Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lessons in Jam Making: Part One - The Basic Method

Today, we will start with a basic lesson in jam making, and later in the series I will give you some jam making recipes to get you started.  If you have never made jam before, I would suggest that you read through the information in today's post, and perhaps keep it handy for your first jam making session, but use one of the recipes to make your first batch or two.  After that you should be able to use this basic method to make jam with whatever fruit you have in abundance.

The lessons will be:
Part One - The Basic Method
Part Two - Choosing Fruit
Part Three - Processing Sealed Jars (Using a Water Bath)
Part Four - Tomato Jam
Part Five - Apple and Strawberry Jam
Part Six - Apple Jam

Basic Jam Making Method


Fruit (there is more information about fruit selection following) - about 2 kg
Sugar - about 2kg


LARGE SAUCEPAN - Currently, I have a "maslin pan" - this is a wide pan made especially for jam making.  I love it because my jam can be shallow in it and thus reduce down quickly, and because there are measurements on the inside of the pan so I don't have to measure my fruit cup-by-cup.  I have been making jam for years though, and only got this pan in the past year or so, using the large saucepan that I also use for soup previously.  Don't feel like you have to buy a special pan.

SPOON - I use a wooden spoon

JARS - For years, jam recipes said that you could reuse clean jars from supermarket purchases, sterilise the jars before using, and just seal them quickly after filling.  This is what I did.  Now, recipes say that the jars need to be processed in a water bath after filling - like when you preserve a jar of peaches or similar (called canning in the US or preserving in Australia).  So this is what I do now.  In my case, I use Ball Mason preserving jars and a Ball Mason brand preserving pot.  When I have a smaller quantity I use their little starter kit with a stock pot purchased elsewhere - for three jars or less it takes a lot less time to boil the pot of water then the full Ball Mason pot.  If you have this set up, you will probably already know how to do this.  Otherwise, I will give a few details.  I would suggest buying the Ball Blue Book of preserving for accurate information about times, etc.

PRESERVING POT AND OTHER EQUIPMENT - This is discussed above.  If you don't have all this equipment already, it should not stop you from making jam.  It is only recently that jam recipes added the recommendation to process sealed jars of jam in a water bath.  It will ensure safe food, and is what I do.  You could keep jam (even sealed jars) in the frig.  I am not going to recommend skipping the step of processing jars that will be kept out of the frig, but you will still find many recipe books that say that you don't have to do it.  I will describe the processing equipment in more detail when I explain how to do it.

OPTIONAL - JAM THERMOMETER - This is not necessary, but is very useful in telling that the jam is ready.

Knife, chopping board, measuring cup or jug


1)  Prepare the fruit - cut off bad bits, peel, core, remove seeds, chop up, etc.  Make sure you are using good fruit. 

2)  Put the fruit into your saucepan - it should only be about 5 cm (2 inches) deep so that later the liquid can evaporate better.  Don't get too fussy with this measurement - its just to give you the idea.

3)  Cover with a little water if necessary (I generally wouldn't use water or would only use a tiny bit for tomato jam and strawberry jam as they are already pretty watery).

4)  Boil the fruit until it is as soft as you like it on your toast.  Once you add sugar to cooking fruit it wont soften any more.

Meanwhile, prepare your jars.

  • Wash the jars well and rinse them in hot water.
  • Now you have to sterilise the jars.  You can do this in the oven or in boiling water. 
  • Before I started using Ball Mason Jars and processing after bottling, I use to sterilise jars in the oven.  To sterilise them in the oven, put them the right way up, open, on an oven tray that has several thicknesses of newspaper on it.  Don't let the jars touch each other.  Put this into a cold oven.  Turn the oven on to about 120-150 degrees Celsius and leave the jars until you need them - 30 minutes at least.  Put the lids into a small saucepan, cover with water and boil them.
  • My current method is to follow the Ball recommendations.  My jars are washed and put into my preserving pot on a rack so they don't touch the bottom, and completely covered in water.  This is brought to the boil and the jars are boiled for 10 minutes.  It takes longer then you expect to bring that quantity of water to the boil, so start it early and then reheat the jars in the water when the jam is almost ready.  The Mason Jar lids (new lids for each batch) need to be put into a small pot and covered with water, and then brought to a simmer (not a rolling boil) for 10 minutes.
5)  Measure your fruit mixture in cups and add one cup of sugar for each cup of fruit.  Add this off the heat.

6)  Return the mixture to the heat and stir it until ALL the sugar has dissolved.  Test this by feeling it between your clean fingers (but don't burn your fingers).  Make sure there isn't any undissolved sugar on the side of the pot - you can brush down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush or scrape them with a silicone bowl scraper/spatula.  It is important that your jam doesn't boil until all the sugar is dissolved.

7)  After the sugar is dissolved, bring your mixture to the boil without stirring.  From here on, don't stir your jam.  If you are worried about it sticking, occasionally use a wooden spoon to move it gently about.

8)  Boil the jam without the lid on until it is ready when tested.

  • Have a clean saucer ready in the freezer.
  • When you first start boiling the jam, if you get a spoonful of mixture and tip it back into the pot, it will run off the spoon like water.  Wait until jam blobs seem to come together a bit before dropping off your wooden spoon.
  • Put a small amount (about a teaspoonful) of jam onto your cold saucer, and put it back into the freezer until the jam reaches about room temperature.  While you wait for it to cool, remove the rest of the jam from the heat or it may overcook. 
  • When at room temperature, the jam should be a good spreading consistency.  If it is too runny, boil it more and test it again.
ALTERNATIVELY:  use a jam thermometer (this really is easiest, although I still like to use the saucer test).  The jam will be ready at 105-106 deg C (220-222 deg F).

9)  Remove the jam from heat and your jars from the oven or the boiling water.  You want the jam and the jars to both be very hot or the jars will crack.  If there is any froth on the top of the jam that would look bad, skim it off (put it into a bowl for spreading on bread later - it looks bad but tastes good). 

10)  Fill the jars right up with jam and put the lids on.  In part three of this series I will describe the processing of the jars after they are filled with jam.

Refrigerate after opening.


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