Jam making is one of those things that everyone thinks is so much more complicated to make than it is in reality. Making jam doesn’t require a million ingredients, but you can always jazz it up with some lemon zest, juice, herbs, and spices to add a little extra something. This is my easy guide or well, ‘non-recipe’ to jam making. I’m no jam expert but from what I’ve picked up, jam making is really more about flavor and understanding the fruit you are working with rather than following a step-by-step recipe.
Fresh vs. Frozen fruit
When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter if you use fresh or frozen fruit; however, it is important to note that frozen fruit is typically peak-season fruit. This basically means that it was frozen during the fruit’s peak-season and therefore is sweet and perfect for jam making year long. If you know the fruit you are using is in its peak season, then go ahead and use fresh. At the end of the day, you will get almost identical results if the fresh fruit you are using is in peak season. The only difference is that making jam with frozen fruit will take a couple extra minutes to account for the time it takes to thaw out the fruit.
I am a firm believer in not measuring how much sweetener I’m adding to my jam. Now, that doesn’t mean I am adding a cup of sugar to each batch, it simply means that I start out with no more than two teaspoons to a tablespoon of sugar for a batch of jam and then from there I work my way up (if necessary). This ensures that your jam isn’t overly sweet causing it to taste like a jelly donut. Sweetening to taste is important so you can maintain some of the tartness from the fruit.
Cooking, Consistency, and Cornstarch
All you need to cook the jam is some lemon juice, your pot, and a little patience. I typically dump my fruit into the pot (peeled and chopped if necessary), then add in the juice of a lemon, a little sugar, and then the pot then goes over a medium to high flame. You want the water to evaporate from the fruit so you are then left with all that sweet goodness which is why we go for a medium to high flame. You also want to make sure to stir pretty often to prevent the fruit from burning on the bottom. After the fruit has significantly cooked down, then you can lower the heat and keep stirring so the fruit can caramelize even further. It’s really up to you to cook the fruit for however long you’d like depending on the consistency you are going for. For a thicker jam, cook it longer. For a thinner, more runny jam similar to a compote, cook it for less time. Some people add cornstarch to their jam to help thicken it up. Using a teaspoon or two will result in a thicker jam without the extra cook time. However, it is important to note that adding cornstarch instead of cooking the jam for a longer period of time will not give you the same flavor results. Cooking the jam for a longer period of time will give your jam more depth and flavor. After your jam has reached your desired consistency, if you want a more homogeneous jam, then consider using an immersion blender and blending it until completely smooth.
It is important to think about what flavors pair well with your fruit. For example, if you are making blueberry jam, consider adding some grated or ground ginger and some orange zest. Or, suppose you are making peach jam: consider adding some warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg because they pair well with the peaches. Even consider mixing together different fruits (or even jams) to make new-hybrid jams.
Some of my favorite combinations include:
Strawberries, lemon zest, vanilla extract
Blueberries/mixed berries, ginger, lemon/orange zest
Apples, cinnamon, nutmeg
Blueberries, peaches, cinnamon
YIELD: 1 cup
TOTAL TIME: 20-60 minutes
16 oz. (1 pound) strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, nectarines, peaches, apricots, apples, pears, etc.
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 teaspoons cornstarch (optional)
Mix-ins (lemon zest, orange zest, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla extract, etc.)
If necessary, peel your fruits (peel things like apples, peaches, pears, etc.) and dice your fruit as well if needed (chop apples, peaches, large strawberries, pears, etc.)
Add the fruits to a medium saucepan along with the lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar.
Mix everything together and place on a medium to medium high flame.
Keep stirring as the fruit cooks and the water from it evaporates to ensure it does not burn.
After the water content in the fruit has significantly evaporated (about 12-20 minutes, might take more/less time depending on the fruit you are using), slightly lower the heat and keep mixing to allow the sugars from the fruit to caramelize, but not burn.
From here, you can either cook it on until it reaches your desired consistency or add in a teaspoon or two of cornstarch to thicken it up. Just make sure to keep stirring the jam so it does not burn on the bottom or sides of the pot.
After the jam reaches your desired consistency, add in your mix-ins and then transfer it to a jar while still hot, and immediately seal. This will help it have a longer shelf life. Then store in the fridge for up to 10 days or store it in a freezer safe container in the freezer for up to 6 months.
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