Well, in case you ever wondered (just for the few that do wonder…I hope there is at least one, please!) why I’m not blogging as often in summer months, it’s because I’m busy doing preserves (jams), conserves, syrups or coulis from several fruits at the peak of the season, and some sauces, especially tomato sauce; these are taking time away from blogging and responding to comments.
Since I’ve been busy with preserving fruit, there are a lot of requests about my jam–either wanting to learn how to make them, or how to BUY them. I’m NOT going to sell my jams, sorry. I don’t make jam to sell. I only make enough for myself and to give to my close friends. With the price I’m paying for fruit and sugar, if I sold them they would be too expensive.
Why? Because I don’t buy cheap fruit! I’m going to be eating my jam, you know. So most of the fruits I use are organic, and I only buy 5-15 lbs. at a time, so I can’t get the wholesale price from vendors. I would have to buy in bulk, which is least 30 lbs. Imagine 48 little green plastic baskets of blueberries, strawberries or raspberries. That’s the minimum for most berry vendors to get about a 15%-25% discount. With stone fruits, I would have to buy at least 40 lbs! I don’t want to make that much jam.
I get most of the fruit from my regular farmers’ market vendors, who are willing to save fresh-picked fruit (just picked the day before) from their farm and sell them to me. Then I go home and, most of the time, make my jam that very same day. I only have three copper jam pans (one is so small my cat even shuns it because he can’t use it for his bed!) and I don’t want to make big batches, because it normally takes longer to cook them down to the jam stage and that diminishes the fresh taste of the fruit. I also don’t want to make many small batches either because it’s difficult to control the consistency. I also want to enjoy summertime too. So…back to the same solution…I SHOULDN’T BE SELLING JAMS.
So, I’m going to blog about basic jam-making. I hope you all will make your own jam, too. It’s not that complicated once you know the trick.
Also I’ve searched many imported/gourmet food stores, both in NYC and LA, checking out their jams. I’m always hopeful that I will find some jams that fit my requirements. There are none right now, so as I tell the secret of my jamming, I am hopeful that someday I can retire my copper confiture and just go buy your jams instead. Smart approach on my part, isn’t it?
My Requirements are quite simple:
1) I only eat jam made from the best organic fruit picked at the peak of their season. Why not, right? Many people decide to make jam once their fruits that has nearly gone rotten and they don’t want to throw it out, but I only want the best for my jam.
2) Said fruits should be preserved with organic sugar or organic honey only. I don’t trust any manufacturers and processed crap!
3) NO PECTIN ADDED, unless the fruit itself has almost no pectin, then natural pectin extracted from organic apples, using a simple home process, might be added in a very small amount.
4) I want a little bit of SEA SALT in my jam. This is by far the strangest difference, and so far I haven’t found anyone else doing this yet. So, I still have to make my own jam until YOU do. Salt rounds out the sweet and sour tastes and make them all balanced, to my palette. If you like salted caramel, try salt in your jam 😉
Alright, this is the theory. Jam is a way to preserve fruit with sugar, so please don’t ask me how to make a “sugar free” jam. I don’t know how to make it or, more precisely, I don’t care how to make it. If you don’t have a health problem where you need to avoid sugar at all costs (in that case you shouldn’t just avoid jam, you should avoid eating fruit too) then sugar isn’t as bad as the health-conscious people keep telling you. I’m talking about “organic sugar” here, not the white refined sugar that has been through “who knows what” processing. Also, you should consume ANYTHING in moderation, too.
If you avoid sugar for its calories, fine. Just avoid sugar and don’t eat jam, but don’t use any other sweeteners. I usually say if you’re fat then you can exercise to lose weight, but if you have a tumor in your brain or any other part then exercise can’t help. Sugar substitutes probably have been through some nasty processing as well and I don’t like complicated products like that. I want my food with a name that is easy to understand and is easy to determine its origin, not an abbreviation or series of Roman alphabetics that don’t make any real words or sense.
These said “sugar free” jams normally not only add pectin but use sugar substitutes, so be very careful with that. Some of them advertise that they use “no sugar pectin”.
This is the ingredients list for “no sugar pectin“:
INGREDIENTS: DEXTROSE, FRUIT PECTIN, CITRIC ACID (ASSISTS GEL), CALCIUM ASCORBATE (RETAINS COLOR)
Hello…last time I checked Dextrose was still another name for “Glucose”! C6H12O6, a monosaccharide, or simple molecule SUGAR! No wonder why you don’t need to add sugar; it’s already a major part of the “no sugar pectin”. How deceptive!
