I mentioned some time back that I would share a post on how to make jam and while I've made plenty of it since that time, I never made the time to take photos as I was doing it. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like something that wasn't really that big of a deal. This is why.
I buy this, open the box, pull out the instructions, and follow the directions. There's nothing fancy or complicated about making jam. But last week I got an email asking when I was going to share how I do it. And as I thought back, I remembered that the first time I made jam it seemed intimidating. The only reason I made it is because Shawn asked me to. Otherwise I'd probably still be focused on the idea of sterilizing jars, making sure they are sealed properly and then, after envisioning my family in the hospital with food poisoning, promptly filing the idea away in the cool-things-I'd-like-to-try-but-am-not-qualified-to-attempt file. So here I am today to show you, if you also have jam-making in that file, just how simple it is. I'll be making blackberry jam.
There are a lot of great books and websites with information on how to make jams, jellies, and preserves. I've looked through a lot of them and decided it basically boils down to 2 differences. You have to decide if you want to add pectin or you don't. Some fruits are naturally high enough in pectin that you don't need to add more. Since I like quick, reliable results (and I don't have the best luck when things are left to chance) I choose to add pectin. I don't have the patience to deal with remaking failed jams (which already happens often enough with my strawberry jam even when I do add pectin). And the jams I make using added pectin taste 1000 times better than any grocery store jam I buy. Foregoing my frugal nature with the added expense of buying pectin and not being a purist by leaving the results to chance or boiling apples to extract natural pectin to use in my jams are "failures" I'm willing to own!
A bit more on purchasing pectin. When I started making jam, I used Sure-Jell's powdered pectin and had perfectly good results. The following year, my mother-in-law found pectin in bulk at a fantastic price at an Amish grocery store. Neither of us had any success with it. We both ended up with jars and jars of strawberry syrup. While she just used the syrup, I researched ways to fix it. Sure-Jell's Certo Liquid Pectin was recommended on one message board, followed by a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of it. Some thought it set their jams up too much. Others didn't. Regardless of which side made the best argument, everyone agreed it was the remedy for fixing jam that hadn't set properly. I bought it and it did fix my jam. I've since found out that strawberry is one of the most difficult jams with which to get consistent setting results. So I figure if I just start with Certo, I'm ahead of the game. This is my second year using it and I have found the consistency of my jams to be absolutely perfect every time.
The best way to start jam making is to have a mother-in-law who grows thornless blackberries so your kids can pick them easier. Even better is if she's the most impatient person you've ever met and she picks the berries for you. If you leave them in a bowl on the counter for a couple of hours and she sees it, she'll worry about them going sour. After that, she'll pick them for you, cook them down, run them through her canning food mill , and bring you jars of juice and pulp which reduces your jam making time to about 30 minutes.
If you're not so fortunate, you'll start like this, with fresh berries
which of course you'll want to wash.
Before you start making the jam, you'll want to sterilize your jars, lids, and utensils. Some people just wash their jars in hot soapy water and leave them in the water until they're ready to fill them. I like to take out as much risk as possible when it comes to processing my own foods so I sterilize my jars. An easy way to do this is to run them through a cycle in the dishwasher. While everyone told me I was out of my ever-loving mind when we were building our house, I chose not to include a dishwasher in my kitchen. The traditional way to sterilize jars was to boil them in a large pot of water. I save time (and stove-top space) by sterilizing my jars in the microwave. I fill them at least 1/2 way with water, and "cook" them until the water boils for at least 1 minute. After that, they're out of the way, keeping warm inside the microwave, until I need them.
While we're on the subject of jars, I use pint-size jars because we eat a lot of jam. I've used quart sized in the past when I ran out of pints and that's very messy when you get to the bottom of the jar. I don't do that anymore! You can also buy small jars made especially for canning jams an jellies. I use these when I have a little bit left over that won't fill a pint jar.
The lids and utensils also need to be sterilized but, since they are metal, they obviously can't go in the microwave. Fortunately they don't take up much space so they can be quickly sterilized in a saucepan of boiling water, which takes very little time to bring to a boil, and set out of the way until needed.
