Help! Our Jam is Too Hard!

We've been in a confessional mood lately, offering up photos of our inedible cooking disasters... Here's another misstep, although the problem this time isn't with the taste. This jam is absolutely delicious — just not quite right in its consistency. What did we do wrong?We had some almost-overripe fruit to use up — peaches and yellow plums, specifically — and decided to cook it down with some sugar and minced ginger to make refrigerator jam.

Being jam novices, we read a lot of websites and blog entries on how to do it. Many of them mentioned the trick of putting a plate in the freezer when you begin the process, then testing a drop of jam on it to see if the jam is firm enough. David Lebovitz lauds the tip in his tutorial on making cherry jam. Drip some jam onto the plate, nudge it, and if it wrinkles, it's ready. Faith used the same technique in her Plum Cinnamon Jam.

Sounds easy, right?

Maybe we didn't let the jam cool long enough before we nudged it, but ours never felt gooey or sticky — just runny. So we kept cooking. When we finally took it off the heat (because the sugar was close to burning on the bottom of the pan) and cooled it, it was the consistency of (really cold) cream cheese.

We've been eating it anyway, mostly because it tastes fantastic. The teaspoon of ginger we added is lovely with the peaches and plums, and, perhaps because of the long cooking time, it has a deep, almost caramelized flavor. But it requires a five-minute rest on the counter top before it's really spreadable. We do think it would be great melted into a sauce for meat, though.

Next time, we're using a candy thermometer instead of a frozen plate. But we wanted to ask for your opinion, jam makers. Do you use the plate trick? Any other signs you rely on to tell when your jam is ready?

Related: On Small and Unmarked Jars of Jam

(Image: Elizabeth Passarella)

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