An introduction to making jam

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by Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she traded her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters, cloth diapers and a laptop, serving as editor at Simple Bites.

My first attempt at making jam was memorable, for all the right reasons. I was a newlywed, eager to wear the old-fashioned housewife hat, and making my own jam seemed like something I would enjoy, more so than, say sewing curtains or darning socks. I had my flat of strawberries and set to work in my tiny apartment kitchen.

To my surprise, a little over an hour later I was looking at eight red jars of glistening strawberry jam. As I lay in bed that night, feeling mighty pleased with myself, I heard the blissful sound of the jars ‘popping’ as they sealed and I realized that I was no longer a jam novice—and I was hooked.

Although home food preserving is one of many dying arts, I’m confident that anyone can make jam.  I would love to see preserving make a comeback.  If I could do it, you can, too.

As with most new tasks, the first time always takes longer than anticipated, but jam-making is surprisingly easy. Worried about sterilizing? Simply run the jars through a cycle on your dishwasher and keep it on the hot drying setting until you’re ready to use them. Wondering about the wax with which your grandmother used to top her jam? Forget about it. This is no longer recommended, as mould can grow underneath the wax.

What about the processing-in-hot-water-business after the jars are filled? Yep, skip that too. As long as you are filling hot jars with hot jam and topping with a hot lid, and everything has been sterilized, there is no need for further processing (Note: this only applies to jam.  Preserving other produce, such as vegetables or sauces, is a VERY different story).

First, let’s have a look at what goes into jam, then we’ll list tools needed, and finally finish with a quick look at the basic jam-making method.

Ingredients

Every jam consists of three main ingredients, with the amounts and ratios varying for different fruit, depending on their natural sweetness and juice content.

Fruit

Oh, the possibilities! Jam isn’t limited to just blushing berries or juicy stone fruit, although the classics are hard to beat. Try fig jam with a cheese tray, onion jam alongside roast pork, or a tart cranberry confiture. I’ve even heard of bacon jam.

Pectin

Available in liquid or powder, this natural thickener is often made from the rinds of citrus. Some well-known brands are Certo, Bernardin, and Ball.  Liquid and powdered pectins can’t be used interchangeably, as each have their unique recipes; however, jams made with powdered pectin have triple the shelf life than those made with the liquid, and I usually choose to work with powder for this reason.

White Sugar

Sugar is a preservative as well as a sweetener. It should always be measured with a dry measuring cup and the amount never reduced, as it helps the jam to set properly.

lots of homemade jam

Tools & Equipment

Fortunately, the start-up costs for making jam aren’t much — just the cost of your jars and a few tools. There’s no need to purchase a large canning pot—those are more for processing vegetables and sauces—and most jam recipes can be made in a large sauce pot.  Here’s a starter list of what you’ll need; you probably own most of the items.

  • Jars, lids and screw rings
  • Lifter, for handling hot jars
  • Funnel, for guiding hot jam into the hot jars.
  • Glass measuring cup, for measuring crushed fruit and for pouring hot jam into hot jars.
  • Wooden spoon, for stirring
  • Timer—accurate cooking time is of the utmost importance.
  • Sauce pot- this should be the largest one you own, as jam can froth up to three times its size when it is boiling. Also, a heavy-bottomed pot is helpful to prevent scorching or burning.
  • Labels
  • Several clean dish towels
  • Also helpful, but not completely necessary, is what I call a magic canning wand. It’s a plastic wand with a magnet on the end, useful for fetching the bot lids out of their water. Tongs also work well.

Basic Method for Making Jam

Prepare Equipment:

1.  Assemble tools and equipment listed above.

2.  Wash everything in hot, soapy water.

3.  Sterilize. While I prefer to toss my jars in the dishwasher and run a cycle, others choose to wash them by hand and sterilize in the oven. This works well, too, and is an option if you don’t have a dishwasher. Simply wash the lids and jars in lovely hot soapy water, rinse, and place in a 9×13 pan.  Put in a preheated, 225F oven for a minimum of ten minutes, until you are ready to fill them.

Prepare Fruit:

Whether you are stemming, pitting, peeling or seeding, this is the most time-consuming part of making jam. It can also be a fun job to involve the whole family, provided the toddler doesn’t consume all the produce.

