Many years ago, I was at a New England Mail Order Association Conference and had the good fortune to tour the Stonewall Kitchen headquarters and meet-and-greet their talented chefs and owners. The site visit was so incredibly cool for a jam-lover like myself and I dreamed about their test kitchen for days on end.
I was much younger back then and didn't have any kids to spend my money on, so I spent my money on jam - and plants. Yep, not shoes. Not fancy cars. Just Jam. And plants. I was in my glory. Slightly dorky? Perhaps, but I loved every minute of it.
So, as life turned out, I married my husband, rescued two dogs and a slew of cats, and had two kids along the way. Needless to say, our hearts were full, but the way we spent our money changed. I learned to invest in perennials that I could divide, share and replant, instead of annuals that bloom and are soon forgotten...and, I learned how to make my own jam.
The biggest misconception about making jam is that it's too difficult to do, but that's just not true. I am not a gourmet chef by any means and if the canning process scares the beejesus out of you, you can still make jam. Just make freezer jam.
The wonderful thing about freezer jam is that it doesn't require any fancy equipment or special ingredients. It can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be. The most important thing to remember about freezer jam is that the cans are not processed, so they must be stored in the freezer, until they are ready to be eaten.
Freezer jam works best for sturdier fruits like peaches, plums and pears, but berries work just fine too! I rarely use powdered or liquid pectin in my homemade jams because I just don't see the need to use it. Plus, commercial pectin requires that you use large amounts of sugar - and homemade jam just doesn't need cups and cups of sugar! If my jam is a little runnier than store-bought jam, I'm okay with that - because I made it fresh, in my own kitchen, with my own ingredients. (FYI - Some fruit already contains pectin in it. I often use minced green apples and the skin in my jam - see our Strawberry Peach Jam recipe or our Apple Pie Jam recipe for details.)
It's also important to mention that your jam will only be as good as the fruit that you put into it, so be sure to choose ripe fruit. I also use regular sugar in my jams because it not only sweetens the jam, but it helps it set up and prevents bacteria growth. (If you would prefer to make a low-sugar or no-sugar-added jam, you will probably need to use a special pectin to help it set. Check out Pick Your Own's web site for more information. When I first started making jam, I relied heavily on this site; it's a great resource.)
In theory, freezer jam will keep for up to 1 year in the freezer and 3 weeks in the fridge. But in our house, freezer jam only lasts a few days with all of us fighting to see who gets the last bite. My sister received a jar of this jam the other day and texted me as soon as she got home to say that she was eating it -- right out of the jar...with a spoon!
STRAWBERRY FREEZER JAM
* 2, 16 ounce containers of strawberries (2 lbs), washed, hulled and chopped
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 cup water
* 1/4 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar (trust me!)
Step 1: Toss berries, sugar and water into a large saucepan and cook over medium high heat. Stirring often, cook for approximately 10 minutes, then smash berries with a potato smasher.
Step 2: Cook for another 5 minutes and then add in the balsamic vinegar. At this point, place a small plate in the freezer while you're cooking the jam. Cook for approximately 5 more minutes.
Step 3: At the 17 minute mark, place a small dollop of jam onto the frozen plate and return it back to the freezer for 3 minutes. Remove the plate and run your finger through the jam. If the line "holds", your jam is good to go. If not, you can cook it for a bit longer, but remember, without pectin, it won't really "set", so as long as it holds a little bit, it's done. It will also thicken up some more in the fridge.
Step 4: You can store the jam in any kind of clean, sterilized, freezer-safe container: plastic bags, glass jam jars, plastic containers (like Tupperware) or glass containers (like Pyrex). It’s best to use jars (or containers) with wide mouths and straight neck. When filling, make sure to leave ½-inch of room at the top for expansion upon freezing. Leave jam sitting out at room temperature for 1-2 hours to let it cool down before putting it in the freezer - or refrigerator if you plan on eating it asap.