I love my bread machine. No, really. Iíve made bread pretty much every week since I bought it, spending seventy-five cents per loaf rather than three dollars plus, AND I can completely control what goes into it (okay, Iím not grinding the flour myself, but other than thatÖ) so I know that itís not just homemade but itís actually healthy and nutritious.
But I also love that my bread machine has a wide variety of settings including a knead-only dough cycle (great for making free-form loaves like focaccia, plus pizza dough and homemade pasta), sourdough and whole wheat settings (for different crust types and crispiness), and, wonder of wonders, a jam setting.
Yesterday, intending to make fig jam but finding a great price on apricots (no, this did not stop me from buying rather a lot of figs), I used the jam setting for the first time. Talk about easy, even on a hot day! You cut up the fruit, drop some pectin (I found a nice fruit-based one) on it and let it think about stuff for ten minutes, then throw lots of sugar/honey/agave and some fresh lemon juice at it and turn the machine on. The machine heats quietly for about 15 minutes, which starts melting the sugar and encouraging the pectin to do its thing. Then it starts to stir. Every five seconds the little stirring device gives a single whirl for about an hour, and then thereís a quiet cool-down of another 15 minutes.
The result is a glorious color, and after another 15 minutes cooling down away from the machine, the jam is ready to be put into an ordinary jar. No sterilizing, no tragic glopping on the counter (because the loaf pan is square, it has those nice corners to facilitate pouring), and a pint or so of fabulous summer-fruit jam is ready for consumption. I donít have to have a hot kitchen or a huge pantry or any special supplies at all.
Okay, Iíll admit it. Iíd made a loaf of wheat bread earlier in the same day that had a little orange zest in it, and I was pretty eager to see how these marvels went together. Still hot from the machine, the jam was delicious. Three hours later when it was room temperature, it was happy-dance worthy. In the morning with peanut butterÖI donít actually have the words.
I immediately began plotting to make fig jam. All I needed was some more pectin from the grocery store.
So I went for a walk to the grocery store, thinking about the magic of pectin and sugar and fruit, which is already sweet, and a little heat. You just sprinkle a little pectin on, let it sit for a bit, add sweetness and acid, and agitate for a while. More sitting makes it astonishing.
It struck me how making jam this way was like a koan. You receive/hear the koan and think about it for a bit. After a while, it begins to change, both in meaning and in context. Then you actively agitate it and see what happens to it. Then you sit with it again. The longer you sit with it, the more precious and amazing it becomes, even if you come back to it after itís had some time to cool.
All this magic in a bread machine that cost about $50. [Editorís update: It took me two days to post this because the fig jam was so amazing, I had to lie on the floor in a sugar-happy coma or something.]