Preparedness Skills: Jam and Jelly Basics (and Tips!)

August 31, 2012

I always get so excited when I see the fruit on my trees begin to ripen and weigh down the branches or my grapes begin to get that deep purple color. These are the unmistakable signs that jam- and jelly-making season is just about here. Jam is also a great way to get started if you are new to canning. It is very simple and the processing times are much shorter. The basics for canning apply here but these are some specific tips to making perfect jam and jelly.

    1. Always use the best fruit; slightly under-ripe is better than slightly over-ripe. Pectin levels are higher in slightly under-ripe fruit.
    2. Table sugar is just fine for making jam or jelly. Preserving sugar is only necessary if you choose not to use pectin. Fruits have naturally-occurring pectin and will set on their own, but it will need to be boiled much longer (sometimes over an hour). This lengthy process can cause the fruit to taste scorched; it will also look darker.
    3. I always use store-bought pectin. This one little box will ensure that your jam or jelly sets perfectly and decreases the amount of time that you need to boil your fruit.
    4. Dissolve the sugar completely. If you don’t, the jam or jelly will be grainy. You can test this by stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon then pull it out and look at what has coated the back of the spoon. If it is clear and you don’t see any grains of sugar then it has dissolved completely. I usually do this a couple of times just to make sure.
    5. Only make one batch at a time. Never double the recipe, the fruit will not set up.
    6. When your fruit is boiling a foam or scum will form on the top to keep this down just add a walnut sized pat of butter and it will disappear. Skimming the scum works but you end up losing too much of your fruit.
    7. Let your jam settle before bottling for about 15 minutes. This will prevent the fruit from rising to the top.
    8. Jams and jellies tend to spatter when cooking so wear an apron or old shirt and always use a long handled spoon for stirring.
    9. An easy way to test the “set” on your jam or jelly is to keep a couple of spoons in a glass of ice water near you. When you have boiled your fruit for the suggested time drop a teaspoon full onto one of the cold spoons. If it gets wrinkly or forms a skin on top then it is ready. If not just boil for 5 more minutes and test again.
    10. Like any canning you do, be sure to have everything you need together before you begin. Also read your jam or jelly recipe entirely before you start just to make sure you are ready; once you start cooking you can’t stop or walk away.
    11. Always process in a water bath canner. It only takes about 5 minutes but will make sure that your jam or jelly is safe to store.
    12. Last but not least, always remember that if your first try doesn’t quite work out a thin jam or jelly always makes a great topping for ice cream, waffles, pancakes or a little something special to add to a smoothie.

Making jam and jelly is one of my favorites. I just love seeing all of those jars filled with beautiful colors lined up on my shelves. It’s food storage gold!

    <p >--Dawn

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