer or a topping. (Think thumbprint cookies!) I often adapt my favorite date bar recipe to incorporate half a pint of jam, spooning it over the shortbread base and adding an oat crumb topping. The jam bar shown here used blueberry-peach jam, and with mini diced candied ginger in the shortbread base and in the topping, it produced a delicious taste of summer on a midwinter’s day.

Jam can replace even whole fruit in such desserts as tarts. One summer I made a jam and cheese tart (recipe in the link) with a cream cheese filling, a layer of finely grated dark chocolate, and a layer of berry jam under a lattice top. A smaller version of these tarts (recipe included) could be made in mini muffin tins, or — if you have leftover tart or pie crust dough from another recipe — you could simply cut out squares of dough, drop a dollop of jam on top, fold or pinch the edges together, and end up with a messy but satisfying snack.

Because I tend to leave pectin out of my jam recipes, preferring a runny preserve that spreads more easily, I can also use them as sauces straight from the jar. (Jams and jellies containing pectin may need to be heated to become fluid enough to spread in a thin layer or to drizzle as sauce.) That means I can spoon a brightly fruity jam over such creamy, neutral-tasting desserts as pudding or custard, cheesecake, or even a dish of yogurt.

But why not go a step further and make a jam sauce serve as an interior layer to a more complex dessert? That was my thinking behind a recent creation of raspberry truffle squares (recipe included), where a half-pint of raspberry jam fit neatly between dark chocolate shortbread and brownie layers for a rich, crowd-pleasing treat.

And if you’re really confident of your baking skills, a thin layer of jam sandwiched between cake layers and a creamy frosting adds an elegant touch. (I’ve seen and enjoyed this in the walnut torte served at the local Hungarian pastry shop, but I have yet to work up the courage to make such a cake myself.)

I haven’t counted the number of jam jars remaining in my pantry at this point, but I’m sure there are still way more than I can use up before it’s time to make more. I can’t say that I don’t have ways to deal with the surplus, though, given all the options outlined here, and some I haven’t even tried yet.

And if all else fails and I turn desperate, my friends and family might end up getting jars of jam for their birthdays — because it’s always good to have people you can rely on to get you out of a jam.

Jam and Streusel Muffins

Based on the sour cream muffin recipe found in "King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking"; you may want to vary the spices depending on the kind of jam you use. Makes 18 muffins.

2 c whole wheat pastry or spelt flour
1/2 c unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c sugar (I used cane juice crystals)
1/4 c maple sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 c strained plain yogurt
1 c peach jam

1/4 c chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 c maple sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease muffin tins and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter with sugar and maple sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and almond extract and beat well. Add yogurt, mixing until batter becomes creamy. Add dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just until incorporated. Add jam and stir until well distributed throughout the batter.

Combine nuts, maple sugar, and spices for streusel in small bowl. Add melted butter and mix with your (clean!) fingers for even distribution.

Scoop batter into prepared tins, filling cups only 3/4 full. Sprinkle streusel on top and press lightly into batter. Bake muffins for 20-23 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove tins from oven and set aside for 5 minutes before removing muffins to wire cooling rack.

22 Responsesto “If you’re ever in a jam (to clean out the pantry)”

  1. valereee says:

    OMG, it’s TEN WEEKS ’til your farmers’ market opens? Aieee! Our first one opens on April 19th, and that seems like eons to me!

  2. Charlotte says:

    Even though I have a year-round farmer’s market and a lemon tree in my backyard, this post is *so* bookmarked. (I can’t resist buying jam either, even though I rarely use it on my toast.)

  3. Janet says:

    I have a better solution: Send it all to ME!

  4. Noreen says:

    Send me some, too! I moved twice last year and had to pare way down on the things I preserved last summer, so the strawberry jam and rhubarb compote are only a distant memory.

  5. Green… Green…? I vaguely remember that color… All I see is white and blue with shades of grey. Beautiful in a stark way. Life on top of a vanilla ice cream cone… :)

    Send the truffle squares this way… Chocolate… ah…

  6. I go through jam fairly quickly around here. I’ve been on a diet/food plan (lost 47 pounds and am holding at my pre-midlife weight!).