Let’s start from Understanding the Mechanism of Jam Making.
1) There are three important components that without one of each, guarantees failure in the jam-making.
1.1) Natural Pectin already exists in fruit. Pectin is actually the cell wall of fruit, consisting of a set of complex polysaccharides (multi-molecule sugars). It’s a soluble dietary fiber that does not contribute significant nutritional value or calories. In fact, when pectin enters our digestive system, it slows glucose absorption by trapping carbohydrates (complex or multi-molecule sugars before our enzyme breaks the molecules down to glucose). Consumption of pectin could also help reduce blood cholesterol by increasing the viscosity (the thickness) of the digested content of the food consumed in the intestine and thus reducing the absorption of cholesterol.
Why do I discriminate against the commercial pectin or even “powdered pectin from apples”? Just go buy whatever pectin in question and taste it. Let me know if you can sit down and eat even a spoonful of that powder. If you say yes, go ahead and add that pectin to your jam. There is a ton of recipes out there teaching you how to make jam with that added pectin. Please, skip this post. I can’t eat that pectin. If you were to put me in the cell with pectin powder and starve me for a day, I still wouldn’t touch that inedible white powder…yuck. Why would I put it in my food?
People who make jam with pectin say they can shorten the cooking time and make their jam taste better by adding it. I disagree. I even challenge that person to have a jam-tasting contest with me and I will win (grin). I do from time to time have to add natural pectin to my jam if I’m making one with a low-pectin fruit. I normally will try to pair it with a higher pectin fruit as my first choice, but once in a while I will run into a situation where I need it. In that case I will have to extract pectin from organic Granny Smith apples here in my kitchen, so I know exactly what I’m dealing with.
1.2) Sugar: What is the role of sugar in jam other than make it sweeter, you might ask. The other principal duty is to absorb the water which is acting as a barrier, preventing pectin molecules from bonding with each other and creating a network. Also, sugar molecules enhance the strength of the pectin network. Think of pectin as a structure and sugar is concrete. Remember, only use only organic sugar.
1.3) Acid: Acid helps extract pectin from the fruit. Some fruit, though they contain pectin, have too low an amount to make the jam set, so you have to add acid to extract more pectin out. This helps preserve the color of the jam, too. Also, it helps to reassure you that your jam will never get botulism, if you get the pH of the content lower than 4.6. The acid I use is also mostly existing in fruit itself, and if I need to add acid I simply use natural juice from lemons or limes.
2) The tool is the heat: The point of jam-making is to eliminate the water out of the whole mix by evaporating it with the heat. The trick is how to do it quickly and effectively so the fruit doesn’t lose its natural flavor. We will go into more detail when I come to the method.
We’re going to talk about the “open pan” method only and not the vacuum vessel method, which I have only seen once. While I was in college I visited a jam factory with my friends in the food science major. (It was great to be the photo science major, you know. Everyone needed a photographer or videographer once in a while, so I got to stick my nose in their business–extra knowledge!) From my understanding this is the method where the fruit can be cooked at a lower temperature, supposedly to preserve the flavors, for commercial-scale jam-making. It was impressive but yielded not so good tasting jam.
3) The Cooking Equipment:
3.1) Wide flat-bottom pan that is not stainless steel. Your pan should be at least 4-5 inches tall. Once you put the fruit in you must have at least two inches of space above it in the pan. You can cook jam in a pot but only fill to about 2-3 inches from the bottom, no deeper. You don’t need to spend money on an expensive copper jam pan if you are going to make only a few jars a year. If you plan to make many more jars, then that may be worth it.
My recommendation is use a wide saucepan or a flat-bottom pot for now, just to see if you like making jam. If you find out that you like it, then invest in a copper jam pan (eBay is a good source to get a used but good quality copper pan). The point is to let the fruit touch the heat as evenly as possible,with not so many layers stacked up on top of each other, hence uneven heat reach.
3.2) Long wooden spoons: I shouldn’t have to explain about this. The temperature we’re going to deal with is beyond 218ºF, so no plastic and no nylon, please.
3.3) Rubber or silicone gloves or oven mitts: You seriously need them! Maybe you want to add a mask or a pair of glasses. One of my friends, after I taught her how to make jam, went and bought a rubber apron and long gloves up to the upper arms, but I don’t have that apron, so I just scream occasionally when something splatters on me.
3.4) Jam jars and lids
I think we’re ready, aren’t we?
