When I was younger, I thought that making jam was something that only farmers did. I don’t know why, maybe I thought people needed freshly grown fruit and crazy equipment, but it never crossed my mind that I could do it at home. In an apartment, no less. Now I make jam all the time, but it’s been a learning experience, to say the least. I thought I might share with you some of my methods and things I’ve learned, so that everyone knows the joys of having fresh jam on your toast. Or spoon. However you like to eat it. :)
What You Need
Mason Jars: Most recipes will yield 8 250mL jars. They generally come in boxes of twelve for around five bucks. I get mine at Canadian Tire unless they’re on sale somewhere else, which happens most often in the fall.
Canning Pot: I got a giant water bath canning pot at Canadian Tire for about $25 when I first started out, and it came with a grate inside for lifting jars out. I never use the grate because the holes are too big for the 250mL jars, but it’s definitely handy for larger jars.
Tongs: I didn’t have a pair of jar tongs when I did my first batch, so I used my bacon tongs to get the jars in and out of the boiling water. It was very precarious and I am surprised I didn’t burn myself. I bought a pair specifically for canning, they’re curved and rubbered on the bottom to easily lift jars. Don’t be a tard like me and definitely get yourself a pair before making jam.
Soup Ladle and Funnel: These are for getting the jam into the jars. While the funnel is not necessary, and I’ll be honest I don’t have one, if you don’t want to make a big mess like I do it’s recommended.
Silicon Spatula: My favourite tool for any kind of cooking or baking, the silicon spatula is a wonderful invention and I don’t make jam without it.
Cooking Pot: I use my largest stove top pot for making jam, even if I don’t think I’ll end up with that much fruit. It’s a pain in the ass to have to transfer to a larger pot, so I just always use the biggest one I have just in case.
Food Processor: This is optional, you can choose to chop or crush your own fruits. I personally use my Tupperware Smooth Chopper to puree or chop the fruit I’m about to make jam out of. I find it creates nice even jam, and I’ve had better luck with a good set when I completely liquefy my fruit. If I want chunks of fruit, then I add extra chunks to the pot as the rest of it is boiling.
Choosing Your Fruit
You want fruit that is not too ripe, but not under ripe. If it’s too ripe or bruised, the fruit is lower in acid and pectin and won’t set as well as it should. If the fruit is less ripe, there won’t be enough juice and the jam won’t taste as fruity as it should.
Always remember that the recipe amounts are for crushed fruit. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how much you’re going to need, but it’s better to err on the side of having too much. For example, I bought six mangoes, thinking that the pits would be bigger than they were, and ended up with twenty cups of chopped mango for a recipe that only needed four and a half cups. Now I have three jars of mango salsa in my fridge, too. :)
I’ve used mango, peach, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and pear to make jam at this point, and all turned out great. (Except for my very first batch of mango jam, but more on that later!)
White Granulated Sugar: Aside from fruit, you’ll need to make sure that you have lots of sugar. Most recipes call for six cups or more, so I like to have a full two kilogram bag on hand at all times.
Lemon Juice: Most recipes call for a quarter cup of lemon juice. This is a really important step, if a recipe calls for it, do NOT skip it. Different fruits have different acid and pectin levels and lemon juice will up the acid levels to ensure a proper set. I always have a giant bottle in my fridge, although if you’re really ambitious you can use freshly squeezed lemon.
Pectin: I use Certo Liquid Pectin, it’s available at most grocery stores and the price is right. The box contains two packages and a recipe insert, and all of the recipes require one or both packages.
Basic Method and Tips
This is my routine and it works beautifully for me every time.
Sterilize the Jars/Lids: I put a jar (standing upright) into the canning pot and fill it with water until the level is about an inch above the top of the jar. Then I take the lids off the jars and put all of the bottoms into the water to boil. 10 minutes at a boil is sufficient to sterilize the jars. The snap lids I put in a bowl of hot water, and I leave them there until I’m ready to put them on. This softens the glue to ensure a good seal.
