“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou.” According to Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), a Persian poet, these are the makings of pure paradise.
Many other authors have translated this ancient verse with some variations — but none of them added jam to the loaf of bread.
Nevertheless, many people think that good jam makes a really great thing even better. Homemade jam is one way to get that good jam that makes bread better.
The advantages of homemade jam are many, but the most important is that you have control of the ingredients. You can mix the flavors you like, use the best produce available and make sure it is all fruit — no dilution to stretch the product.
Jam is one of the easiest home-canning projects. For jam you need fruit, pectin, acid and sugar. All are needed to get the best results. The recipes included in the pectin box and good canning books have done the homework and will give you the proper proportions of fruit, acid, pectin and sugar for a good product. Adjusting any of the ingredients will negatively affect the quality of the final product in terms of taste and consistency. Each of the ingredients plays a part in the quality of the finished product.
Pectin is a natural substance found in varying amounts in fruits. The reaction of pectin with acid and sugar causes jelling. Some fruits have more pectin than others. Those with high pectin content include tart apples, concord grapes, sour blackberries, cranberries, gooseberries, quinces and sour plums. Cherries, apricots, blueberries, pineapple, strawberries and peaches have low pectin content.
Because fruits have natural pectin, jam and jellies can be made without it if you are willing to follow the necessary procedures to concentrate the pectin. However, adding commercial pectin hastens the process a good deal and increases the yield.
Select fruit that is top quality and slightly under-ripe or barely ripe (not green).
Wash fruit thoroughly under cold running water or fill the sink with cold water. Lift fruit from water allowing dirt to settle. Cut up fruit, removing stems and blossom ends.
When making hard fruits like apples, pears and nectarines, wash and remove the stems, but do not peel or core them. Chop or quarter the fruit and measure it. Add one cup of water for each slightly heaped quart of fruit in large saucepot, cover it and simmer the fruit until it is soft.
When working with soft fruits such as grapes, cherries and berries, wash and stem the fruit. Slightly crush it or follow recipe guidelines for preparing it. Measure the fruit and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water to each quart prepared fruit in large saucepot. Cover it and simmer until soft.
When the fruit has cooked until it is soft, strain it through a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth. Unsweetened bottled or frozen juice can be used. These usually require commercial pectin.
Acid adds flavor to the jam and helps with chemical reaction required to form a gel. The acid content varies in different fruits.
You can test for acid content by taste. Combine 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 3 tablespoons water and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Taste this mixture and compare it to the tartness of fruit juice you plan to use. The fruit juice should taste as tart as lemon juice mixture or it will not set properly.
Sugar reacts with the pectin and acid and helps form a gel. It also serves as a preservative. Beet and cane sugar work equally well. There are recipes for sugar-free jams and jellies for diabetics. The recipes have made the needed adjustments for the product to set up and preserve properly.
Light corn syrup can replace 1/4 of the sugar. Honey can be used to replace up to half of the sugar in recipes without added pectin.
Two cups of honey can replace two of the cups of sugar in most recipes with added pectin. The rest will be sugar. For example, if the recipe calls for 8 cups of sugar, you can use 2 cups honey and 6 cups sugar. In smaller recipes (that yield up to 6 half pints) replace 3/4 to 1 cup sugar with honey.
You will need certain equipment to make the jam. A large saucepot, food scale or standard measuring cups, a candy thermometer, a kitchen timer, and a skimmer or slotted spoon are all needed.
Make jams in small batches using a large pan because it boils up as it cooks. When cooking with added pectin, timing should be exact. Add more time for a thicker product, less for a thinner one.
Spreads will thicken further as they cool. Measure all ingredients accurately. Use proper pectin and recipes for low or no-sugar spreads.
Before preparing fruit, make sure jars are free from nicks and cracks. Use jars with ring-type lids, not “jelly glasses.”
Wash the jars in hot soapy water. Place in simmering water until ready to use. Place lids in simmering water and leave until it’s ready to use. Do not boil lids. Wash top quality fruit thoroughly.
Prepare one recipe at a time, following directions.
Remove the mixture from the heat source and skim foam if needed. The foam is not harmful and can be saved in a dish and serve if desired.
Immediately pack hot jam or jelly into hot jars. Leave the recommended amount of headspace.
Wipe rims and threads of jars with clean, damp cloth. Adjust two-piece caps. Place the jars on a rack over boiling water as each jar is filled and capped.
When all the jars are filled and in place, lower the rack into the canner and add boiling water to cover the caps by 1 to 2 inches.
Immediately begin counting the processing time before water returns to a boil. Processing times vary according to the type of jelly or jam.
When processing time is complete, remove the jars from the canner. Stand them upright on a towel or rack. Allow 1 to 2 inches between bottles. Let them cool 12 to 24 hours. Test seals and remove bands. Wash the outside of the jar and the surface of the lid. Store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place until you are ready to use the contents.