1) Fruit of your choice As much as you want, based on what you want to end up with and what fits easily in your pan. For the beginner, avoid figs, pineapples and mangoes for now. Those are for the advanced jam makers. Also, we’re not talking about marmalade here.
I would say roughly a pound of fruit yields about 1-1/2 – 2 cups of jam. From now on I would use the metric system to calculate because we’re going to talk about percentages. I went through school in a country that uses the metric system and found that once you’re using percentages, it’s better to switch to this system so you don’t have to use a calculator in the kitchen.
I don’t use frozen fruit. I don’t use over-ripe fruit; both contain lower natural pectin. Freezing destroys the cell wall of fruit and that means it destroys the molecules of the pectin. That’s why frozen fruit, once thawed, becomes soft. I prefer fresh, just ripe fruits. I usually ask the farmers’ market vendor to only pick the fruit that “will be ripe the next day when you deliver them to me”. So they pick the slightly underripe fruit and I get them the next day. This is to ensure that I’ve got enough pectin in my fruit. But if you can’t get them that fresh, get the freshest you can but don’t stress. It’s okay, especially for the high pectin fruits.
You need to prep the fruit. How so? Wash it is the first recommendation! Clean all the fruit, pick all the debris off, select the bad ones and toss ’em. Then prepare the fruit the way you would want to eat them plain. Such as, hull your strawberries, pit your cherries, plums, peaches, etc.
You then cut the fruit into small pieces. You will need to decide now if you want your jam chunky or smooth. I like mine really chunky so I don’t cut them as small, and I also don’t crush them. I don’t peel the stone fruits either. This is the reason why I only use organic fruit–so I can use the skin. They become treasures in the jar. I only cut my big peaches into 8 pieces, apricots I halve them or maybe quartered if I want it more smooth (for my chocolate fillings). I usually don’t cut my strawberries unless they are unusually large.
Weigh your finished fruit in grams.
2) Organic Granulated Sugar You want about 30-50% of the finished fruit weight for a low-sugar jam and 50-75% for a sweet jam. I would say for a beginner, start with 50%, and you won’t go wrong. Meaning you won’t get a surprise when you open the jam jar and get fermented jam or your jam didn’t set. At 1 : 2 ratio of sugar : fruit, you should get the jam that maintains the flavor of the fresh fruit and sets easily.
3) Lemon or Lime juice Roughly about 1- 2 teaspoons (or more) for each 500 g of fruit.
4) Sea Salt or other additional flavors
It would be a very long list if I listed the possibilities of the “additional flavors” here, but be creative. Examples: sea salt, hibiscus flowers, fresh basil, fresh tarragon, rosemary, nutmeg, vanilla pod, citrus zest, chocolate powder, ginger, cardamom, candy ginger, honey, wine, flavor liqueur, whisky, brandy, rum…you see what I mean.
1) (optional) Macerate the fruits This is the traditional French method. You cover the fruit in sugar (dry) overnight (in the refrigerator, unless you live in Alaska) to draw the fruit juice out. This method draws out the pectin as well but I only do it when I want to maintain the shape of the fruit.
Fruit that has been through maceration will have a slightly tougher skin because the sugar already replaced the water in the contents and made them stronger. Once in a while I do it to strawberries, but definitely do it for strawberry conserve or cherry conserve, but rarely to the preserves, especially never do it with any stone fruits, except apricots.
2) Before you start, sterilize the jars in the oven. I know people usually boil their jars, but I bake them in the oven at 225º for 20 minutes. I put them in before I start the jam. I wash the jars and let them dry, then put them in a tray and pop them in the oven and start the oven at the same time as I start my jam.
I give my oven 5 minutes to get to temperature and increase the oven time to 25 minutes. This way you won’t break the glass jars because you changed the temperature too rapidly. Once your alarm clock goes off, turn the oven off and leave the jars in there until you’re ready to can.
The lids need to be sterile as well, but I only use hot water poured over the lids and let them dry, but if you want to bake them, do it only 5 minutes toward the end of the jar-sterilizing process.
3) Let’s jam them!
If you macerated the fruits, you can start at high heat right away. If you didn’t, put the fruit, sugar and add the lemon or lime juice in the pan and start with medium heat. You will gradually see the juice start to come out of the fruit. This is the process of drawing pectin and juice out of the fruit. You don’t want to blast the heat since the high heat at this point not only draws less pectin out but also destroys the pectin structure. Stir to make sure that every piece of fruit touches the same heat. This is why you don’t want fruit too deep in the pan.