Puree The Fruit: I use my Smooth Chopper to liquefy my fruit, and put the full amount into a big cooking pot on the counter. I try not to eat any of it… but I never succeed.
Add the Sugar and Lemon Juice: After adding the appropriate amounts of sugar and lemon juice, I use a silicon spatula to mix it all together until it’s a nice goo of granulated fruit. For strawberry jam, I like to put big chunks of strawberries in as well, so I would do that at this step.
Cook at Medium Heat: I put the pot on the stove over medium heat, and then when it starts to soften and boil, I stir it frequently. No need to obsess over it; I’m actually typing this blog in my kitchen while cooking raspberry jam. With every recipe I’ve used, there’s always a certain amount of time that you’re supposed to boil your fruit. I have found this to be bullshit, and have never had a jam set when following the cook times. What I do, is I boil and stir until I can actually feel it start to thicken. All fruit has at least some pectin in it, so the fruit should start to thicken. Once I feel that little bit of resistance, I remove the pot from the heat.
Add Pectin: This is where I add the one or two packs of pectin and stir it in. I give it a very thorough mixing to make sure it’s nice and dissolved, and also to make sure that the jam is thickening. If I’m extra paranoid I’ll take a little spoonful and set it on the counter to see if it gels up as it cools. If it does, then we’re good to go.
Pour Into Jars: I use a soup ladle to spoon the fruit into the jars. You want to leave a quarter inch of space between the top of the jam and the top of the jar, and be as precise as you can. If it’s too close or too far from the top the jars won’t seal properly.
I use an oven mitt to hold the jars and then rotate them while I wipe the lip with paper towel. Then I pull out a snap lid from the bowl of hot water, dry it and put it on. Once all of my jars are ready, I screw the rings onto the lid. Now you don’t have to be the Hulk here and tighten them like crazy, that may damage your seal. Just tighten it enough to hold everything together, and then the jars go back into their boiling bath.
Water Bath: I process my jars for fifteen minutes, and then lift them out and set them on a cutting board to cool. Leave them at room temperature so that the jam can create its seal. Over the next while, the lids will snap down and you’ll know that they were sealed properly. I usually leave them overnight and make sure all the lids are down in the morning. If you have any that still click when you push on them, put them in the fridge or give them to somebody to make sure the jam gets eaten before it goes bad.
I’m so creative with my subtitles. :)
I found a recipe for my very first jam making project for mango jam. I am an avid mango addict, so I was pretty excited. The recipe called for sugar and lemon juice, but stated that mangoes are high enough in pectin that no additional pectin was needed.
Hooray for bullshit! I don’t know exactly why, but it didn’t set. I emptied the jars, washed and re-sterilized them, reboiled the jam, refilled the jars, and it still didn’t set. So I ended up with delicious mango goop that I still slather on toast and occasionally use as topping on ice cream. Still awesome, but not what I wanted.
A little while ago, I wanted to try mango jam again, but there was no recipe inside the pectin box so I decided to wing it and just use the pear recipe. I got mangoes that weren’t terribly ripe and figured since they were about the same consistency as the pears I used for my previous jam it would turn out alright. And oh, it so did. So random tip #387: if you want mango jam, use the pear jam measurements from the Certo Liquid Pectin box.
One thing that seems to be a point of contention between jam makers is the reusing of the snap lids. I read somewhere, and now for the life if me I can’t remember where, that you’re not supposed to reuse them because once they’re sealed once there’s a good chance that they won’t get a proper seal a second time. So I just buy the cheap little boxes of snap lids and use new ones with my old jars every time I make jam. It makes logical sense to use fresh snap lids with fresh glue, but use your own judgment on this because I know people that have been reusing their lids for years and never gotten sick from spoiled goods.
Anyway, so concludes Caitlin’s Jammin’ Tips. That sounds so eighties. :D