Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Making Jam 101: Getting Prepped!

I've had a few requests to do a post on how to make jam. One post morphed into a few, with recipes and pictures, and ...wow! I hope you find them informative. Please note that I am no expert. I do think that jam is the easiest to do out of all the canning out there, and the results are FAR superior to anything you can buy in a store. It's a lot cheaper, too. Confused about where to start? Read on.

1. Find a recipe. There are lots of places to get good jam recipes, but to be honest I like the ones from Certo the best. There are different types of jam you can make.

-cooked jam: you actually cook the sugar and fruit mixture and pour it into jars, then plunk them into a boiling water bath

-freezer jam: this jam isn't cooked. You mush up the fruit, add the pectin, let it sit, and put your jam in containers that store in your freezer. I don't like it as much as cooked jam.

I personally don't have much freezer space, and so I always go with cooked jam. You can make low sugar jams with the "light" pectin products that are available, but the recipes are not interchangeable. You have to follow them to the letter (so you can't sub 1 kind of pectin for another). The recipe is GOD. Follow it. When you become more comfortable with the process, then it's time to experiment. You also can't double the recipes.

2. Assemble your ingredients. You want good quality, ripe fruit. For some recipes you don't even need a lot. Just watch the fliers, and when it's on sale buy a bunch! Frozen fruit is okay too, if you thaw it first; and remember to use the juice! I often use frozen berries. A trick of mine is when I buy berries for my family to eat, and they often don't finish them all, I wash, hull, and pop the leftovers in a bag in the freezer. Eventually I have enough to make a batch of jam.

3. Make sure you have all the necessary equipment. This includes jars and lids, too! Snap lids must be bought new every time. The rings can be washed and re-used. You can get jars at your local thrift shop or garage sales sometimes, which is a good way to save money. I usually buy Bernardin brand.

I personally like to use 500 ml jars. We go through a 250 ml jar of jam really fast, and a batch of jam uses up a lot of the 250 ml jars at a time. To save on space (and money on jars) it's just easier to go with a bigger jar. If you are doing jam for gifts, 250 ml or even 125 ml are both great sizes because they go farther. (more jars=more gifts)

Wide mouthed jars are fine, but I like them best for canning tomatoes, peaches, or making pickles. They aren't really necessary for jams.

A food processor also isn't totally necessary, but really helpful. I love to use mine when making plum, blueberry, or apricot jam. You also need a non metal ladle and some wooden spoons for stirring.

Those gadgets above are must haves and totally worth the money. Sometimes you can get a whole kit with them all included.

Okay, you've got all your stuff and you're ready to go? Let's start making jam!

Next post: Making Jam 102: The Whole Process from Start to Finish

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