How to Make Jam - Easily! With Step-by-step Photos, Recipe, Directions, Ingredients and Costs
This month's notes: April 2014: Spring is just around the corner. Strawberries are here in Florida, Texas and California, next in late March and April for much of the South, then in May for most of the country and June in cooler northern areas. See how easy it is to make strawberry jam or strawberry-rhubarb jam!
How to Make Homemade Jam - Easily!
Answers to common questions and problems are found at the bottom of this page, and many more on this page of Jam and Jelly FAQs.
I've added free labels for your jars here, in a Word format! Just download, edit, and print in label paper.I've got some other pages for specific types of jam and butters, too:
- Apricot, peach, plum or nectarine jam.
- Apple jelly
- Apple butter
- Blueberry Jam
- Fig Jam,
- Fig-strawberry jam,
- Grape jelly from fresh grapes
- Muscadine or scuppernong jelly
- Orange marmalade
- Peach butter
- Canning questions and answers
- For more information about strawberries, see Strawberry Picking Tips and Miscellaneous strawberry facts.
- Fruit - preferably fresh, but frozen (without syrup works, too)
- Pectin (it's a natural product, made from apples and available at grocery stores (season - spring through late summer) and local "big box" stores. It usually goes for about $2.00 to $2.50 per box. You'll get best results with no-sugar needed pectin, whether you choose to add sugar or not! See here for more information about how to choose the type of pectin to use.
- Jar funnel ($2 at Target, other big box stores, and often grocery stores; and available online - see this page) or order it as part of the kit with the jar grabber.
- Sugar - About 4 cups of dry, granulated (table) sugar. Yes, you can substitute an equivalent amount of honey or agave. For the no-sugar recipe, click here
- Lemon juice - 1/4 cup per batch. While it is not always necessary , as many fruits and berries have sufficient acidity to ensure a good gel or "set", I usually add it, just to make sure, and it does not affect the flavor
- At least 1 large pot; I prefer 16 to 20 quart Teflon lined (taking care not to overheat the pots) pots for easy cleanup.
- Large spoons and ladles
- 1 Canner (a huge pot to sanitize the jars after filling (about $30 to $35 at mall kitchen stores, sometimes at big box stores and grocery stores.). Note: we sell canners and supplies here, too - at excellent prices - and it helps support this web site!
- Ball jars (Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger, Safeway carry them, as do some big box stores - about $7 per dozen 8 ounce jars including the lids and rings)
- Lids - thin, flat, round metal lids with a gum binder that seals them against the top of the jar. They may only be used once.
- Rings - metal bands that secure the lids to the jars. They may be reused many times.
- Jar grabber (to pick up the hot jars)- Big box stores and grocery
stores sometimes carry them; and it is available online - see this page.
It's a tremendously useful to put jars in the canner and take the hot jars
out (without scalding yourself!). The kit sold below has everything you
need, and at a pretty good price:
- Foley Food Mill ($25) - not necessary; useful if you want to remove seeds (from blackberries) or make applesauce.
- Lid lifter (has a magnet to pick the lids out of the boiling water where you sanitize them. ($2 at big box stores or it comes in the kit at left)
This example shows you how to make either Strawberry jam or Strawberry - Raspberry - Blackberry Jam - also called Triple Berry Jam (my favorite, and everyone I give a jar to, says it has become their favorite, too!) But you can use this recipe to make any type of jam; where there is a difference, I will point it out! The yield from this recipe is about 8 eight-ounce jars (which is the same as 4 pints).
Step 1 - Pick the berries! (or buy them already picked)
It's fun to go pick your own and you can obviously get better quality ones!
At right is a picture I took of wild blackberries - they are plentiful in late June throughout Georgia. I usually look in rural north Georgia.
I prefer to grow my own; which is really easy - but that does take some space and time.
As mentioned in the Ingredients section; you may use frozen berries (those without syrup or added sugar); which is especially useful if you want to make some jam in December to give away at Christmas!
Above and at left are strawberries and blackberries that I picked at a pick-your-own farm. If you want to pick your own, here is a list and links to the pick your own farms.
How much fruit?
Jam can ONLY be made in rather small batches - about 6 cups at a time - like the directions on the pectin say, DO NOT increase the recipes or the jam won't "set" (jell, thicken). (WHY? Alton Brown on the Food Channel says pectin can overcook easily and lose its thickening properties. It is easier and faster to get an even heat distribution in smaller batches. It takes about 8 cups of raw, unprepared berries per batch. For triple berry jam, I use 4 cups of mushed (slightly crushed) strawberries, 1 cup of raspberries and 1 cup of blackberries. For strawberry-only jam; you’ll need 6 cups of mushed strawberries.
