Ah the joys of jammin’, here is a basic step by step guide for how to make jam;
Perfect pickins’ – choose the best fruit for jam making
A good meal is only as good as its ingredients and this applies to jam as well. Never think of jam as just a way to use up dodgy sell-by-dated fruit. If you use aged and damaged fruit you will get tasteless jam. So pick the choicest fruits for the best results.
Wash your fruit just before you want to use it as many fruits (particularly berries) will absorb water and become soggy with time. So wash prior to use and pat dry with a clean tea towel or kitchen roll.
Sterilise your jam jars
This is the most important step in jam making! So important I have made a special place all about How To Sterilise Jars page for a full run-down on how to do this.
Prepare the fruit for making jam
Pick over the fruit and remove leaves and stalks (called ‘hulling’ in strawberries), peel, core, or de-stone any fruit that requires this. It is always much easier to perform these tasks before you get started and always take care to remove all stones from plums, cherries and the like. One cherry stone can cause havoc to dentistry.
Sweet stuff for making jam
You can use sugar or honey, maple syrup and other sweeteners for making jam and other preserves. Weigh out the required sugar for your recipe and mix in pectin powder if the recipe requires it. Set aside ready for use.
Cook the fruit
Add fruit to the preserving pan (see Kitchen Kit for notes on best pans for preserving) and press with a potato masher, add water if a recipe calls for it and also lemon juice if you are using it in your recipe, now heat the fruit. Cook for 10 minutes or until tender and press again with a masher to make sure the pectin has been released.
Add the sugar to the fruit and stir well to combine. Use low heat here to dissolve the sugar so that it doesn’t burn. Make sure all the sugar has dissolved before raising the temperature to a boil.
Boil and bubble
Boil the jam for anything from 10-20 minutes stirring occasionally. The setting point will be reached when the jam gets to a temperature of 105C/220F.
Setting point for making jam
By far the scariest bit of jam and preserve making and something that often puts people off the whole process entirely. Don’t panic, jam will set, it is all a matter of timing and checking again and again until you get the hang of it.
Using a thermometer to check that the setting temperature (105C/220F) has been reached isn’t the only way to check your setting point. My usual way is to use the old chilled saucer technique or wrinkle test. There are different types of thermometers for jam making.
The traditional mercury-filled jam making/candy making thermometer that shows the temperature on one side and setting points on the other. These are great.
However, my favourite thermometer for jam making nowadays is a digital thermometer that you just pop the probe into the bubbling pan of jam and it tells you the temperature on the handle.
Just pop a couple of saucers into the freezer before you start your jamming session (I actually keep a few in the freezer al the time) and when you think the jam is ready remove the saucer from the freezer and drop a teaspoonful of jam on to it. Put the saucer in the fridge for a couple of minutes to see how the jam firms up. If it wrinkles up when you press it with your finger then it is ready to pot.
You can also check for setting point by using a spoon. Simply dip your spoon into the jam and let it cool just for a moment before holding it horizontally over the pan. Give the spoon a shake and see how the jam comes off the spoon. If it comes off in one flat flake then it is ready to pot.
Strawberry jam is particularly prone to foaming, and while this foam (or scum which makes it sound a bit horrid) isn’t poisonous or anything, it just doesn’t look good on the top of your jam, so is best removed while it is bubbling in the pan.
Use a slotted spoon to do this and discard the foam.
No, no, not those nasty chemical additives so popular with manufacturers, I’m just talking about any extras you want to add like alcohol or nuts etc for extra taste and dimension. Add these at the last moment.
Wait a moment
Let the jam rest for a few minutes before potting up. This is especially important for jams with nuts or herbs etc added in as you want these to be suspended in the jam and not all float up to the top.
Just give the jam a few minutes to pull itself together before you start ladling it out of the pan and make sure that you scoop up a bit of everything for each jar.
Fill and seal your jars
Use a ladle to spoon out the jam and also make use of a jam funnel to get the jam into the jars. This is where accidents can so easily happen and hot jam is nasty stuff when it comes into contact with skin.
A jam funnel makes the whole process much quicker, easier and safer so always use one.
Fill jars to half an inch (1cm) from the top and cover the surface of the jam with a waxed paper disc with the waxy side facing onto the jam surface. Pop on the lid.
Label your jam jars
Always label your jars with the contents and date created. I am useless at doing this and frequently dig into nameless jars without a clue as to the contents.
Storing homemade jam
Store your jam in a cool dark cupboard and once opened keep it in the fridge.