    Every day, I have local yogurt with a very well-rounded teaspoon of raspberry jam. I used to get the fruit-at-the-bottom kind from the store, but discovered that it contains high fructose corn syrup, even more in the lo-fat varieties (the scoundrels).

    Yes, I eat whole milk yogurt and jam with real sugar on this diet, but I find that it has “staying power” in the satisfaction department, which helps me stay on the diet.

    Similarly, I put a dollop of fig jam on a quarter cup of ricotta cheese. Delicious and it takes away the cheesecake voices!

  7. bj says:

    Oh yes, put me on the list for whatever jam needs cleaning out!

    I always buy plain yogurt from the farm and “mix my own” with jam to avoid the high fructose corn syrup and aspartame (UGH!!!!!) Funny how, with the announcement of Roundup Sugar Beets courtesy of Monsanto, cane sugar is actually acquiring a more benign rep . . .

    And great minds think alike, Sophie! I also use a bit of jam in some farm fresh ricotta for a quick snack! Though I haven’t tried fig jam . . .

    A dollop of jam is also good mixed in oatmeal or other hot cereals on chill mornings, though if you also use milk you’ll have to be careful which type since some will curdle milk.

    Geez, the Easton PA Farm Market on the square doesn’t open until May 3rd. *sigh*

  8. Maria Neal says:

    Hi there! Just wanted to drop in and tell you what an excellent and inspiring blog you have! I will definitely be coming back to read more. I am not too far north of you in Lancaster, NH, and I used to monitor about 92 lakes in your area for loons, so I know Sandwich well. A lovely little town that has somehow remained very rural in the midst of “meredith madness”. Interesting diet ideas- have you ever tried making your own yogurt to go with your jam? Very easy and delisc, we use our own very heavy raw milk….

  9. Jen says:

    I second bj’s recommendation for preserves in oatmeal. My favorite is a big dollop of slightly bitter orange marmalade and a drizzle of maple syrup — delicious and filling!

  10. I never thought of putting jam in oatmeal before, but now that bj and Jen mention it, I’m dying to try it. I’m thinking peach…

    Does anyone here happen to know where to get local or regional rolled oats? (New England area)

  11. Valereee, yes, it’s (just under) 10 weeks away: the first Saturday in June. SIGH. But I can make it, I promise… unless, of course, I need to take a road trip south to butt in on your farmers market!

    Charlotte, glad I could help… now, if only I can remember some of these things myself!

    Janet, I keep telling you, we should be neighbors! :-)

    Noreen, the strawberry jam is the one I hold onto the longest… but I’m getting close to tucking into that, too.

    Walter, we’re starting to see some green along ditches and waterways now that the spring thaw is receding. Sorry about the chocolate, though… it’s long gone.

    Sophie (Debbie), jam in yogurt makes such a satisfying breakfast or snack… and I like the whole milk version myself!

    bj, I keep thinking I need to try jam in oatmeal… perhaps one of these days soon (as it’s still oatmeal season here).

    Maria, though I’m not from NH myself, I’m visiting a friend near Sandwich this summer and love the area. I’ve not yet made my own yogurt, but said friend has, and she has inspired me to try it soon!

    Jen, orange marmalade and maple syrup sound like a winning combination!

  12. jennie says:

    Oh this is so helpful. I give away a lot of jam, but still here I am in March looking at a cupboard full of at least 50 jars. For the date bars do you replace the date/ blueberry filling with jam or do you mix the jam with dates in place of blueberries? Thnaks

  13. Jennie, I’ve tried it both ways, and I’d say it depends on what you want. Adding the jam to the dates gives you a thicker, more substantial filling, but using jam alone can be a simpler sweet treat. If you’ve got a stash of jam bigger than mine, I’d suggest trying both! :-)

  14. Anna says:

    Hmmmm, a jar of sugar with a bit of fruit. No thanks. I purged jam and jelly from my pantry years ago. Fruit is best consumed fresh and in season, the way early humans would have consumed it. It’s hard to over- consume fructose when only consumed with the fruit (thought with modern, super-sweet hybrids even that is potentially possible). But it is easy to over-consume fructose in damaging quantities when consumed in concentrated forms like jam, jellies, dried fruits, and other processed fruits. The body doesn’t distinguish between fructose from fruit, corn, or agave, either. It all goes to the liver to be metabolized. What can’t be used at the moment is turned into fat.

