Guide To Making Gourmet Jam
Preserving has been used for centuries. Some of the earliest jam recipes originated in Greece and used honey and raw sugar. Trading spread jam making and other methods of preservation throughout the world and each culture improved upon the basic method to suite their needs. In 1864, Louis Pasteur, the same man responsible for developing pasteurization, helped to increase public awareness of food borne illness; to make food available and safe for human consumption, canning and preserving food was used. The following is a step-by-step guide for beginners interested in learning how to make their own gourmet jam.
Step 1: Picking Fruit
Picking and using the right fruit for jam is important to the jams taste, color and texture. Ripe, firm fruit is ideal for the best results possible. Many jam-makers choose to use seasonal fruit with produce that is available fresh from the grower. If you are picking your own fruit to be used in jam, look for the following signs indicating that the fruit is ready to harvest:
Grapes: Grapes come in many different varietals; the Blue Concord grape is perfect for jellies and jams. When the grape is at the peak of perfection, it will be firmly attached to the stem. The grape will be deep purple and firm. Once harvested, the grapes should be covered and stored in a refrigerator. They can be kept for up to two days prior to use. Don’t forget to wash the grapes before using.
Peaches: The best peaches for jam should be harvested in the middle of the season. Varieties, including Red Haven, Loring and Vivid are popular choices when making peach jam. When picking peaches, choose firm fruits with a smooth skin. The perfect peach will have a sweet smell and clearer opacity. Steer clear of peaches with wrinkled skin or discoloration. Peaches should be kept at room temperature until their skin softens.
Raspberries: Raspberry jam is a popular favorite. Boyne, Killarney and Festival raspberries are best for jams. Raspberries available later in the season can also be used, such as Heritage raspberries. The fruit should be dry and firm. Avoid berries that are leaking juice or have over ripened. Refrigerate the berries immediately after harvesting and always wash before use.
Blueberries: Blueberries are separated into two types; low-bush and high-bush. Low-brush blueberries are smaller than the high-bush, which are bigger berries, but may be less flavorful. Low-bush blueberries are the best option when choosing berries for jam.
Apples: Cortland, Ida Reds and Spartans are great for making jam and apple butter. They are firm and juicy, with a bit id a tart bite to them. This seasonal fruit is best harvested and preserved in the autumn months. Avoid fruits with discoloration and those that are mealy in texture.
Step 2: Gather Ingredients & Equipment
There are several ingredients that go into jam-making, including: fruit, pectin, sugar and lemon juice. Each ingredient is important to the setting process and the flavor of the jam. Each jam recipe is different and delicious in its own right; however, in many cases, the basic ingredients used are very similar. Many recipes call for granulated sugar and lemon juice.
When preparing to make jam, make sure you have all of the ingredients for the recipe and any equipment needed. The following is a general list of jamming equipment you should have on hand:
- Mixing bowls
- Manual potato masher/food processor/blender – depending on the type of jam being made
- One large pots
- Large ladles and spoons
- Jar funnel
- Canning jars
- Lids with gun binders
- Lid rings
- Jar grabbers
Step 3: Wash and Crush fruit
When working with any type of produce, it is important to wash it before preparing. Berries can be washed and rinsed using a strainer. Once the fruit has dried and all stems and leaves removed, it is ready to be crushed using a potato masher, blender or food process; depending on the type of jam being made. Crushing the fruit releases natural pectin that will aid in the consistency of the jam.
Step 4: Measure Out the Sugar & Pectin
Different recipes call for different amounts of sugar and depending on any personal preferences, you may want to try several different recipes to find the right one for you and your family. In some recipes, a portion of the pectin is mixed with the sugar.
Pectin is available at most grocery stores and is a natural product made from apples. It helps to create the desired texture of the jam and aid in the setting process. For the best results, use pectin without any added sugars or sweeteners.
Step 5: Mix Berries with Pectin and Boil
While some jam-makers advise against using pectin, it is a quick and easy way to make sure that your jam has the desired consistency and texture. This thickener helps to reduce the cooking time needed and preserves the flavor, vitamins and nutrients of the fruit. It also requires less sugar than recipes without pectin.
In a large pot, stir the fruit and pectin together over a medium-high heat. The mixture should be stirred continuously to prevent burning. It typically takes five to ten minutes for the mixture to reach a full boil.
Step 6: Ready Canning Lids in Hot Water
To prepare the lids for canning, place them in a saucepan of hot water. This will soften the gummed rims and secure the lid. It is important to use each canning lid only once; the sealant on the rim of the lid will not seal the jar properly upon reuse and the jam may be contaminated.
Step 7: Add Remaining Sugar, Bring to a Boil and Skim Off the Foam
Once the berry mixture has come to a steady boil, add in the remaining sugar. Slowly return the mixture to a boil to reduce the amount of foam produced and hard-boil for one minute. Remove the pot from the heat and with a ladle; skim off any foam that has accumulated.
Step 9: Test the Consistency of the Jam
Using a metal kitchen spoon, test the thickness of the jam. The jam should have firmed up and stick to the spoon. If you find that the jam has not become firm, the jam may have needed more sugar, pectin or acidity; in such cases, you may be able to save the batch by reboiling the mixture and adding the missing ingredients.
Step 10: Fill, Seal & Cool the Jam Jars
Using a jar funnel, fill your canning jars with the mixture. Make sure not to overfill the jars; there should be a quarter-inch left at the top. Set the canning lids on the jar and secure with the lid rings. To seal the jars, use your jar tongs to place them in a stockpot of boiling water; the water should cover the jars completely. Leave the jars to boil for five minutes. Finally, remove the jars and let them cool before storing.