Are you considering trying your hand at making your own preserves or jams? There’s never been a better time to do so. Learning how to make jam can be undertaken at leisure as a relaxing and productive activity. With our guide (and the right utensils and gadgets) you’ll be able to concoct mouth-watering creations that will rival any shop-bought version. From the tastiest ingredients to how to sterilise jars, we’ve got you covered.
Before you start looking for that perfect strawberry jam recipe, it helps to be clear what outcome you are aiming for so that you select the right technique and ingredients. The typical process of boiling sugar and crushed fruit produces jam, but if you’d like to end up with whole pieces of fruit suspended in syrup, then you need to find a recipe for preserves.
On the savoury side, fruits and vegetables that are seasoned always produce chutneys, while pickles are created when larger pieces have been preserved in a salt and vinegar solution.
Almost all types of fruit and vegetables can be used to make jam or preserves. It’s a great way to use extra produce that might otherwise end up languishing in the fridge. Where possible, working with what’s in season will ensure that you will always have an abundant supply to get started with.
There are a few guidelines that you can follow to increase your chances of success. When creating jams, opt for naturally sweet, slightly under-ripe fruits such as berries for a deliciously tart result. When preserving, fruits with a low water content – such as apples, cherries and pears – tend to achieve the best results.
You will probably find that you already have knives and peelers for preparing your ingredients, as well as saucepans for the actual cooking. Depending on how much jam you plan to make, you’ll also need a selection of jars and a thermometer for measuring when your jam is ready to set.
As jams and preserves need to be poured into freshly sterilised jars, it’s a good idea to proceed with this step when you’re just about ready to begin. Sterilising your jars and lids is very important as it ensures that whatever you place in them won’t come into contact with bacteria and spoil quickly.
Not sure how to sterilise jars? Simply pop them in your dishwasher for a long, hot cycle, or place them in the oven for half an hour. Heat-sensitive parts can be boiled in water on your stove for a similar amount of time.
With your fruits prepared and your glass storage jars sterilised, you’re ready to begin making jam. While the exact process you follow will depend on your recipe, most people start by adding fruit to a saucepan along with granulated sugar, and any herbs and spices you want to add. This step is usually followed by mashing everything together to achieve the desired texture.
Next, you will heat the mixture until it sets. Once your thermometer has indicated that the correct temperature has been reached and maintained, you’ll be able to remove the mixture. After skimming any foam off the surface, you can pour it into your jars, before securing the lids tightly.
The process of preserving is similar. You'll likely blanch your ingredients in hot water to preserve their colour, before adding them to a sterilised jar along with a vinegar-and-brine or sugar solution and leaving a gap before sealing.
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It’s not uncommon for even seasoned cooks to run into challenges when making jam. Knowing about common pitfalls will help you to rectify them beforehand.
If your jam isn’t setting, you might not have used the correct amount of sugar. This problem is easy enough to remedy, as all you need to do is to return the mixture to heat and gradually add shop-bought pectin (the naturally occurring sugar that allows the jam to set) until the mixture begins to thicken.
If you can still see sugar granules, it means that the mixture didn’t boil long enough for them to dissolve. Does your jam look too cloudy? This usually indicates that the fruit used wasn’t ripe enough or needed to be strained to remove excess pulp. Again, returning it to the heat should sort both of these problems.
Now that you know the basics of how to make jam and preserves, you can begin creating delicious varieties. Whether you choose to keep the result or gift it to others, it’s sure to fly off your shelves.