While tasty, jam is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Factories take fruit and do things to it and then sell it to you in a jar. And actually making jam? Surely that’s for a certain class of people: stay-at-h0me moms who have designer homes and cute blogs about little girls’ hairstyles! And women who cook with things like caramelized fennel.
But in all seriousness, homemade jam is where it’s at. If you want to cut out just one store-bought thing from your grocery list to replace with homemade, make it jam. I, myself, haven’t purchased jam from the store since April, 2013. (We practically subsist on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at my house, so that adds up to a lot of jam.)
Breaking it down to 3 ingredients
All jam has three basic ingredients: fruit, sugar, and pectin. That’s all. If you look on the ingredients label on a jar of store bought strawberry jam, most likely you’ll see those three things (fruit, sugar, pectin) along with some other stuff like preservatives, Red 40, and high fructose corn syrup. When you make your own jam, you won’t be adding those!
There are two kinds of jam: a) cooked jam, and b) freezer jam. Many recipes found online are for cooked jam, which requires hot packing in glass jars and processing in a hot water bath; not exactly a paragon of simplicity. Freezer jam, however is the opposite. You don’t need any specialized equipment, as there is no hot water processing, and you can use any old container. I have been known to use old sour cream tubs and upcycled spaghetti sauce jars. The downside to freezer jam is that, as its name implies, it is not shelf-stable and must be stored in the freezer.
TIP: Here’s a list of things you can recycle for your jam containers!
If you have the freezer space, make a batch of freezer jam today! It’s super simple, easy, and much more delicious than any jam you can buy in the store.
How to make freezer jam, your very first batch!
You need three ingredients. I’ll bet you can guess what they are!
Fruit, sugar, and pectin!
What, you ask, is pectin? It is a protein found in all fruit in varying quantities, and is responsible for giving jams and jellies their thick consistency. Most store-bought pectin is usually found in little boxes that resemble Jell-O packets and is derived from apples. (Fun fact: it is possible to make your very own pectin from actual apples. I’ve done it before, and it works!)
Boxes of pectin come with a page of instructions for use along with a number of recipes. Every brand of pectin is slightly different, so if you are new to jam-making, it’s best to use the recipe that comes in the box.
The process for making freezer jam is simple, once you have these basic ingredients in the amounts called for in your recipe.
First, mash up your fruit. I use my food processor for this. Be careful not to puree it, though, because you will want some small chunks in your finished jam.
Next, measure out your quantities and put them in a large mixing bowl. The directions will probably insist that you get the amounts perfectly exact, but I must come clean and admit that I consider these more like rough guidelines and my jam has always been fine. My go-to recipe from my preferred brand of pectin calls for two cups of strawberries and four cups of sugar.
Mix these together to form a sort of fruit slurry. You may have to let it sit for a few minutes and then stir again so the right consistency is developed. The goal is to dissolve all the sugar crystals.Follow these instructions for super-easy homemade, freezer jam! Click To Tweet
Reconstitute your pectin, following the directions on the box. Mine says to mix it with 3/4 c of water and bring it to a boil for one minute before adding to your fruit slurry. Stir well, then pour it all into your clean containers of choice.
To ensure a good “set” so your jam has the firm jammy texture it needs, let your freezer jam sit undisturbed at room temperature for at least 24 hours without freezing. It will last for up to a year in the freezer, but it is more likely that you will eat it first.
Once You Try Homemade, You Won’t Go Back
When I made that first batch of jam, it was not with the intent that I would never again buy jam from the store as long as I lived; I just wanted to make it our of curiosity. The end product was so popular with my family that I made a whole lot more that year out of any fruit I could find: apricots, peaches, raspberries, cherries, and blackberries.
TIP: Here’s a recipe for strawberry jam, perfect for beginners!
What I mean by a “whole lot”: I made 18 batches of jam between April and December, 2013. In the calendar year of 2014, I made thirty batches. Most we ate, but I gave some away as gifts to friends, because who doesn’t like fresh strawberry freezer jam? Now that I have some pretty good experience with jam, I can knock out a batch in about a half an hour.
Once you have the basic technique down, don’t be afraid to experiment. I made some strawberrry-mango-ginger freezer jam once. (It was awful, but a good learning experience.)
At first you may feel that the glory that is homemade jam is too good for something as prosaic as a pb&j. And maybe it is. But those are really excellent pb&js.
Ready to move up a notch with this skill? Check out these books!
- Jams and Jellies: Preserving by the pint in minutes
- Homemade Jelly and Jam Recipes, from the Hillbilly Housewife
- The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves
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