I love jam. Strawberry jam, peach jam, apricot jam. I also love homemade jam. If you’ve never had homemade jam you are missing out. Every summer I try and make enough jam to last the year, I didn’t make it this year, I was about 2 jars short. I had to get some from my mom. I could, of course, just have bought some form the store, but the problem with making jam at home is that my children have become jam snobs. They know what the ‘real’ stuff tastes like and they don’t want to have any other jam.
I’ve been making jam almost as long as I can remember. My mom used to make jam and fresh bread and we’d eat it during the summer for lunch, much to the envy of all our friends. But, my mom stuck to the same ones that I tend to make, peach and strawberry. A few years back (gosh, ten years ago now I think) Alton Brown, my all time favorite TV chief, did a Good Eats episode entitled “Urban Preservation: Jam Session” in which he made Spiced Blueberry Jam. I’ve been wanting to make it since.
Because it’s a good resource, I’ve included the videos here, watch them, laugh at the hair, admire his knowledge, pity the first season set that was really just a kitchen in someones house.
However, I’ve not made his recipe of jam today. I didn’t want to have to get the star anise. I know, lazy. That, and I wanted to try pure blueberry jam first.
I discovered while making this jam why I’ve never seen a step by step process for making jam. It’s gosh darned hard to hold a camera, stir, clear the steam and not get splattered by boiling hot sugar. Despite that, I think I’ve managed to do it.
I know people who’ve made freezer jam and swear by it, but I just don’t like it. I like not having to worry about keeping it frozen or in the fridge. Also, I like the taste of cooked jam. And, this may be the most important reason for making cooked jam, it makes a quick and easy gift. End of the school year? Give the teachers a jar of jam, need a last minute birthday gift? Jar of jam! That annoying neighbor give you a Christmas gift this year? Jar of jam!!
The first step to jam making is to get all of your equipment together. Make sure that your jars are clean and free from chips and cracks, wash your rings and make sure you have enough new lids for over the number of jars of jam you think you’re going to get. I’ve learned that its better to have too many jars, lids and rings than too few. Make sure that they are sterile. This can be done by washing in hot water.
Next up, prepare your ingredients. If you’re new to jam making I suggest you follow the directions in your box of pectin. I know that some people out there think that making jam with pectin is cheating, and I agree. But I have no problem using it. I like the insurance that it gives that your jam will set and the time it saves.
This is the pectin I use:
I’ve used several different types of pectin in my life and always come back to this one. There are a few things I like about it, first, it uses less sugar. Second, you don’t have to boil the jam as long after you add the sugar. This isn’t the cheapest pectin, but its the one I like the most.
Next thing, get your sugar together. You want to pre-measure your sugar and put it in its own bowl so that you can add it all at once to the fruit. The recipe that I made today called for four cups of sugar.
Then get your fruit together. The recipe for blueberry jam calls for four cups of crushed berries. The easiest way to do this with small berries like the blueberries is to use a potato masher. I suggest only crushing 1 cup at a time, even if your measuring cup will hold more, because you get a better texture that way.
Put the fruit and the pectin into a large pot. I use the largest pot that I’ve got, and sometimes (like today) I use my mom’s biggest pot. I like my moms better because its just a bit bigger than my biggest one and I don’t have to worry about overflow as much.
After you get the fruit ready get your jars ready. You’ll want to put them on a towel, both to protect your counter from spills, but also to put a layer between your hot jars and the could counter top. Put the lids in a small sauce pan and cover with water. Set this on medium heat, by the time the jam is ready they should be boiling and ready to put on the jars. The reason you need to heat the lids is because the sealing compound needs to be heated to be able to set.
Cook the fruit on high stirring constantly until it is at a full rolling boil. This means that you cannot stir down the boil. Think a pot of water just before you put the spaghetti in.
Next add all the sugar at once, just dump it in. Stir until it is all dissolved and then keep stirring.
Keep stirring and stirring, it wont take long, until the mixture is back to a full rolling boil. This is where you need to be careful because it will spit at you and there’s nothing worse than getting hit with boiling hot sugar. It needs to boil for one minute. I set the timer on the stove and keep stirring.
When its done you need to skim the foam off the top. I like to save this because its lighter and fluffier than the jam and tastes really good on toast.
Ladle the hot jam into your jars. This is easier if you have a wide mouthed funnel. I don’t have one. I end up with jam all over the sides of the jars and on the towel.Make sure to leave about 1 inch head space. I usually fill the jars to the bottom of the threads.
You want to make sure to wipe the rims of the jars off with a clean damp paper towel. If you don’t do that you’re not going to be able to seal the jars. Drain the water off the lids and put them on the clean jars. Finger tighten the rings onto the lids. When i was making my jam one of my jars wasn’t full enough to seal, so I didn’t put one of the new lids on it.
Now, this is where I’m going to differ from others out there. Technically (according to all the official websites and books out there) you’re supposed to process your jars of jam in a boiling water canner for 5-10 minutes. I don’t do that. I do the inversion method. it works for my mom and grandma and Ive been eating jam like this for years with out a problem. If you’re worried, or if you have a compromised immune system make sure to process in a boiling water bath. You can see part 2 of the Good Eats episode above to see how to go about doing that. For me, I’ll stick with the easy way. Once your bands are tightened, flip the jars over and let sit in a draft free area for five minutes then flip back over.
Once the jars cool you can test the seal. Push your finger up and down on the lid. If it stays down the you’re good, it sealed. If it pops back up then it’s not sealed and you’ll need to store the jar in the refrigerator and use it first.
Now, and this is the most important thing about jam making, clean up. Serious. There is nothing worse than pink or purple stains all over your kitchen and pans and spoons because you didn’t wash right away. If your jam splattered at all, make sure you wipe up all the spots.
4 cups sugar
4 cups crushed blueberries
1 box fruit pectin
- Mix the crushed fruit and pectin together in a large pot. Cook over high heat stirring constantly until it is at a full rolling boil.
- Add the sugar all at once, stirring, and cook again until it is at a full rolling boil.
- Cook for one minute the remove from the heat.
- Ladle into prepared jars and process as desired.