Making your own jam doesn't have to be a big production.
While it's sometimes most efficient to do things in bulk with all the right gear, the small-scale option can be better if you're just starting out and want to make jam without much initial investment. Also, for the home gardener it's common to have only a few cups of berries ripe at any one time, rather than the 6-8 pints called for in many recipes. Small-scale jam-making also allows you to try new flavor combinations. So, if you've got a bowl of berries on hand, here are two recipes to inspire you to get cooking. (Although these are recipes for strawberry jam, other berry preserves use similar techniques and ingredients.)
Strawberry-orange freezer jam
For gift-giving and long-term ease of storage, jam in sealed glass jars is the best choice. But for ease of preparation, freezer jam wins hands-down.
Some people (like J.D.) prefer its flavor, too, because it tastes more like fresh fruit than cooked preserves. The dominant flavor in this jam is the strawberry, but the orange lends a nice subtle note and also stretches the berries.
Some canning recipes for call for bottled lemon juice rather than fresh. This is due to its constant level of acidity, rather than fresh lemons, in which acidity can vary. It's not crucial for jam, which is often high in both sugar and acidity to keep it safe in storage, but can be important when canning low-acid foods like tomatoes or beans.
When making freezer jam, you can use plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids. If you plan on storing this for more than a couple of months, better plastic tubs mean better taste. I actually prefer to use glass canning jars with screw-on white plastic lids (often sold with the canning supplies). Either way, be sure to leave a little headspace for expansion as it freezes and write a “use by” date on the lid. (Freezer jam will keep for up to a year.)
Strawberry-Orange Freezer Jam
- 11 ounce mandarin oranges, drained & crushed
- 1-1/2 cups crushed strawberries
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
- 1 cup water
- 1 box powdered pectin
Mix together crushed fruits. Add sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Let stand 20-40 minutes.
In a saucepan, mix water and pectin thoroughly. Bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down and boil for 1 minute.
Remove from heat and mix pectin into fruit, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Ladle into sterilized containers, wipe rims and add lids. Let jam set overnight. Store in freezer for up to a twelve months.
Makes approximately 6 half-pints (6 cups). Source: Linda Ferrari, Canning & Preserving
At our house, we tend to make a bunch of jam in the summer and then eat it mostly in the fall and winter when we're craving those summer fruits. When spring rolls around, I try to move any one-year-old freezer jam to the front of the freezer so it gets used soon. But if your freezer space is limited, you might opt for the following recipe for cooked jam instead.
Small batch strawberry jam
In the following hands-on video, Marge Braker demonstrates the easy steps to make a jar of cooked strawberry jam in about 20 minutes of work. This cooked version doesn't call for added pectin to make it set up, so learning to judge when the berries are done cooking can take a bit of practice. If you misjudge it and don't cook them long enough, you'll end up with strawberry syrup rather than strawberry jam, but that can be a happy mistake. Jam cooked too long will be stiff and will have lost that wonderful homemade berry brightness.
I frequently make small batch cooked jams later in the summer when my caneberries are ripening gradually. It's also handy when I want to try a new combination like gooseberry-currant or elderberry-apple that I'm not sure will be a success.
Marge Braker offers a wealth of general canning tips that every beginning canner can benefit from. If your mother never taught you, now's your chance to learn from a pro!