Friday, September 17, 2010

Jam Tips

I get asked a lot about my freezer jam recipe. Well, let me tell you—it's easy. I buy the No Sugar Needed Sure-Jell pectin (in the pink box) and use the Quick and Easy Freezer Jam recipes included. Contrary to the label on the box, you do need sugar, but it's a lot less than a typical recipe. The directions are given in minute detail; as long as you follow them to the letter, you will get perfect jam every time! For my last two batches of jam, I also went off the beaten path a little and substituted some mild-flavored clover honey for some of the sugar. (I would have done all, but I didn't want the honey to overpower the fruit. As it is, it adds a nice sweetness and mellow undertone.) In both jam batches I made (strawberry-raspberry, and peach) I put in half the sugar called for. Because honey is slightly sweeter than sugar, I didn't put in quite as much honey as sugar; the general rule of thumb is to replace sugar with honey at a 1 cup to 3/4 cup ratio. So for a jam that called for 3 cups sugar, I did 1 1/2 cups sugar and about 1 1/8 cup honey. For a jam that called for 2 1/2 cups sugar, I did 1 1/4 cups sugar and 1 cup honey. The only other change I made was to decrease the water by 1/4 cup and boil the honey/sugar/pectin/water mixture for 3 minutes instead of 1, to account for the extra moisture in the honey. Both jams ended up with a great taste and a nice firm set. So go out and buy yourself some fruit and No Sugar Needed Sure-Jell! Freezer jam is really one of the easiest recipes around!

There is one other issue with jam... the issue of texture. As any jam maker will tell you, the texture of your jam is very important! The fruit shouldn't be pureed; you should have visible chunks in your jam. (Yum...)

HOWEVER, I personally don't agree with the way that the package tells you to prepare your fruit (berries: mashed, fruit: finely chopped). I like chunks of fruit in my jam, but I also like my jam to have a good amount of spreadability. What I've found works best for me is this—for most fruits, I will take about 3/4 of the fruit called for and put it in my blender on the lowest setting (on mine it is called "grate"). This setting evenly chops your fruit without grinding it too finely. It gives you nice fruit chunks that are not too big, not too small, and fairly even in size. (The exception to this rule is raspberries, which really are by nature pretty mushy and so can be smashed with a masher and come out just fine.) Once the fruit in the blender is all evenly chopped, I put it into a 4-cup glass measure or small bowl. (It may help to process your fruit in smaller batches if your blender is having a hard time with the full 3/4 amount.)

Then I take the last 1/4 of my fruit and put it in the blender on the highest setting. This will finely puree the fruit into a smoothie-like consistency. Once this part is all pureed, I pour it into the glass measure along with the rest of the fruit and mix it up. Now, when I mix this with my pectin/sugar mixture, I'll get a perfectly-textured jam that has lots of fruit chunks but also a very good spreadability! (This method is also good for fruits like plums and peaches that have a lot of hairy fiber in them... it helps separate the fibers so that you don't have stringy jam that is difficult to spread.)

So there you have it... Cindy's Science of Jam Preparation. This may not be the way that works best for you, but as for me and my house, this makes the best jam on earth!

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