I bought some delicious strawberries this week from some other local farmers. Despite my daughter’s protests (she would have eaten them ALLLLL), I made strawberry jam for the first time in years.
On our farm, we usually make jams and jellies only from the fruit we produce. But, we love having a source for local strawberries, since we don’t currently grow them ourselves.
Making our canned products – jams, jellies, salsas, etc. – with local products is important to us. Locally grown, locally made is our philosophy. On a rare occasion, we might have to substitute something like onions in our salsa, but only when our local sources have run out (which isn’t often!). And then, we look for the From the Land of Kansas tags on the onions in the grocery store, so we can at least buy from Kansas.
I used to be intimidated by making jam and jelly, but just like with anything, after a little practice, it’s no big deal. For me, the there are really only two key factors to making jam. The first is understanding the basics of home canning safety (check out freshpreserving.com for great information). The second is understanding the role pectin plays in gelling your jam or jelly. I didn’t take the time to understand this when I first started out. If I had, it would have saved me a lot of frustration.
This is a really great article that explains how pectin works (plus, it’s really funny): https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/08/jam-making-101-pectin-sugar-gel-point.html
If you’re thinking about making some jam or jelly, don’t be scared! … just dive right in and give it a try. Here are a few things I’ve learned (disclaimer, these are intended to be helpful hints, not a full-tutorial on home-canning).
Step 1: Prep your jars, lids, and rims (freshpreserving.com)
Step 2: Place clean and de-stemmed fruit in pot.
Step 3: Mash ’em up with a potato masher. If you’re not always in a hurry like me, you can take the time to methodically chop your fruit. But who has that kinda time?
Step 4: Add the pectin and turn up the heat! It’s important with jam or jelly to continually monitor it. But honestly, the entire stove-top process takes less than 10 minutes, so it’s not big deal. Turn on Netflix. Just keep stirring.
Step 5: (This is the part where if you want to pretend jam is health food …. look away) Once the fruit and pectin has just begun to boil, add the sugar. LOTS of sugar. (But don’t feel bad! The sugar is part of what keeps jams and jellies from spoiling!)
Step 6: Stir the sugar until it is completely dissolved. KEEP STIRRING. This is the part where it is easy to get impatient, but don’t. This part is critical. Your mixture should reach a boil that cannot be stirred down. I repeat, CANNOT BE STIRRED DOWN. No flimsy boils – a full rolling boil.
Once it has reached this point, keep boiling (and stirring!) for a solid minute. Cannot stress this enough. Jam has to have enough time at that really high boil for the extra water to evaporate. If the water hasn’t evaporated, the pectin can’t bind, and you will have runny jam.
Step 7: Fill your hot, sterilized jars and follow your recipe’s processing instructions.
Step 8: Slather on toast (or better yet, a biscuit!) and enjoy!
Use a good pot for jam-making. A really good pot. One with a thick base is best for keeping the heat evenly distributed and to keep it from heating too quickly.
Sometimes it’s helpful to wear long sleeves, especially for step 6, as boiling jam tends to pop.
Depending on what fruit you are working with, it can sometimes take up to a day to gel. My tomato jam always takes longer to gel than others. Don’t get discouraged if yours hasn’t gelled right away. Just give it a little more time.
Make sure you use recipes from trusted sources. It’s possible to make your own recipes once you understand the basics of jam-making and how pectin and sugar interacts with different fruits.
See? Easy, right? Homemade jam is simply the best! Locally grown, locally made jam is even better. 🙂