August 8, 2017
Although fruits have been preserved in sugar for thousands of years, jam-making has developed a bad reputation in recent decades. The common opinion has come to be that jam is difficult to make, difficult to set, and will take the better part of a day (or at least an afternoon) to procure. Our Grandmas made it for reasons of necessity; now a jar of jam is easy to find, but it’s still worth making your own.
If you are among the nervous, take comfort in the fact that runny jam is perfectly acceptable; delicious, even. (I far prefer a loose jam to one that resembles stiff Jell-O.) If it’s exceedingly runny, you have yourself a lovely fruit syrup, one that will enliven pancakes, waffles, ice cream and cocktails — just pretend that it’s exactly the way you intended it to be.
The main components of jams and preserves are fruit, sugar, pectin and acid (such as lemon juice). Fruits vary in their pectin content, but typically under-ripe fruit (such as strawberries with white spots) contains more pectin and acid, both necessary elements for the jelling process. (Fruits higher in pectin include apples, currants, oranges and plums; middle-of-the road fruits include blueberries, raspberries, cherries and rhubarb; low-pectin fruits include apricots, peaches and strawberries.) Commercial pectin can always be used as extra insurance, but isn’t really necessary.
When making jam, aim for 1 cup sugar to every 2-3 cups berries or chopped juicy fruit such as peaches or plums. You’ll want to cook them together, rather than cook the fruit and then add the sugar, as the sugar helps pull water from the fruit but leaves the pectin. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice per pound of low-acid fruit. Bring everything to a rolling boil and cook, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface, until it thickens and looks like loose jam. (Keep in mind it will firm up as it cools.) To test, either use a candy thermometer (it will set at around 220°F) or drop a spoonful on a small dish you’ve chilled in the freezer. If it sets up into something that resembles jam, and wrinkles on the surface when you push it with your finger, it’s done.
My method is to spoon the hot jam into fresh-from-the-dishwasher jars that are still warm. Seal, and the lids will pop in as they cool. If any don’t seal properly, store in the fridge or freeze. If you’re uncomfortable with the canning process, store your jam in the freezer, with just enough set aside in the fridge to dip into for a week or two.
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