The Best Jams and Preserves in the USA
Got toast? [Toast photos: Vicky Wasik. All others: Wes Rowe.]
What did you do this summer? Go camping? Visit family? Backpack through Europe?
Me, I tasted jam. Curious about all the new preserves appearing on the shelves of my local gourmet market, I wondered whether all those cute-labeled jars were just fancy packaging with nothing special within. I asked food pros around the country about their favorites and started gathering a massive collection. But as I tasted my way through 88 different jams (yes, 88!), I got pretty darn excited about the quality of fruit preserves you can buy these days. We're in something of a golden era: today's jams are better than they ever were before.
There was a time when most jam-making was a homespun endeavor: folks filled jars with preserves made from the wild blackberries they found, or the harvest of a garden strawberry patch, canning the summer's bounty for colder months. But the rise of mass-market production meant that jams for supermarkets were made from fruit that was available in bulk and easily transportable—the flavor could be rounded out with a heavy dose of sugar.
Today, though, many jam makers are choosing local fruit for its vibrant flavor alone—and sometimes even growing their own. Some small batch producers specialize in rare fruit, such as youngberries, lesser-known plums, and the almost-extinct Blenheim apricot.
Today's best jams are fresh and bright rather than cooked and dull. Jam makers have dialed the sugar down considerably. Some producers use a mix of ripe and less-ripe fruit to bring a balanced tartness and avoid using added pectin. Others select only ripe fruit but add some low-sugar pectin, which allows the jam to gel quickly without much cooking, avoiding a stewed flavor.
As the harvest season winds down, it's time to start feeling grateful that someone captured the flavor of summer in a jar. These are our picks for the country's best jams, preserves, conserves, and more—the jars we'd buy for gifts and hoard for our own scone-topping.