1-2-3, CAN

  • In a large saucepan, cook prepared fruit with pectin according to the recipe directions.
    Add sugar and bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat and skim off the foam.
  • Ladle into hot jars.
  • Cover with lids and screw the screw rings on tightly.
  • Leave at room temperature for 24 hours without touching the jars, even if they “pop.”

Here is a tried and true recipe of mine for Golden Plum Jam to get you started, and you’ll find plenty more recipes in the links below:

So there you have it. You CAN can!  Just wait, you’ll get bit by the canning bug too — soon, you’ll be designing your own labels, sewing frilly tops to decorate your jars with and swapping jam with friends.

There is nothing better than extending the taste of summer during those winter months, when fresh berries are a distant memory, to pop off a lid of home preserves. A word of warning, though — once you taste homemade jam, it’s difficult to go back to Smuckers.

One piece of advice — start small.  Don’t be overly ambitious, or you could be discouraged by the results. Pick a simple recipe with just a few pints of fruit, and complete it from start to finish before purchasing a pallet of peaches.

What is stopping you from making your own home jams and jellies?  Or if you’re an experienced jam maker, share your tips!

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Comments

  1. We made Blackberry jam for the 1st time this year–and yes, it was far easier than I had imagined!!
    .-= Elizabeth´s last blog ..Irish Dancing Display =-.

  2. I did not realize that you could skip the water processing step – never heard that before!

    I wanted to mention that you can skip the sugar if you’re like me and trying to avoid it for health reasons. There’s something called Pomona’s universal pectin that will set your jam without sugars. So you could do no sugar or honey as an alternative in whatever quantity you like.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..The Importance of Vitamin B12 =-.

  3. I’ve done freezer jam, but never canned anything. I’m going to have to give it a try. Thanks for the tips.
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Chicken Tortilla Soup =-.

  4. Is there any way you can use an alternative sweetener instead of white sugar?

    Jamie
    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Go Team Martin =-.

  5. I learned the hard way that powder & liquid pectin are not interchangeable. But, now I have a dozen 8 oz jars of cherry ‘syrup’ :)
    .-= Mrs. Smith´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday!! =-.

  6. I finally made jam this weekend, Vanilla Spiced White Peach Jam… totally worth the effect, it’s amazing and I can’t wait to try hot pepper jelly and maybe apple butter.
    .-= Angela {YourEverydayMama}´s last blog ..Vanilla Spiced White Peach Jam =-.

  7. OH. MY. WORD.
    BACON JAM?
    The candy of meats, made even more yummy?
    How can this be? I thought we’d have to wait for heaven for something like that!
    BRING IT ON!!!
    (and thanks for the wonderful, easy canning tutorial!)

  8. Angela–do you have a good apple butter recipe? I’d like to try and make that!
    .-= Elizabeth´s last blog ..Irish Dancing Display =-.

  9. I, too, started canning this year. I read about Aimee’s Jam Swap last year, and decided to try one out myself. I emailed everyone I knew to invite them and got about 4 people agreeing to give it a try. This will be the first time canning for all of us. We’re getting together in a few weeks to make the swap. I made a Red Plum Jam with Cinnamon for the swap. It is amazing! I can’t wait to taste what my friends have made to share. I also made Strawberry Jam, Strawberry-Rhubard Jam, and Strawberry Balsamic Jam. With very little effort, I’ve got 60 jars of jams waiting in my basement pantry. I’m totally hooked.

  10. This post so excites me. I have been wanting to make jam for ages and maybe I can give it a real go now. I have all the stuff I need. Just need to do it.

  11. I just can’t get past the risk of messing it up and having it contaminated and making us sick. I’d always be too scared to have my family eat something I’d canned myself! :-( I might try freezer jam sometime, I guess, but there’s not much room in the freezer usually.

  12. Angela, thanks for writing such an enthusiastic and encourging blog with great photos and simple directions. I would never had considered making jam before, but now it has a place on my ‘someday’ list and for that I (and my children) thank you.
    .-= Rivka Caroline´s last blog ..Sage advice even for us non-tennis players =-.

  13. Thanks so much for this post!!
    .-= Suzy´s last blog ..The Diaper Fairy =-.

  14. I make my own jam every season. Jam is just one of those things that I can’t bring myself to buy in the store. Maybe because I was brought up on homemade jam and learned how to make it at a young age. Anyway, I’m so glad you posted this. More people need to know how easy it is to make jam.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Random Acts Of Kindness To Defeat The First Day of School Jitters =-.

