Last Saturday, as I was working at our local farmers’ market, I picked up a flat of these beauties. They’re silvanberries, a beautiful hybrid of marion and boysenberries. Like most local berries (and completely UNLIKE berries shipped from out of state), these needed to be either eaten, frozen, or made into something quickly because they are so ripe and sweet. So I brought them home and did all three. Froze some, ate some, and made some silvanberry jam. Plum-colored goodness in a teaspoon. So yummy!
Many people make freezer jam, including myself, as it’s an especially quick and easy way to put up jam for the winter. Canned jam is similar by recipe, but it adds extra steps to the process of preservation. So, why would anyone do it, right? I suspect that back in the day, when no one had chest freezers, canned jam was made, placed on a shelf in a root cellar, and used year round. And maybe you don’t have the freezer space to stock up on homemade jam but still want to make it…then canned jam might be the perfect option for you. In general, I would say that canned jam is thicker, and freezer jam is runnier, so canned jam is nice to have for packing PB & J’s for your kids’ lunches.
Want to learn how to do it? I am going to go through the entire process of making and canning jam. For me, specifically, I am using a blackberry jam recipe found on the inside of the pectin box, but the process for making and canning jam is essentially the same whether you make strawberry and apricot jam too. Just use the directions found on the inside of the box and you’re golden. So, here we go!
You will need:
- Fresh fruit
- 1 box of pectin
- Lemon juice (called for in some recipes, but not in mine today)
- Water bath canner or a large and tall stock pot
- Kerr or Ball jelly jars
- Lids and rings
- Jar grabber
- Canning funnel
- Soup pot for cooking the jam
- Small sauce pot for heating the lids
- Spoon for stirring the jam and a ladle or measuring cup with spout for pouring the jam
If you are brand new to canning you might want to pick up a Back to Basics 286 5-Piece Home Canning Kit from Amazon.
Step 1: Pick and prepare your fruit
Whether you pick your own, or buy them at the store or market, make sure to pick fruit at the peak of ripeness. A tart strawberry will make tart jam. You want fruit that is soft and sweet but not mushy. Gently wash your fruit in cold water to remove any dirt. If you don’t know the farm’s growing practices, washing them to remove pesticides is a must.
Step 2: Prepare your materials.
- Your jars need to be cleaned and sanitized, even if brand new, so run them through the dishwasher. If your dishwasher has a sanitize cycle, do that too. If you prefer to do it all by hand, you can wash in soapy water and then sanitize them by boiling them for 10 minutes in your water bath canner. Then just make sure the jars are hot when you are ready to use them.
- Your lids also need to be heated up in the small sauce pot. This softens up the red gum on the lid making the seal pliable. If you don’t do this, chances are, you jars won’t seal properly.
- Set up your stove top something like this: Water bath canner, cooking pot, and sauce pot all going, with a spoon to stir. Making cooked jam takes some focus, so I try to do it after the Littles have gone to bed.
- Start boiling the water in your water bath canner, using about 5” of water. When you end up processing your jars, the water will need to be 1-2” over the top of the jars.
Step 3: Prepare your ingredients.
- Mash your fruit one cup at a time until you have the exact amount needed. My recipe called for 6 pints of berries, which would in the end give me 6 cups. Using exact measurements is crucial, otherwise your jam will be too gummy or too soft.
- Measure out the exact amount of sugar needed. My recipe called for 8 ½ cups! If that’s way too much for you, there are less-sugar and no-sugar pectins you can use.
- Measure out your lemon juice if the recipe calls for it. Mine didn’t. But lemon juice is used in some recipes to preserve the color of the fruit in processing. Nothing’s worse than making peach jam and having it turn brown in the process, right?
Step 4: Cook your jam.
Following the directions found in your pectin box, cook your jam. This generally is something like this:
- Heat your crushed fruit in the soup pot, stirring regularly.
- Add pectin and heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. This should take between 5-10 minutes
- Optionally, you may choose to add a teaspoon of butter at this time. Adding butter reduces the amount of foam that forms on the top of your jam. The foam doesn’t taste bad…it’s just, well foam. If you don’t want to add the butter, you can simply skim the foam off the top with a spoon.
- Add your premeasured sugar quickly and stir again.
- Stir regularly and bring mixture to a rolling boil again on medium high heat. Once at a rolling boil, continue boiling for 1 minute. Here’s a hint: use a long wooden spoon and an oven mitt when stirring at the full rolling boil. The jam tends to bubble and splash, and it BURNS when it hits your skin! Learned from experience here, folks! Yowza!
- Once a minute has gone by, take the jam off the burner.
Here’s a little trick to see if your jam has set properly. Have a teaspoon in a small glass of ice water. Once the jam is cooked, use your cold teaspoon and scoop up a small amount. Let the jam sit on the spoon for about 15 seconds and then pour the jam back into the pot. If the jam slides off the spoon in one “sheet” then it’s done. If it drips off in multiple drops, then it needs to boil for a bit longer.
Step 5: Transfer your jam to jars.
Once your jam is cooked, take your jars out of the hot water. Having hot jars prevents them from breaking when your hot jam is poured inside. I generally get 2-3 jars at a time, ensuring that the last jars are still hot when I am ready to use them. Using your canning funnel, fill your jars with jam to within 1/4” of the top, and then wipe any spilled jam off the mouth of the jar. Place a hot lid on top of the jar, and seal it with a ring. The ring should be gently tightened, but not muscle-man tightened. Just enough to keep the lid on to properly seal. You want to be able to take the ring off after the lid seals.
Repeat until all of your jars are filled. You should have between 9-11 half pint jelly jars filled in the end.
Step 6: Process your jelly jars.
This is the “canning part”. Using your jar grabber, place all of your jars into the water bath, ensuring that the water is 1-2” over the top of all of your jars. Add additional water if necessary and continue heating until it comes to a boil. Once boiling, process your jam for 10 minutes. If you live in an area with any altitude, you also need to add additional minutes to your processing time. See this chart below and add minutes to your process time.
Step 7: Cool your jams.
Once your jam has processed for the specific time (according to your altitude), use your jar grabber and take them out to cool. I generally place them on a towel or a cloth placemat to cool. Leave them alone for up to 24 hours to cool completely. Within the first few minutes, you should hear the “ping!” of each jar sealing. Music to my ears! After about 30 minutes, ensure that each jar has sealed properly by pushing down on the center of the lid. If it stays depressed, it is sealed. If it pops back up, the jam didn’t seal properly and should be placed in your fridge and used within 3 weeks. All properly sealed jams can now be placed in a cool, dry place for storage and winter’s use.
What do you think? Are you ready to step into the world of canning? Check out local garage sales for great deals on canning jars, water bath canners and other materials. You’d be amazed and what people are selling for next to nothing!
Coming up in a few weeks, I will take you through the steps for canning green beans which involves using a pressure canner. A little different, a little more work. Until then, happy jam making!