Once you start to see the mixture bubbling, increase the heat to high, stirring occasionally just to make sure that the fruit doesn’t stick to the bottom. You don’t need to stir the jam at all times because the heat will do the work for you, and too much stirring might interrupt the bonding of the pectin.
Put a few small porcelain plates in the freezer. You will need them later.
The contents will bubble furiously at some point, foaming to almost overflowing in the pan. This is when you turn the heat down just a little, but keep it at a bubbling boil (not a rolling boil). You want to nurse the bonding and not interrupt it. Keep the heat to that level, high – medium high, until the contents reduce.
This is when you can add the dry additional flavors. You might want to use a thermometer but I don’t normally use it. Stir occasionally, remember you need a glove, even if you only stir the jam once in a while! It’s going to throw out a splash. I can guarantee that much. This is why my friend needs a rubber apron…LOL…You can lower the heat just a touch if it’s too much like an active volcano.
Foam: what should you do with it? Leave it, I say. If you are bothered by it, you can skim it a little, or adding a teaspoon of butter would solve the problem. I just let it boil.
You don’t want to lower the temperature too much. We’re making jam, not fruit stew, so you have to remember that. The faster they cook, the better they taste. You also don’t want to overheat them as well because overheating destroys the pectin. When you see the contents reduce, then add any liquid additional flavor.
Once you see the contents in the pan thicken, take a plate out of the freezer and drop about a teaspoon of the jam on the cold plate. Let it sit for one minute. Then draw your finger through the contents. If the surface wrinkles and the tiny Red Sea that you parted on the plate doesn’t close in that fast, then your jam is ready.
I actually take advantage of having cool jam on the plate to taste-test it. Then I add more lemon juice, sugar or salt as I prefer. This is your only chance, because your jam is almost ready. I’m making the jam for my own palette, unlike some other jam makers that make jams to preserve the taste of the original fruit as closely as possible. (I don’t get it why they don’t just eat the fresh fruit.)
So, I have no shame in manipulating my bing cherry jam to mimic the taste of sour cherry jam (if that year I can’t find any sour cherries) by adding a lot more lemon juice. In fact, I typically make my jam with less than 50% sugar. My husband and I don’t like too-sweet jam. The result is my jam tastes very fresh but doesn’t keep as long as jam with more sugar. I don’t really care because my jams will be gone in about a year anyway.
4) Bottling: Take the jars out of the oven and fill them with your jam. I use a measuring cup with a spout to fill the jars. CAUTION: EVERYTHING IS EXTREMELY HOT. The finished jam normally is at 218-222ºF and the jars are about that temperature as well, so BE CAREFUL and keep the burn cream or Neosporin nearby.
Close the lid tight as soon as you’re done filling. Some people turn the jars upside down to sterilize the lid. Don’t do it too long or the seal won’t be as strong.
I also don’t give the jars a water bath anymore.
You had better not disturb the jam in the jars until they cool down and, just to be on the safe side, leave them un-touched over night. Give the pectin some time to do its magic.
If you are fancy like me, put labels on…so you don’t need to open every bottle to taste the jam just to find out what’s in it. I actually began labeling them so my husband couldn’t use THAT lame excuse to open every jar of my jam to find out what they were. 😉
Natural Apple Pectin
1) Get a bag of organic Granny Smith apples, and chop them up with seeds and skins.
2) Put them in a pot and add water to a level that covers the fruit.
3) Juice lemons; the ratio is about half a lemon per one apple.
4) Boil at medium – medium high for 45 minutes to an hour. Add water if you need to.
5) Let it cool in the pot.
6) Strain the contents by putting them in a sieve and letting it sit overnight. Don’t squeeze. Don’t push. Just let them gently drip, or you will get an apple-flavored pectin. You don’t want that.
7) You can boil the strained liquid to reduce the amount to half, and then can it.
You never know the exact amount you’ll need to use, so don’t pour the whole can into your jam pan. Do it little by little, adding it when you can’t get your jam to set. I add it about a quarter cup at a time when using my big jam pan, which cooks about 7-10 lbs. of fruit.
These are the fruits that most likely need added pectin (from my experience only, so there some varieties of fruit that I have never jammed, hence I don’t know level of pectin in those fruits)
– Thompson grapes (just slightly)
– Concord grapes (only sometimes)
Enjoy your independence jam making and your freedom from commercial yucky jam with loaded of pectin and preservative. Happy Independence Day from The High Heel Gourmet!
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