Preparing homemade jam is not just delicious, it is just as easy and enjoyable to make. A couple of ingredients along with some of our tips is all that you need to make the most of seasonal fruit so that it can be enjoyed for months to come, or be given to friends and family as a loving gift.
Grab a few empty glass jars, gather together your favorite fruit, spend about an hour in the kitchen and the result is a delightful spread of jam.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing homemade jams
Use dry, undamaged, slightly under ripe fruit, as they have a higher acidity level, which makes them better for jam making, than softer, sweeter, overripe fruits.
Pectin: A naturally occurring substance found in piths, pips, cores and skins of many fruits, pectin is what makes your jam set. When these fruits are boiled they release their pectin which, along with the sugars, forms a thickening that is characteristic of jams. Fruits that are low in natural pectin, such as peaches, strawberries and raspberries, will need to be supplemented with either a high-pectin fruit, such as apples; or jam sugar, which is sugar with added pectin.
Sugar: The ingredient that preserves the fruit and allows jams to keep is sugar. It also allows the pectin to gel and stops it from breaking down while the jam is boiling. However, sugar also inhibits the initial release of pectin and toughens skins of some fruit, in these cases the sugar can be added after the first cooking, once the fruit is soft.
Sterilizing is important as it prevents molds from appearing once the jam is bottled. To sterilize, wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinse and then place them to dry on a baking sheet in an oven pre-heated to 140° C. The rubber seals in lids tend to warp when placed in the dry heat of the oven, so sterilize them separately in boiling water.
Pans: Preserving pans are big and wide, thus giving the largest possible surface area, allowing for faster water evaporation and a more concentrated flavor to your jam. But if you do not have one, use the largest (widest) saucepan you have.
While your jars are sterilizing, wash your fruit and add to a large pan with the sugar. This is your chance to get creative with spices, herbs and other flavorings to complement your fruit. For instance, a vanilla pod or slug of balsamic vinegar is delicious with strawberries; rosemary works a treat with peaches and cinnamon goes with plums.
With a potato masher or fork, mush the sugar, fruit and any added flavors together into a lumpy pulp. The fewer lumps, the smoother your jam will be. Place your pan on medium to high heat and leave to simmer for approximately five minutes. Do not be tempted to stir too much as it will reduce the temperature.
Your jam will need to reach 103 to 105â„ƒ for it to set, but to save you from fiddling around with thermometers, try the wrinkle test. For this, place a plate in the refrigerator and when you have reached the point where the rolling bubbles have calmed and the jam looks heavy and glossy, or it has approached the boiling time specified in your recipe, take a teaspoonful of the jam and place it on the cold plate. Gently push the jam with your finger and if the jam wrinkles slightly, it will set when cool. If it does not, leave on the heat for a few more minutes and repeat until wrinkles appear.
Once done, turn off the heat and skim any strange looking foam from the top and throw away. While your jars are still hot, fill them right up to the top and secure tightly with a lid, leave to cool and label them up with homemade labels. Store in a cool dry place and enjoy it any way you like.