Master Food Preserver Week 6 - Jams and Jellies

Jam_2I have always been a big fan of jams and jellies and now I know why. I learned in my class that traditional cooked jams and jellies are 65-68% sugar. My new name for jam is fruit flavored sugar. That hasn't ruined it for me though. Over the weekend we made batches of raspberry and strawberry rhubarb. Insert Homer Simpson low growling noises here.

There are ways to reduce the sugar content of jams and jellies like using clear jel, or specially formulated pectin, or a freezer jam recipe, but don't reduce the sugar in traditional recipes or your jam won't gel. Turns out that jams require just the righ balance of sugar, pectin, acid, and fruit. Messing with the ratio of any of those is enough to ruin a batch. It's really a great arrangement if you think about it. If your friend is aghast at you adding 8 cups of sugar to 5 cups of fruit, just explain that you'd really like to use less sugar but you need that much for it to gel properly. You're not being a glutton, just a conscientious chef.

Here are some things to consider as you make plans for your favorite fruit spread:

  • Commercial pectins are made from apples and citrus fruit and come in liquid and powdered forms. Make sure to use the kind of pectin specified in the recipe. You also may find different brands have a different standard package size. I bought the MCP brand and used their provided recipes to ensure the proper balance of ingredients.
  • Traditional Jams and Jellies have a reduced risk of foodborne illness because of the high sugar and acid content. If you want to make gifts for friends and families, jams and jellies may be a better option than that canned asparagus when it comes to having piece of mind about safety, both yours and theirs.
  • While jams and jellies have a high sugar content, the typical store varieties have high fructose corn syrup as their main ingredient, which is much worse for your health than sugar. Do your family a favor and make them some homemade jam and do your local farmer a favor and use their fruit. Here's the Greenbluff schedule of fruit availability.
  • If you're at altitude and need to process your jam for 10 minutes or more, you don't need to sterilize the jars, otherwise you need to boil the jars seperately for 10 minutes. I say just plan on processing for 10 minutes and save yourself a step.
  • You can make jams and jellies without added pectin by taking advantage of the natural pectins in fruit, but this requires long cooking of the fruit, balancing ripe and less than ripe fruit, and other detailed instructions that I'd rather not have to deal with. I have a hard enough time just measuring 8 cups of sugar without my kids distracting me.
  • I've heard jams made with gelatin are kind of lame.
  • A kitchen scale is a must for figuring out the amount of fruit you'll need to start with in order to get the measured amount that goes into final mix.
  • Don't double the recipe. Changing the batch size changes ratios and cooking times, and will likely result in jam that doesn't set properly.
  • 1/4 teaspoon of butter or margarine is a good way of reducing foam during the cooking.
  • Sugar crystals in your jam or jelly probably means the ratio of sugar to water is higher than 68%, at which level it is impossible to completely dissolve it.

Links: General Guide for Jellies, Jams, and Spreads, Another General Guide, Making Reduced Sugar Spreads, Troubleshooting Problems, Lots of great and trustworthy recipes and instructions here.