The final preparation before starting to make the actual jam is to get a pot large enough to hold your jars (without touching one another), fill it about 1/2 way with water, and put on the stove on high heat to start the boiling process.
After washing the berries, I run them through my blender. This step can be skipped if you don't mind seeds in your jam. I do so I blend! My mother-in-law cooks her berries before running them through a food mill. I save time by just putting them in the blender fresh. The berries are reduced to about 2/3 of the volume you started with.
Instead of spending money on a food mill which will take up space in my kitchen cabinets, I just use an inexpensive strainer for the next step. I think I paid $1 for this many years ago. I thought I was being clever doing this but earlier today I found Pioneer Woman's blog post on making Blackberry Ice Cream and she did the exact same thing!
The blended berries get poured into the strainer and pushed through the holes with a spoon. This may sound like a tedious process but it's not. Just stir, stir, stir
and you'll end up with this. Ick. Blackberry seeds. You'll repeat this process until you have collected 4 cups of pulp and juice.
After pouring the 4 cups of pulp and juice in a large stock pot, you'll add 7 cups of sugar. Use the good stuff. This is pure can sugar. Other sugars may be less expensive but that is because they are often made from things like beet sugar. I've read that using beet sugar can affect how your jams and jellies set. I've had success using it but after remaking all that strawberry jam that didn't set, I decided not to tempt fate.
Cooking the juice/pulp and sugar mixture over high heat, you'll bring it to a full rolling boil (one which you can't stir down) and continue stirring and boiling for 1 minute.
Add the pouch of pectin, bring to a boil again, and boil exactly 1 minute. While you're stirring, make a mental note to remember to clean the blackberry gunk and juice from under your fingernails.
After turning off the heat, skim the foam off the surface of the jam. You do not want to skip this step. It cannot be stirred back into the jam later. Trust me. It ruins the consistency of your jam. The longer it sits on the surface of the jam, the more it sets (becoming one with the jam) and the harder it is to remove it. You can add 1/2 tsp. of margarine or butter when you add the sugar which is supposed to help reduce the foaming but I've never had success with that.
Dump the (now) hot water out of the jars and fill them with the jam. You can purchase sets of canning tools for under $15 at Wal Mart and, in addition to making the canning process go much smoother, they make it safer. The set I bought included this funnel which makes filling the jars less messy. A reminder that the tools I used for canning were sterilized in first!
I forgot to take photos of the next step. Prior to putting the jars in the water, you'll, of course, want to put a lid on them! First, wipe any excess jam off the rim. If you get lazy and don't do this, anything that's trapped between the rubber seal of the lid and the lip of the jar will prevent the jar from sealing properly. You'll either end up doing it over again if you're lucky enough to discover it before you put the jars in your cabinet or you'll be throwing away your beloved jam months down the road. The lid is held down with a screw-on band.
I use my canner to process my jams because it's huge and it has a removable canning rack in the bottom. See the metal plate with all the holes in it? The rack creates a buffer that prevents your jars from being rattled around on the bottom of the pot which can (does!) result in broken jars. And just like a broken heart, a broken jar of jam can cause tears.
This jar lifter is worth the price you pay for a set of canning tools all by itself. $15 for the set of tools is less than your health insurance deductible when you get burned trying to use tongs!
The final step is to make sure the jars are covered with an inch to two inches of water. When the water reaches a boil (it's not fully boiling in this photo!) start your timer and continue boiling for 10 minutes.
Using the jar lifter, remove the processed jars from the pot of water and set them on a towel. And now you can write Smuckers a Dear John letter because you're never going back to the jelly shelf at the grocery store again.
The process for making jams using other fruits and berries is the same, although the measurements and, obviously the ingredients, are different. The insert in the Certo box includes recipes for quite a few varieties, as well as cooked jellies (these have all the pulp strained out of the juice) and freezer jams and jellies.
I hope you'll give jam-making a try! It really is very easy, doesn't take very long to make, and the difference in taste over mass-produced jams is remarkable.