by my count with plenty of help i’ve canned well over 1200 jars of jam this year. we have canned a large variety of types starting with the normal: grape, then into elderberry, some gooseberry, the blend of black raspberry/ red currant and finally a few batches of straight red currant.
perhaps the most surprising thing to me is that i actually rather enjoy making jam, and how easy it is. i’ve put together a quick little guide of how to make jam.
step 1: juice berries
we harvest berries during the summer and then throw them in the freezer, that way we don’t have to deal with them until thing slow down. then we wash them, throw them in a pot and warm them up until the berries explode and spill their juice. it doesn’t really get cooked down or anything like that. we run the juice and the exploded berries though a food mill to extract the juice and pulp that is left. last batch we had plenty of left over juice and not enough time to make it all into jam and so we froze it. when we were ready to make jam again we just thawed it. keep it over low heat, as letting it boil will set the pectin in the juice before you want it to.
2. measure out the juice
in this case we are using 14.75 pounds of juice in the recipe. we use low sugar pectin, and the ratio is 14.75 pounds juice or fruit, 10.5 pounds of sugar and 1 pound of low sugar pectin. you can change amounts as long as you keep the ratios the same. once the juice is measured out you add it to your kettle.
this batch is a blend of 2 fruits, red currants which we ran though the food mill, and black raspberries which are so soft that they pretty much fall apart as soon as you add heat, so no need to juice them. add heat, medium high. you can ratios of fruit as long as total adds up to the 14.75 pounds.
3. add the pectin
in this recipe 1 pound. you need to stir it in well, but it should dissolved pretty easily. keep stirring from time to time so the bottom doesn’t burn, but you don’t need to worry about it too much. while you are waiting for it to boil, heat up your clean jars. you can run them though the dishwasher, but you want to make sure they are good and hot when you go to add the hot jam. i prefer to keep them hot in the oven, at 160 or so. if they are good, clean, and dust free you don’t need to wash them, just put them in the oven at low heat until you are ready.
4. add the sugar
when the juice comes to a boil it’s time to add the sugar. this recipe calls for 10.5 pounds, which seems like a ton of sugar. i’m not going to make a justification for this much sugar, it seems like a lot, but it works, it keeps well and requires no hot water bath or pressure canning. every time i make jam i look at how much sugar is going in the recipe and i think that’s too much, but for the most part i don’t eat it i just sell it, so what do i care. when we tried to make jam with honey most folk thought it too tart.
you want to keep the juice boiling while adding sugar and if you add too much sugar it will lower the boiling point, so only add a half cup or so at a time, stirring constantly. it would be a good time to have help. we use a refractometer to measure the brix level in our jam to determine sugar content in the jam. this makes me feel like a scientist. we even have a clipboard that we use to record results, the only thing missing is a lab coat, and the white apron we wear almost pass. we are shooting for about 50 on the brix scale.
if you don’t own a refractometer, and i think that would cover most of us, you can use the pretty simple sheet test. keep a sheet pan in the fridge, pull it out , put it on it’s side and dribble a bit of the hot juice on the sheet. jam which is ready will quickly start to set, not running freely down the pan, and show a solid layer on the outside of the juice.
i usually check the sugar/sheeting action when i’ve added 3/4’s of the sugar. i don’t want to add too much sugar so i try to hit it just on the mark of what will set, and no more. once it’s obvious that it will set it’s time to get ready to can.
when all the sugar is added keep stirring until it starts to boil, once it starts to boil count out 90 seconds.
while you are counting get some friends to set everything up. for this batch you are gonna need well over 40 sanitized jars, lids (i’ve been using single piece lids, while you can’t reuse the rings, it’s much faster and easier) plenty of clean towels and some boiling hot water.
5. pour the jam into jars.
everything is set out, you have counted to 90, it’s ready to rock and roll. we use pitchers to pour the hot jam into the jars. ladle the hot jam into pitchers and then pour it into the jar leaving about a 1/4 inch of head space. if you get any jam on the rim of the jar you need to use a towel dipped into hot water to wipe it off, so it will make a good seal. cover the jar with the lids, dipping the lids in hot water first to sanitize them. then put them on top.
once all the jars are filled, and the lids are on it time to screw them down. you want them to be pretty darn tight but not so tight that grandma can’t get it off. they are hot so handle with care using towels. then turn them upside down for 4 minutes. this will sanitize the lids, then you can turn then back over to set.
that’s all there is too it. enjoy the jam. and enjoy this quick video of youth from the farm explaining jam making.