How to Make Home-Made Jam
Reasons to Make Your own Jam!
Walk along any preserves counter in any supermarket, and you will see a huge range of economically priced jams. Before you feel tempted by all those jewel-like colours, read the labels. What percentage of the contents is actual fruit, and exactly which synthetic chemicals have been used as sweeteners? And why would artificial preservatives be required by a product which is supposed to be, in itself, a preserve?
The answer is less than wholesome. Turnips are regularly used as a cheap way of adding bulk to commercially-made jams, and the fruit used is often of such an inferior quality that without the addition of artificial preservatives it would quickly decay.
Consider also that some artificial sweeteners have been suggested to be carcinogenic, and that the link between various artificial colorants and a variety of behavioural and allergic reactions have long been established.
But jam on toast tastes great, right?
So why not make your own? The process is easier than you might assume, and it can save you money.
Any variety of fruit can be preserved by the method described below.
Only fresh, healthy fruit should be preserved as a jam or marmalade.
If you have a batch of fruit which is bruised or over-ripe, make compote and use it within a few days. If you try to make jam with this, the taste will be inferior and also the shelf-life will be greatly reduced.
There are many highly-detailed recipes for preserving fruit. In my experience it’s easier to use whichever fruits are available. Batches of home-made jams and marmalades are akin to batches of wine in that each will possess its own subtle character. This is part of the charm of home-made foods.
The difference between jam and marmalade is mostly in the name. The process of making them is exactly the same. Marmalades tend to use fibrous fruit such as oranges, pineapples, lemons or grapefruit, whereas jams use all the other types.
For jam to set, it needs pectin. You can buy synthetic pectin in powder or fluid form, but in my opinion this undermines the purpose of making a product which is free of synthetic additives. Besides, natural pectin is readily found in apple pips, lemon pips and orange pips; add two or three small apples, or one lemon or orange, to your pan of boiling fruit and you won’t need a synthetic product.
Fruit can be bought, grown in your garden or allotment, or picked from the wild. Avoid fruit which has grown beside a road as this is very likely to have absorbed lead from petrol emissions. Also, if you are unsure of the identity of any berry then don’t use it, as some fruits can be poisonous.
If you choose a fruit which has many small seeds, like raspberries, then the end-product will turn out better if you sieve it before adding sugar to the boiling pan. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but unless you have a penchant for crunchy jam it’s worth the extra effort.
You Will Need:
- a colander
- small kitchen knife
- one large pan (or two if you plan to sieve fruit)
- large spoon
- large ladle
- large sieve
- sugar (or preserving sugar)
- oven tray
- cooling rack
- greaseproof paper
- jars with airtight lids
- labels - you can make your own
A Note about Hygiene
To store your preserves you will need sterile, airtight jars. You can re-use jars which have had other products contained within them, such as honey jars, coffee jars, pickle jars, curry jars etc.
Plastic lids aren’t any use as they will warp while being sterilised, plus hot plastic might possibly taint your preserves with carcinogens.
Wash all jars and lids well and rise them under a running tap to remove all traces of detergent.
There are two methods of sterilising jars and lids. One way is to wrap them in tea-towels (so the glass doesn’t break or chip) then put them in a large pan of cold water, which is then brought to the boil and simmered for half-an-hour to kill bacteria. The problem with this method is that it’s easy to splash boiling water onto yourself when removing the jars from the pan. Plus the pan takes up space, if space is a premium in a small kitchen.
The other method, which is the one I’ve used for years, is to set the jars and lids onto a baking tray and put them in a cold oven. Bring the heat up to one hundred degrees and let them stay there for half-an-hour, or until you’re ready to decant the freshly-made, still-runny jam into the jars. All you need to do then is lift the tray out of the oven and reach for your ladle.
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Preparing Fruit for Making Jam
Wash all fruit under cold running water, then remove stalks (and any wildlife which may have hitched a ride!)
Berries can be transferred to the pan immediately, while more solid fruits, such as apples, should be roughly chopped up first. If you’re making marmalade, you can either shred the skin or finely chop it, or discard it altogether; this is purely a matter of personal taste.
Don’t discard the pips! All pips contain a natural source of pectin which will enable your preserves to set.
Weigh your prepared fruit. You will need approximately half that weight again in sugar--but don’t add the sugar just yet.
Put all your fruit in a large pan and add a splash of water, just enough so it won’t stick when heated. Bring this to the boil, and let it boil thoroughly until all the fruit is pulpy. Let it cook through, so the pectin is released from the pips, and be careful not to burn the fruit or the taste will spoil
Put an old saucer in the freezer now. You’ll understand why, later.
The next phase is to sieve the boiling fruit pulp, if you wish to. With marmalades, this is pointless.
Bring the sieved fruit pulp (or marmalade) back to a rolling boil; it needs to be bubbling away like lava in your pan for around ten to fifteen minutes. Keep a sharp lookout for spitting jam or you could be burnt--which is why this is not a good cookery project for young children.
Slowly add the sugar, stirring it in gently and gradually. If things are going to plan, the pan’s contents will quickly look more syrupy. This happens more swiftly with marmalade than with jam.
Take the saucer out of the freezer, and drop half-a-teaspoon of jam onto it. Leave it alone for a minute or two, then gently push it with a cold spoon. If you see a slight wrinkling of the surface you can take the pan off the heat. If not, let things boil a bit longer then try again.
Using a ladle, carefully spoon the hot preserve into your waiting jars. Be careful not to burn yourself. Some recipe books insist that the ladle should be plastic and never metal. I’ve always used a metal one and not had any problems.
Once your new batch of jam is sitting in its jars, carefully lie a disk of greaseproof paper over the surface. Try not to trap any air bubbles between the paper and the surface of the jam, as the air will carry bacteria. Then apply the lids and tighten. The trapped heat will create a vacuum which will help to preserve your produce.
Traditional Preserves Cupboard
Storing Home-made Preserves
Jam and marmalade will keep for years if the jars were sterile and have remained airtight. Store them in a cool, dark place. I use a traditional preserves cupboard picked up from an antiques fair. The mesh sides allow for a flow of air. Any cupboard will serve just as readily, however.
I’ve just opened a jar of home-made orange and lemon marmalade which is five years old and it is in perfect condition. I’ve got four year-old cherry and apricot jam, and three year-old apple and raspberry jam which are delicious. Once the jar has been opened, it should be kept in a fridge and used within a month (approx.)
More Recipes from Adele
- Make Kiwi and Apple Jam
Traditional methods of preserving fruits have been used for centuries. But flavours needn't cling to familiar themes, as this delicious kiwi fruit and apple jam recipe demonstrates.
- Make Apple and Cherry Jam
Preserving fruits is easy. It is a traditional kitchen skill which can create a store of long-life foods which taste delicious, look good and...
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© 2009 Adele Cosgrove-Bray