Mention jamming to a cook and expect to be induced to help. That’s because this is one time when it is more fun to have too many cooks in the kitchen rather than not enough.
Making jam or processing fruit for canning is not a quickie thing. And if you are a gardener, the process starts long before you put a pot of fruit on to simmer into a thickly sweet concoction good enough to put up in jars. That’s because the best fruit for jam or for putting up is the fruit that comes ripe from the vine. No middle man need be involved because the freshly picked fruit goes straight to the house for cooking. No fruit that is standing around waiting to ripen in a plastic carton is good enough for jam or for canning.
That’s why farmers markets and pick-your-owns are the perfect place to pick up your jamming ingredients. Get there early, select the best fruits you can find, call a couple of your friends and get started.
A few definitions:
• Jam: Made by cooking crushed or chopped fruits with sugar.
• Jelly: Only the strained juice from fruit is used to make jelly, which is a clear, shimmering concoction easy to spread.
• Butters: Made by cooking fruit pulp and sugar to a thick consistency. Typically spices are added such as cinnamon, mace or allspice to apple butter.
• Conserves: Jamlike in their consistency, but a true conserve also will contain raisins and nuts.
• Marmalades: Soft fruit jellies using small pieces of fruit or peel suspended in the jelly.
• Start with unblemished, ripe fruit picked at the peak of perfection.
• Begin your jamming experience using high-acid foods -- they are easier and safer to work. These include most all fruits. Low-acid foods, such as vegetables, must be processed at a higher temperature and placed in a boiling-water bath for a longer time.
• When putting together your grocery list, you generally can figure two cups of sugar for each cup of fruit used.
• Use new jars, lids and screw caps.
• Follow the directions completely. Reducing the sugar will affect the outcome. Do not use sugar substitutes. If you want to make a reduced-sugar jam, use a recipe designed for that.
• Choose liquid pectin or granulated pectin and use a recipe included in the box. Prepare the jam in the exact order given. Pectin products are not interchangeable in recipes. For example, when making cooked jam, the fruit and sugar is brought to a boil first, then the liquid pectin is added. The reverse is true for granulated pectin. Follow the recipes given with that particular brand of pectin.
• Keep children and pets out of the kitchen when working with boiling water and hot fruit.
Help is available:
Even experienced home canners can use a good reference book or website. My favorites haven’t changed all that much over the years because these sources have stood the test of time.
• “Putting Food By,” authored by Janet Greene, is one of my favorite books. Find a used copy on Amazon.com for less than $5.
• “Ball Blue Book of Preserving” is an excellent reference book put together by Alltrista Consumer Products. Again, look for a used one -- the information and recipes haven’t changed all that much.
• Homecanning.com is chock full of good advice and recipes and you can order supplies online from this site.
• http://fyi.uwex.edu/safe preserving/ has a list of home canning publications from the University of Wisconsin Extension office that cover a variety of topics from why lids don’t seal to how to make salsa. They also explain how to can with a pressure canner or a boiling-water bath canner.
Pectin is a natural product that is used as a gelling agent. This polysaccharide is found in berries, apples and other fruit. When heated together with sugar, it causes a thickening that is characteristic of jams and jellies. There are two types of pectin: liquid and crystal form, which looks like the jello granules. The way you process each is specific to its liquid or dry form. They are not interchangeable.
Mixed berry jam
4 cups prepared fruit
7 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
1 pouch Certo liquid fruit pectin
Use any combination of berries: A good combination is one quart strawberries, one pint red raspberries and one pint blackberries.
Stem and crush the fruit. Measure four cups into a six- or eight-quart sauce pot.
Stir sugar into fruit in sauce pot and add butter. Bring to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly.
Quickly stir in fruit pectin. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
Ladle the jam into prepared jars (see how to prepare jars below.) Leave 1/8 inch of headroom. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly.
Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
Let cool and check the seals.