There is nothing sweeter than home-made jam. And that’s not because it has more sugar. It’s because the fruit is fresher, the jam is less processed, and, well, because making it yourself always makes it taste better!
If you are new to canning, please review Part 1 in this series, Home Canning for all the details on getting started.
Selecting Fruit for Jam
This is one case where bigger is not always better! Especially when it comes to strawberries, the giant, white on the inside, weeks of shelf-life varieties are not going to make good jam. I use ones from the local market, picked the day before at the latest. You know, the kind that start to disintegrate in the bag on the way home…Yep, those are the best ones. Red all the way through and sweet enough that you can probably cut back the sugar in your jam recipe a bit (especially if you’re using added pectin). But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Selecting a Recipe
If you’re new to making jam and feeling a bit nervous, a recipe that includes added pectin may be for you. Added pectin pretty much guarantees that your jam will set and reduces the cooking time dramatically. If you like jelly (chunk-free) instead of jam (bring on the chunks!), you will probably have to use pectin for best results (I made a batch of grape jelly without added pectin once and although it tasted good, we cooked it FOREVER!).
If you’re an experienced jam-maker, trying to be really, really, local/simple, or just have an insane delight in stirring very hot sticky liquids for 30+ minutes, opt for a recipe with no added pectin. That’s the kind of jam you’ll get from ChezArtz and, although I have made one batch waaaaay too soft and another batch waaaaay too firm this year, I always find uses for the fruit (try a batch too soft for toast as ice-cream topping or in your home-made yogurt–yum!). These recipes usually contain fruit and sugar. That’s it.
To Add Pectin or Not to Add Pectin?
What is pectin, you might ask? Pectin is a substance that occurs naturally in fruits that puts the “gel” in jelly. Apples, grapes, blackberries, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, and plums typically have lots of natural pectin. Blueberries, cherries, apricots, peaches, pineapples, and rhubarb are lower in pectin. So it’s easier to make jam with no added pectin from the high-pectin fruits than it is from the low-pectin fruits, but I can personally attest that it is not impossible (or even that difficult) to make jam from peaches, apricots and strawberries with no added pectin.
If you use added pectin, you need to follow the directions in your recipe carefully with regards to the amount of sugar. Too little sugar and the jam might not turn out. If you choose to skip the pectin (which I almost always do), you can add less sugar, substitute honey for part or all of the sugar (this does affect the flavor, especially if you use a stronger wild honey), and otherwise play around with the recipe until you’ve got it just right for your family’s tastes.
Best Strawberry Jam
I’m pretty much obsessed with jam. I like it on just about everything and so do my children. And Matt never seems to complain about the massive quantities of jam in our cupboards either 😉
This recipe, from the Ball Blue Book, is one of my favorites. It is technically a preserve instead of a jam, but the thing is, whether conserve, preserve, or jam, they all taste great and I smear them all on toast, so I’m not inclined to remember the difference!
2 qts strawberries (there I go dinking with the recipe, which calls for 1.5 Qt of fruit)
1/3 c lemon juice
5 c sugar
- Combine the strawberries and sugar in a large pan. Let stand 3-4 hours.
- Bring slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the lemon juice.
- Cook rapidly until strawberries are shiny and syrup is thick, 10-12 minutes (I have found this takes longer at elevation, up to 20 minutes).
- Let stand, uncovered, for 12-24 hours in a cool place.
- Start your canning bath and have pint or half-pint jars, bands, and lids on hand.
- Reheat the fruit mixture to just below boiling point.
- Ladle hot fruit into the jars, which you’ve placed in the canning bath so that they’re good and hot (this prevents the odd freakish jar shattering that really can make a mess in the bottom of your boiling-hot canning bath), leaving 1/4 inch head space.
- Put your lids and bands on and lower the cans into the bath.
- Process for 20 minutes (below 1,000 ft), 25 minutes (1,001-3,000 ft), 30 minutes (for us here at 5,500 ft), or, if you’re really high up there, 35 minutes (6,001-8,000 ft), or 40 minutes (8,001-10,000 ft).
- Pull the jars out and resist the urge to monkey with them until they have cooled. Sometimes the jars won’t seal (you know, the nice little “pop” that they make as the air is finally forced out and the lid pulled down snug) until they start to cool. So don’t poke, prod, or twist the caps. Seriously!
Telling When Jam has Reached the Gelling Point
The gelling point is the holy grail for jam-makers and it’s one of those things that you have to see once before you can really know it. Sugar & fruit mixtures get pretty foamy and have a tendency to boil over if you don’t stir like mad, and the gelling point isn’t reached until you’ve moved past the foam to a clear, thickening liquid. You can dribble some on a plate you’ve cooled in the freezer to see if you’ve made it to the gelling point, and it is possible to go beyond the gelling point and end up with jam the consistency of hard ice-cream, which is not nice for spreading on toast.
So play around a little, and don’t be afraid to repurpose an undercooked batch of jam for yogurt, as I already mentioned! It seems more likely that you’d undercook the jam than overcook (the batch I overcooked came right after an undercooked batch, so I was a bit on the paranoid side!). The ease of not quite getting it right, even if you’ve been making jam for years, is why I chose a slightly different recipe above. It takes less cooking because soaking the fruit in the sugar syrup naturally pulls out much of the pectin.