Recently, I taught a small group of friends how to make jam. We only had four hours, so I kept everything pretty basic. I discovered that many people are intimidated by jam making (food preserving, in general, really). It feels like too many details, too many opportunities for error, and knowing that people might get sick if you do make an error were the big reasons I heard for hesitation. To overcome those fears, I decided to fall back on my old mantra: Knowledge is Power. Here is what you need to know. There are basically two categories of information you need: supplies and process. This post will explain the supplies needed to safely and easily make a batch of delicious homemade jam, as well as offer some excellent resources to get you started on your jam making journey.
To recap, on the supply side of jam making, you need some basic equipment. Pretty much everything on my list could be found at Goodwill or Value Village. That’s where most of my stuff has originated. Some items are absolutely necessary and some are simply a nicety. I’ll note which is which.
Canning Pot (aka Large Stock Pot)—you want this pot to be a few inches taller than the tallest jar you plan to put in it. Hold a pint jar or quart jar up against it and actually measure. The water in a water bath canning pot must cover the jar by an inch. Imagine a rolling boil and you’ll see why you want to allow even more room at the top of that pot. You’ll be able to fit more regular mouth pint jars in a pot than wide mouth jars in the same pot, but wide mouth jars are shorter. Determine which you’ll use for a recipe and plan your water bath canning pot accordingly. These are often thin metal (think those blue or black speckled aluminum pots you see around). Thin metal is fine. *If you want to use an asparagus pot (which has a small footprint, but is tall) you can use that for a small batch recipe. Make sure you allow room for the boiling water at the top.
Rack in Canning Pot—the jars should not be placed directly on the bottom of the pot. Use a cake cooling rack, or a canning jar rack (some come with the pots if you buy them new). In a pinch, you can simply lay a dish towel down or lay down several jar rings, so that they elevate the jars a bit.
Jar Tongs—these are the funny looking tongs with a handle on one end, and a working end that fits the diameter of a jar just perfectly. They really are the safest, best way to lift jars into and out of boiling water.
Jam Pot—this can be any heavy bottomed, wide and deep pot. I use my dutch oven more than any other pot. The heavy bottom allows for even cooking, without the risk of burning as much as a thin bottomed pot would. Jam will foam and bubble like mad as it cooks, so allowing plenty of room for it to do so will help prevent boil overs and burns. A large surface area is helpful as it cooks too.
Wide Mouth Funnel—allows you to fill jars of either size with a minimum of spillage. They come in plastic or stainless. I’ve even seen one in silicone.
Jars, lids and rings–Before you start making your jam, make sure you have the correct number of jars, lids and rings. After checking for any chips or dents, you may re-use jars and rings. The lids are a one time only deal. The rubber gasket may not provide a solid seal after the first use. Whether you use regular mouth or wide mouth is up to you.
Nice To Haves:
Magnetic lid lifter—this little wand with a magnet on the end is just super helpful when you’re lifting the lids out of their warm water bath and allows you to place it on the jar without touching the rubber gasket with your fingers (increased cleanliness is a good thing). Using tongs will certainly work just fine too.
Candy Thermometer—There are several ways to test a jam’s set, but the most scientific is to monitor it’s temperature while it’s cooking. 220 degrees is the set point for jam.
Supplies you likely already have:
A baking sheet with a lip all the way around— cover this with a dishtowel. When you take the jars out of hot water and are ready to fill them, place them on this tray to catch any jam drips while filling. After the water bath processing time, remove the jars from the boiling water and again place them on the dishtowel lined sheet pan. The dish towel will catch any water drips and the sheet pan allows you move the whole batch at once, safely and without too much jostling.
A kitchen timer — it’s easy to forget how long something has been cooking or in the water bath. Better to use a timer.
Large ladle or spoon.
An apron and some clean dish towels. You never know when you’ll need to wipe up something quickly, or hold something hot.
Patience and a sense of humor are also helpful.
My favorite blogs when I’m preserving foods are:
My favorite cookbooks are:
Food In Jars – Marisa McClellan (specializes in small batches)
The Art of Preserving – Jan Berry ( I always think her name is Jam Berry, which just cracks me up!).
The Ball Book of Preserving (a classic)
Better Homes and Gardens (www.bhg.com) has some great recipes. The Canning magazine I had with me that day is one of their publications. I saw this year’s version available at a grocery store checkstand, and it looks like they’ve made a few changes. I might just have to pick that one up too! It looked like it had some good salsa recipes in it.
Two basic, good for beginners recipes are:
I also like the Tomato Basil Jam and Lime Kiwi Freezer Jam from the BHG Canning recipe magazine. The link here will take you to many of the jam recipes on the Better Homes and Gardens site:
The site, Well Preserved, just sent a newsletter today that is exceptional. They provide links to a large number of resources (both Canadian based and U.S).
Also, keep in mind that during the summer season, you can get great deals on fruit and veg if you buy in bulk. If you are intimidated by the idea of 10 lbs of strawberries, check with some friends. Maybe you could go in together and make jam or freeze the berries, or whatever. Last year, I was able to purchase 20 lbs of honeycrisp apples late last summer for $1.40/lb. Fantastic deal! Check at your local farmer’s market or fruit stand.