June’s challenge was jam, my first and greatest love in the canning world. And since this wasn’t a new arena, I wanted to be sure to make something I hadn’t before — not difficult, since my “to make” list remains leagues longer than the list of things I’ve tried. Even familiar fruits can have totally new tastes, depending on the recipe. One of the things I love best about making jam is the endless variety.

(My family, on the other hand, would really like it if I stuck to things they recognize — at least, this is my suspicion, based on their avoidance of my more arcane concoctions.)

Last weekend on a whim, I stopped by the Jones Orchard farmstand and picked up (among other things) a delicious-smelling cantaloupe. It wasn’t going to last long enough for me to eat it all, so that made my decision for me: For June’s challenge, I made cantaloupe vanilla jam.

Yeah, I know. Cantaloupe jam? I was dubious too. (That made it a perfect challenge jam!) To make matters worse, when I got the cantaloupe chopped up and started stewing it with the vanilla, it did not smell great. Neither did it become particularly fragrant while I cooked it down. Confidence: Not bolstered!

But I knew there was some citrus addition coming, so I held out hope that that was the magic ingredient that would change the flavor profile…. or at least the smell profile. A-ha! It turns out, lemon juice makes unappealing smells disappear in more contexts than just cleaning supplies. Victory!

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I love being able to see the vanilla bean seeds!

I think my cantaloupe was abnormally juicy, because when I cooked it down I was short a whole half-pint jar compared to what the recipe claimed to make. I’m often a little bit off the mark in this regard – it’s not unusual for me to have an extra half-pint or so. But a difference of this magnitude rings all my alarm bells and usually means set problems — so I was a little afraid I was going to end up with cantaloupe glue. But despite taking an entire pouch of liquid pectin, this jam has a very soft set, too. The color is gorgeous, and the taste…!

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Hey, look. My jam matches my plates! Cool.

Guys. Guys. Cantaloupe vanilla jam tastes like creamsicles. I can’t say how delighted I am with this. There’s going to be more of this on my shelves before the summer is done!

The really exciting part is that as good as this is, cantaloupe is my third favorite melon. Which makes me wonder what I can do in Jam-Land with watermelon and honeydew… (Hint, hint. Anyone with recipes? Please let me know!)

I also picked three big baskets of blackberries while I was at Jones Orchard. They were not the best blackberries in the world: We’ve had some strange weather this year, and the berries were tart to the point of being almost bitter. Not that this kept me from stuffing my face with fresh-picked blackberries for days…. but it meant they were excellent berries for Marisa’s blackberry sage jam.

(Side note: I will never make blackberry jam without sage again. Not ever. The sage doesn’t really change the flavor of the blackberries, so much as it deepens it and makes it much more complex. A wine taster would have all sorts of arcane descriptions for the complex flavor of blackberry sage jam, but that’s all I’ve got: It’s yum. The only problem is that encountering a soggy preserved sage leaf on a bite of toast and jam is a bit unappealing, so I do my best to fish out the sage leaves when I ladle the jam into jars. Next time I’m considering wrapping them up in a cheesecloth so that’s a one-step process – or just chopping the sage up finely, so that it passes completely without notice.)

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I love this stage. It looks and smells so great.

Have you ever known something was going wrong, and known you could fix it, but just couldn’t be bothered? That was me. This jam wasn’t setting, and I knew I needed to cook it down more. But I had one of those moments when I was just tired of things, and I reflected that I could absolutely use a store of blackberry syrup for waffles, pancakes, and ice cream. So I said “heck with it” and ladled out my blackberry sage jam syrup for processing.

It’s not a bug. It’s a feature.

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