As berries start to ripen, mason jars are being gathered and dusted off in preparation for making jam. Unlike jellies, jams include the actual fruit and not just its juice. They’re made by cooking crushed or chopped fruits with sugar… lots of sugar! Jams will hold their shape and are easier to spread than jelly, but they are less firm.
Making jam requires four ingredients: fruit, pectin, acid, and sugar. There are many fruits to choose from, including apricot, cherry, peach and the crowd favorite, strawberry. All fruits naturally have pectin, which provides the thickening and gel formation, but some fruits have less than others. For most fruits, such as strawberries and blueberries, pectin will need to be added. Acid also must be present to aid in thickening. Commercial pectin comes in liquid or powdered form and includes acid in the ingredients, but if not using commercial pectin, lemon juice or a different citrus juice will need to be added. Finally, sugar is used for sweetness, but also to help form a gel and to help preserve the product. Never decrease the amount of sugar in the recipe or the jam may not set. However, sugar free or lower sugar recipes are available by using pectin specifically designed for less sugar/no sugar jams.
Only use tested recipes when canning foods. Either follow the directions carefully on the commercial pectin package or use recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Pack the jam into the jar filling it to ¼-inch from the top. Wipe off the rims of the jars using a wet paper towel, put on the lid and tighten the ring. Paraffin wax is no longer recommended to seal the jar so only use two-piece canning lids. Unless making refrigerator or freezer jam, all jams need to be processed using a boiling water bath canner to destroy bacteria, yeast, and mold that can cause food to spoil. Half-pint jars work best for jams and should be processed for 5 minutes at an elevation of 0-1,000 feet. For any food that is processed for less than 10 minutes, the jars first need to be sanitized. Sanitize by placing the empty jars into a canner full of water and boil for 10 minutes. Homemade jam is worth the effort, but unless making a sugar free or lower sugar jam, enjoy in moderation!