Watermelon Jam to make for winter!
Summer is here, thank goodness! It’s watermelon season, which is such a nice, naturally sweet way to cool down.
A couple of slices of watermelon can be a great summer lunch (or breakfast, or dinner) especially when it is just too hot to cook.
But what if that nice sweet and luscious watermelon is a little bit off? Maybe it’s pink – or grainy – or a little bit flavorless. What to do? Instead of throwing it out or giving it to your pets, I discovered a third option – watermelon jam.
Why Watermelon Jam? Q & A
1. First of all, it is not expensive to make.
Fruit in Croatia can range from 2 euros to 3 euros per kilo, which can be a little high. If you are lucky to know a local grower you can try to buy fruit when it’s already getting a little bit mushy. At this stage, especially if you plan to buy more than a couple of kilos, you may be able to get a 50% discount.
Watermelon, on the other hand, is usually less than 0,5 euro per kilo. Granted that you are probably going to throw out the rinds, it is still a good deal. Besides that, you can make a lot of jam from just one watermelon!
2. What about the seeds?
I personally like just a few watermelon seeds in my jam to remind me where it came from.
3. How do I get the red color
I avoid artificial coloring because there is no guarantee just how safe they are. Several years ago, red dye #2 was shown to cause cancer, so I prefer to use natural color boosters. Just cooking the watermelon and sugar mixture on the stove will bring out some of its natural colors. Occasionally, I add plums or berries to the recipe and mix it together.
4. Finally, the fun aspect!
There is definitely something unexpected about watermelon jam.
Before I came to Croatia, I didn’t know it was possible to make jam from watermelon. This is another good reason to give it as a holiday gift to friends, colleagues, neighbors, postal carrier etc. as a personal “thank you”. It is kind of a special touch.
Watermelon jam is popular in Russia! People like to put a tiny teaspoon full of this jam into their teacups, and the jam there is more syrupy than here with traces of fruit chunks.
Winter is long, can be windy and cold, and there is nothing like watermelon jam on an English muffin to brighten a wintertime breakfast!
Particulars of Watermelon Jam
Watermelon is extremely sweet (alkaline) so you will need the juice of fresh lemons (acid) to offset that. Many jam recipes include vanilla flavoring, but not with watermelon jam.
Watermelon Jam Recipe
Three to five pounds of fruit to be peeled, cleaned and chopped up
Two or more pounds of sugar. Most cooks use a little under 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar. I personally shoot for 1.5, which means for three pounds or kilos of fruit (in this case watermelon), you will need 2 kilos or pounds of sugar. It doesn’t matter which measurement you decide to use, just that the proportions are right.
Watermelon Jam recipe:
You will start with a large watermelon, best if chilled, and start slicing and dicing it into chunks. Be sure to wear an apron or an old T-shirt (the one you use to wash the car with) to avoid staining your clothes.
Dice the watermelon into 1-inch cubes, place in a very large bowl and discard the rinds. Try to visibly remove the black seeds in the center of the fruit. Sprinkle the entire bowl filled with chopped fruit with about 3/4 of the sugar and set aside. The remaining sugar will be used to mix with the pectin or gelatin mix. It is a shortcut that I strongly suggest because by using the pectin (or Želin as it’s called in Croatian), you won’t end up overcooking the fruit.
Cover the watermelon chunks and sugar with plastic (you can even use a large plastic bag from the supermarket) and place it in the refrigerator until the next day, or at least for a few hours.
In a few hours, you can stir it so it becomes more homogenous and let it sit.
Cooking the jam
On low heat, cook slowly and stir so that the fruit and sugar mixture cooks evenly.
The sugar needs to dissolve completely.
This process takes around one hour, and you kind of need to stay close to the pot (it isn’t a soup recipe where you throw it all in and come back later).
Keep a wooden spoon handy and keep an eye on your fruit concoction. It may bubble and pop – so wear plastic household gloves to prevent burns. Or keep the fire on low and let it cook slowly.
Now that the mixture has thickened, add the lemon juice.
- In a separate bowl, mix fruit pectin and sugar until it is homogeneous. (In Croatia, it is called Želin – which is loosely translated to mean “Gelatin”. There are several brands – Podravka, Dr. Oetker, etc. Unless you are making over 5 kilos of fruit jam, one package will be enough.)
2. In a larger bowl, mix the gelatine and sugar mixture with some of the watermelon jam in progress. Once it’s well mixed (take your time to avoid lumps), incorporate it into the jam on the stove, mixing a little bit more.
Insider Tidbit: Did you know that Croatian women who make good food are said to “mix the food well”?! They don’t say “you are a good cook” because they figure that the food cooks itself. Mixing makes the difference between a good cook and an excellent one.
The Spoon test
Eventually, you will test if the watermelon jam is beginning to gel.
Use a metal Tablespoon and remove about 1/2 T. and let it sit on a plate a few moments. When cooled, if it’s the consistency of marmalade, the mixture is finished. If it is still too runny, let it cook a bit longer and retest again in 5 or so minutes.
If it passes the spoon test, then pour the hot jam into sterilized glass jars.
How to sterilize glass jars:
Wash them in the dishwasher or bake them in the oven on low heat to disinfect them, lids included (of course metal lids, no plastic ones). When the jam has thoroughly cooled, it’s time to seal them up.
How to Hermetically seal your jars
This is probably the most important – making them airtight to avoid mold. Basically, you will fill the jar (I like to use a soup ladle and wide mouth jar!) and then, after putting the lid on, turn the whole jar upside down! Don’t worry, if you sealed it there is nothing to fear. This creates a vacuum seal to keep it airtight.
Remember – hot jam goes into hot jars. You can use mason jars with the clip or recycle ordinary pickle jars and sterilize them well. The jars can be hot, preferably, or at the very least, place them in a pan and pour very hot water into the pan so that the jam does not get a temperature shock from hot to cold.
If any jar is not completely filled to the top, I suggest putting it in the refrigerator and using that one up, first. Any air in the jar can lead to its instability, so the refrigerator will ensure that it stays fresh.
Wrapping it up
- Remember – sterilize your jars first – better to have too many than not enough.
- Use wooden spoons to stir the fruit
- Gardening gloves or plastic household gloves (new ones) are good to prevent burns from bubbling fruit.
- If you decide to add berries or plums to your watermelon jam, you will need to cook it separately and add it to the watermelon jam mixture.
Make it a Family Tradition
Get helpers involved and they too will consider it a seasonal activity to prepare watermelon jam for the wintertime!
Now is the time
I recommend doing most of the work in the early morning or evening when it is not quite so hot outside.
Summertime is great, fruit is plentiful and the days are long. It is not likely that making marmalade will come into your mind, but believe me, when autumn rolls around, you will be very glad that you preserved fruit or made jam in the summer.
Especially if you have kids, lazy summer days will become a whirlwind of activities. There is Back to School, and cold weather duties like buying new shoes and coats and storing summer clothes for next year. preparing clothes for the cooler weather. Then, before you know it, it’s the holidays.
Just keep the fruit in a cool, dry place, like a kitchen cupboard or in the garage.
Preparing fruit for the cooler months is a good insurance policy because you know that the fruit was not overly processed and you made it with your own loving hands. It is both economical and feels like an old friend when you pull out of the cabinet.
Besides that, you are already prepared for last minute guests or hostess gifts.
All the best,
The Amerikanka in Croatia