    For those avoiding HFCS, be aware that cane sugar is nearly the same proportion fructose and glucose as HFCS. HFCS is about (it varies a bit) 45% glucose and 55% fructose. Table sugar is 50-50%. In the body there is little difference, both are damaging. HFCS just happens to be cheaper and have other characteristics desireable to food chemists (browns baked goods, acts as a preservative, holds moisture, etc.).

    And agave syrup isn’t necessarily a better option to table sugar or HFCS, despite the low glycemic claims. Depending on brand, the fructose level in agave syrup can be as high as 92% fructose. That’s super -concentrated, nothing natural about that, and perhaps far more damaging to the liver than HFCS (potential for making human foi gras).

  15. Anna, you offer some interesting points. Fruit IS best consumed fresh, unadorned, and in season. However, I do think there is a place — for those who choose it — to include preserved fruits in their diet in moderation. (Moderation in all things — including moderation!)

    I prefer to sweeten my jams with honey, and though I’m aware that honey has its detractors as well, it allows me to add just a touch of sweetness to the fruit instead of overloading the fruit with sugar. There are also recipe books that offer instructions for low-sugar jams and jellies using fruit juices or other possibilities.

    If you want to avoid sugars or preserved fruits, you may choose not to eat or make jam. But for those who do choose to enjoy fruit preserved in this fashion, I simply offer suggestions for alternative ways to use it. Please allow us that choice as well.

  16. Anna says:

    “Please allow us that choice as well.”

    Of course, that choice is always there. And I’m sure it’s no fun with a wet blanket like me raining on the jelly parade. But I kinda like to know what I am choosing because it can make a huge difference.

    How many understand how much sugar there is in a TBL serving of jam? About 3 teaspoons. Lower sugar jellies/jams have about 2 tsp. sugar. The body works hard to keep the BG at a stable, heathy level of about 1 tsp.

    Or how little difference there really is between table sugar and HFCS? Substituting one for the other, as some of the commenters do, is practically a moot point.

    Somehow, the “fruit” aspect becomes a little blessing for a huge wallop of sugars, as if concentrated sugar that comes with “a fruit costume”, such as juice or jellies/jams, gets a free pass and is benign or even “healthful”. Until learning more about glucose regulation, I thought that, too, and I used to make lots of jams & jellies to preserve the season’s bounties.

    So sure, everyone has the choice on whether to eat jelly & jam, and in what quantity. But I’m just saying an informed choice is better than an uninformed choice.

  17. kitchenMage says:


    I am also a huge fan of homemade jam (and homegrown frozen fruit) and this list is so inspirational! I just unearthed a jar of plum-lavender jam that is runny due to being very low-pectin/sugar and I think it’s destined to become sauce for a pork roast tonight.

    Anna, I think you are right that people should be informed eaters, but I am confused by this sentence, “The body works hard two keep the BG at a stable, heathy level of about 1 tsp.” Um, 1 tsp? Huh?

  18. Anna, I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard anyone describe jam or jelly as “healthful.” Yes, it can be loaded with sugar, and yes, even low-sugar jams still have more sugar than we expect. Some people may have problems even with miniscule levels of sugar (such as my father, who has diabetes) and make appropriate choices based on what is right for them. I am all for informed choices, and I thank you for the information you offer to Ethicurean readers. I’m sure everyone can make the choices that are appropriate for themselves based on this discussion.

    kitchenMage, your plum-lavender jam sounds delightful and well paired with the pork roast. I keep thinking I will get around to making a blackberry-lavender jam with the berries in the freezer, but I haven’t yet. Do enjoy your dinner!

  19. Anna says:

    ” I am confused by this sentence, “The body works hard two keep the BG at a stable, heathy level of about 1 tsp.” Um, 1 tsp? Huh?”

    Thanks for asking about this. I think most people are surprised to learn how little glucose the body wants circulating in the blood. Compare this to the 10 or more teaspoons of sugars in a can of soda (imagine a Big Gulp!), etc. One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 gms of sugar. Keep this in mind as you read labels. When you start thinking about added sugars in teaspoons, it looks differently. And starches are listed in the total carbohydrates, but not the sugars. Except for fiber, starches break down into glucose, too, but somewhat slower. Insulin still has to find a place to put it, though.