  15. Definitely will be trying it this fall. Nothing like cracking open a jar of something yummy in the middle of winter.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Introduction to Routines =-.

  16. Bacon Jam? You must mean this: http://skilletstreetfood.com/baconjam.htm

  17. Our family Christmas presents this year are jars of homemade Povidla. It’s made from from plums (my Costco carries Italian Prune Plums in late summer – they’re the closest to the fruit available in eastern Europe), the fruit are cooked for several hours (a splatter screen is a must-have, IMO) and the jam thickens without additional pectin and usually requires no additional sugar, either!

    Since the plums you get at the grocery store aren’t usually sufficiently ripe, I use an alternate recipe that includes lemon juice and sugar. The jam keeps forever – we’re still eating from a batch I made three years ago!

  18. Can’t can on our glass top stove, but I have discovered the simplicity of freezer jam– so much so that I have 48 jars in my freezer. (I had to count after I did the flat of blackberries this weekend.) I grew up canning jam with my mom, but I have to say that no-cook freezer jam is much tastier: there’s less sugar and more fresh fruit taste. I love it so much that I wrote a whole post about it when I tested cherry jam both ways this summer — it’s linked in my siggy.
    .-= Diana (Ladybug Limited)´s last blog ..Etsy Love: Livvy Sue =-.

    • We’ve always done the cooked freezer jam, and just discovered no cook freezer jam this summer, and oh, WOW, is it better. I still can’t believe we’ve been missing out so long. It’s so much easier, too. We also just discovered this summer that we have wild huckleberries a few miles away, so now I’ve got huckleberry jam in my freezer. Yum.

  19. When we were in Umbria with our family this summer, there were a number of sour cherry trees around our property. My dad and middle son, Raven, picked and pitted the cherries, and the made several jars full of jam using only sugar, lemon, and kirsch, no pectin. Can you do that with any fruit or just cherries? My father is the baker/canning guy in our family. I suppose I should ask him!

  20. OOhh what a lovley post on Jam making I made Damson jam years ago, you have got me wanting to get a load of jars organized now & have a jam making session!!! The kids are on school holiday soon I might have a day of jam making with them thanks for that ;)
    .-= Elaine Power´s last blog ..Beach Bags =-.

  21. This is so fun to read! I made blackberry-raspberry jam the other day with the help of my four-year-old, and was surprised and delighted by how easy it was. For anyone who’s interested in reading the start-to-finish experience of a novice, I blogged about it at chickencounting.blogspot.com. :)
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..We’re Jammin’ =-.

  22. I have become addicted to making jam for Christmas presents every year. Last year I made Pear Nutmeg Jam. This year I made a Almond Peach Jam and Hot Pepper Peach Jam.

    I’ve never had any luck with liquid pectin and stay away from it. I also read somewhere that you need to use Cane Sugar and not Beet Sugar (store brand) for canning, it helps it set right.

  23. I have never tried to can before, but have made strawberry freezer jam and love it.

    I accidentally discovered what you said about not needing to boiling the jars to seal them. I made bread and butter pickles the other day and the jars were hot and I poured boiling liquid into the jars (onto the mixture). Well, imagine my surprise when the jars sealed! I didn’t need them to (since I was storing them in the fridge), but it was kind of fun to notice that it happened.
    .-= Angie @ Many Little Blessings´s last blog ..How to Dye Pasta for Kids Crafts =-.

  24. Mmm, I love jam! I especially love that I can control everything that goes in. I hardly ever buy store jam. My favorite uses: in oatmeal and yogurt. Yum!
    .-= Amy Reads Good Books´s last blog ..Booking through the Information =-.

  25. I am always trying to find solutions for the visually impaired. And I have not found a place to buy different shaped canning jars. Do you have any suggestions? Like in your photo it would be good to have different jars for each food for easy recognition.

  26. Thanks for this information. It was very “Simple” and helpful; I can’t wait to give it a try. it will make great Christmas Gifts!!!!!!
    .-= Jessalyn´s last blog ..Your Marriage and God =-.

  27. The first and last time I did jam was the FREEZER JAM version. I turned out great and it was a breeze to do! :) I always have thought of canning as too much work, but as everything else, once you try it the first time then you find it easier!
    .-= lvlc @ FromMomToMom´s last blog ..I wish all of you had RSS feed option in your blogs!!!!! PLEASE READ! =-.

  28. Strawberries have just come into season – so I can’t wait to get started! Thanks for the post.

  29. I am a HUGE jam snob – I can’t eat the store-bought stuff anymore! This year I’m making raspberry jam from raspberries I grew in my yard (and froze) and pluot jam from pluots that grew in my in-laws’ backyard (a pluot is a cross between an apricot and plum). Anyway, thanks for sharing your enthusiasm and helping make people less intimidated by the whole canning process. Last year, I taught my friend from Japan how to make jam and process it and when we were done, she said, “That’s it?” It really is pretty easy!
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Yes You Can! =-.

  30. avatar
    smilinggreenmom says:

    I have been wanting to make jam too! Yay…I am so thrilled with these easy directions and encouragement :) When you say “prepare the fruit” how exactly do you prepare it? Does it need chopped or diced or just big chunks? Thanks again :)

  31. Great advice. Love the step-by-step!

  32. I’ve made plenty of jam this year – my first efforts, and I am absolutely hooked! But – by now I’m out of glasses (I’ve made 30, don’t want to buy new glasses) and there are still a few jams I’d like to have a go at. Do you think I could use hard plastic containers and keep the jam in the refridgerator? I’m guessing it won’t stay good for as long as the glass cans, but maybe long enough to be worth the effort?

    The two still missing in my 2009 collection are two small portions of Rowan Berries Jelly and Rose Hip Marmelade – on the shelves are Cherry Jam, Blueberry Jam, Plum with brown sugar Jam and Currant Jelly.

  33. You really don’t need to add pectin if you’re using ripe fruit for jam. It will just take a bit longer to set up in the cooking process and if you’re really worried about your fruit, you could use a couple of apple slices instead, which have a very high amount of pectin naturally.

  34. Oh, and I forgot to mention one other thing — canning jars (boiling them) is not only to kill any bacteria (which can be killed from sterilizing the jars, lids, rings and all of your tools) and to get the lids to seal, but also to remove the air trapped in the top 1/4″ of space in the jar. This can lead to discoloration of your jam if left unchecked for too long.

  35. I love making jam! My mother used to can, and we had jars of jam, peaches, pears, pickles and sauces filling shelves in our home. I started canning when my son was very young. It reminded me of my mom, and was very familiar. Now, I love giving her a jar of jam I made for a Christmas gift. (Look Mom, I made that!)
    A couple jam tips:
    Add extract like Almond to blackberry or peach jam at the very end before putting it in jars. It gives a wonderful flavor, and makes people wonder what it is! (It will be your secret , but watch for those with nut allergies…)
    Also, hold the hot jars with an oven mitt covered in a old rag. Those jars are really hot, and if you spill a little bit, that jam is too!
    Have fun!
    .-= Brandie @ Joy of the Kitchen´s last blog ..A New Idea on Coffee Shop =-.

  36. I have great memories of making jam with my grandma as a child. I can recall picking the berries and the smell would will the kitchen and house for the entire day. Then, as we ate the jam all year I would remember the fun we had together.
    .-= partycupcakeideas´s last blog ..Lemon Bar Cupcakes =-.

  37. mmmm, I LOVE making jam. Here in Hawaii, I love to make mango, papaya and guava jam!!!!
    .-= Molly´s last blog ..A woman’s worth =-.

  38. avatar
    May Helen says:

    Made Loquat jam for the first time ever this year and it turned out beautifully, although deseeding is a LOT of work! A good friends just showed me her secret mulberry tree and I am about to make a batch of mulberry jam tonight! I find though that because I only make small batches I can easily keep the jars in the fridge and I never, ever put the full amount of sugar! For the Loquat jam I used maybe a third, or even a quarter of the recommended amount and it was more than sweet enough. If you’re selling them or placing them in storage for months maybe you have to, but otherwise I’ve found there’s really no need for all that sugar.

  39. My grandma has this pineapple jam I used to make. And the most loved of all is her onion jam. It really is very interesting as it took out the usual taste of the onion and it is somewhat sweetened.

  40. How long is jam good for (after you put it in a sterilized ball jar?) Should I keep it in the fridge? My mom and I picked delicious strawberries on her birthday this summer, I want to give them to her as a jam for Christmas!

  41. What can I use instead of Pectin (powder or liquid) its not available where I am?

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