    Here’s how it works in a nutshell: Glucose in the blood (BG) is tightly regulated in the body. Too little isn’t good (lack of fuel for the cells), nor is too much (damage to cells throughout the body). The total amount of all the glucose in the blood is about 1 tsp at any given time in a person with a healthy glucose metabolism, in other words, not very much, especially compared to modern dietary sugar/starch content.

    The body has good mechanisms for maintaining that balance of just the right amount of glucose at any given time, but modern diets are so high in foods that flood the system with sugars all day (sugars and starches) that for many people, the system is constantly working all day to clear out the excess glucose. Early humans had few sources of concentrated sugar sources, and certainly not all year, every day, several times a day, as we do now. Fruit was much smaller and less sweet before modern hybridization, too.

    If a lot of fast-absorbing glucose hits the blood stream (sugar & refined starches) then the body works hard to clear it out quickly so that the cells are not damaged by too much glucose (glucose inappropriately “sticks” to cell proteins, damaging them) . Insulin is pumped out rapidly to usher the glucose into cells and out of the blood stream, hopefully stopping. If too much insulin is produced, low blood sugar symptoms can occur (light headedness, hunger cravings, irritability, etc.). Roller coaster blood glucose is not very fun.

    But unless one is really exerting oneself and needing fast-acting energy, most of the cells can’t use the excess glucose; the short-term stores of glucose in the liver & muscles (glycogen) are also full; so the insulin ushers the excess glucose into the fat cells to be stored as fat. High insulin levels also stop the fat cells from releasing stored energy, in effect locking it in, and creating more hunger for sugars instead of using stored body fuel (fat). If you didn’t know it before, yes, dietary sugar and starches can be converted into fat in the body. Dietary fat is stored as body fat only if insulin production is high from sugar and starch intake).

    There’s a *lot* more to this, of course, but over many years or decades, especially with very common genetic and epigenetic influences, a high dietary sugar intake can exceed and wear out the body’s ability to maintain the BG at about 1 tsp. Eventually, the insulin production cannot keep up and hyperglycemia/diabetes results (either from cellular resistance to the high insulin levels or damage to the pancreatic beta cells and reduction of insulin production. One does not have to be obese for this to happen. 20% of Type 2 diabetes are not overweight or obese, btw.

    I’ll drop this now because I don’t want to get any further off topic. Enjoy the jams & jellies. I’ll stick to my fresh or frozen berries, and other low sugar fruits. If you want to learn more about glucose regulation, there is very good info at Diabetes 101 – http://www.phlaunt.com/diabetes/ ( I have now connection to it other than as reader – it’s a non-commercial, very well researched source I rely on for good blood glucose info).

  20. kitchenMage says:

    Jennifer, Blackberry-lavender sounds marvelous! I live by a cider mill that makes blackberry-apple cider to die for and I keep promising myself I’ll cook with some…and then the jug is empty. Somehow. looks innocent

    Anna, thanks for the lengthy explanation. I was looking for this nugget: “The total amount of all the glucose in the blood is about 1 tsp at any given time in a person with a healthy glucose metabolism…” The tsp in relation to what.

  21. Emily H. says:

    Am I the only person here who just eats straight from the jam jar?
    I do also *love* whole milk plain yogurt with a dollop of jam, though. Oatmeal, too. So good.
    And for you lavender lovers–a couple of years ago, when we had a fig tree in our front yard and my kitchen was flooded with far more than I could eat, I made some absolutely marvelous lavender-fig jam. Definitely worth trying if you’re blessed with a surplus of figs.

  22. Katie says:

    Here’s how I treat jam/jelly: healthwise as dessert, one side of my psychology as “dessert substitute,” and the more subconscious side of my psychology as, “this is soooo not dessert.”

    Mental message 1 says, “You already ate dessert!” if I want candy.

    Mental message 2 says, “You don’t want more of that crap–it’s not even dessert. Face it–you’re out of dessert. Time to think about getting used to that,” if I want seconds on dessert but have nothing but more jam in the house.

    (And, somewhere in there, I keep in mind that it totally IS as bad for me as eating its equivalent amount of sugar…just tastier. But the whole American-child-mentality of, “Jelly isn’t dessert; it’s half of a lunch sandwich!” keeps me from getting seconds sometimes.)