Step 2 - Wash the jars and lids
Now's a good time to get the jars ready, so you won't be rushed later. The dishwasher is fine for the jars; especially if it has a "sanitize" cycle, the water bath processing will sanitize them as well as the contents! If you don't have a dishwasher with a sanitize cycle, you can wash the containers in hot, soapy water and rinse, then sanitize the jars by boiling them 10 minutes, and keep the jars in hot water until they are used.
NOTE: If unsanitized jars are used, the product should be processed for 5 more minutes. However, since this additional processing can result in a poor set (runny jam), it’s better to sanitize the jars.
Put the lids into a pan of hot, but not quite boiling water (that's what the manufacturer's recommend) for 5 minutes, and use the magnetic "lid lifter wand" to pull them out. Leave the jars in the dishwasher on "heated dry" until you are ready to use them. Keeping them hot will prevent the jars from breaking when you fill them with the hot jam.
Step 3 -Wash and hull the fruit!
I'm sure you can figure out how to wash the fruit in plain cold water.
With strawberries you must remove the hulls. With other berries, just pick off any stems and leaves.
Step 4 - Crush the fruit
Then you just mush them up a bit - not completely crushed, but mostly. Most people seem to like large chunks of fruit but crushing them releases the natural pectin so it can thicken. You'll need about 6 cups, mushed up.
If you want seedless jam, you may need to run the crushed berries through a Foley food mill (at right). They cost about $30.
It works well for blackberries, not so well for raspberries, and no one tries to remove strawberry seeds (they're so small). I suppose you could train monkeys to pick them out, but they'd probably form a trade labor union. But I digress..
Step 5 - Measure out the sugar
Depending upon which type of jam you're making (strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, apricot, peach, grape, etc.) you will need to use a different amount of sugar, jam and pectin. The precise measurements are found in each and every box of pectin sold. For most fruit; like berries, with the low sugar pectin, you'll need 4 cups of sugar. With regular pectin, about 7 cups of sugar. Mix the dry pectin with about 1/4 cup of sugar and Keep this separate from the rest of the sugar. If you are not using sugar, you'll just have to stir more vigorously to prevent the pectin from clumping. This helps to keep the pectin from clumping up and allows it to mix better!
If you would rather try to make jam with no added sugar, click here for those directions!
Step 6 - Mix the berries with the pectin and cook to a full boil
Stir the pectin into the berries and put the mix in a big pot on the stove over medium to high heat (stir often enough to prevent burning). It should take about 5 to 10 minutes to get it to a full boil (the kind that cannot be stirred away).
Why use pectin? You may run into grandmotherly types who sniff "I never used pectin!" at you. Well, sure, and their generation took a horse and buggy to work, died of smallpox and ate canned meat and green beans that tastes like wet newspapers. Old fashioned ways are not always better nor healthier. Pectin, which occurs naturally in fruit, is what makes the jam "set" or thicken. The pectin you buy is just natural apple pectin, more concentrated. Using pectin dramatically reduces the cooking time, which helps to preserve the vitamins and flavor of the fruit, and uses much less added sugar. But, hey, if you want to stand there and stir for hours, cooking the flavor away, who am I to stop you! :) Having said that, there are some fruits that have naturally high amounts of pectin (see this page for a list) and they simply don't need much or even any padded pectin.
Notes about pectin: I usually add about 20% more pectin (just open another pack and add a little) or else the jam is runnier than I like. With a little practice, you'll find out exactly how much pectin to get the thickness you like.
Another tip: use the no-sugar needed pectin. You can still add sugar to it and it cuts the amount of sugar you need from 7 cups per batch to 4 cups or less! And it tastes even better! On the other hand; I have never had success with the No-sugar pectin without adding ANY sugar. It always turned out runny and bland. You might want to try using the no-sugar recipe with a mixture of sugar and Stevia (or if you prefer, Splenda); sugar and white grape juice, or just white grape juice - that will cut down the sugar, but still preserve the flavor.
Is your jam too runny? Pectin enables you to turn out perfectly
set jam every time. Made from natural apples, there are also natural no-sugar
pectins that allow you to reduce the sugar you add by half or even eliminate
Get them all here at the best prices on the internet!
Step 7 - Get the lids warming in hot (but not boiling) water
Lids: put the lids into a pan of hot water for at least several minutes; to soften up the gummed surface and clean the lids.
Need lids, rings and replacement jars?
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Step 8 - Add the remaining sugar and bring to a boil again for 1 minute
When the berry-pectin mix has reached a full boil, add the rest of the sugar (about 4 cups of sugar per 6 cup batch of berries) and then bring it back to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute... If you bring it back to a full boil fairly slowly (on medium heat rather than high) that will help reduce foaming.
Remove from the heat.
Step 9 - Skim any excessive foam
Foam... What is it? Just jam with a lot of air from the boiling. But it tastes more like, well, foam, that jam, so most people remove it. It is harmless, though. Some people add 1 teaspoon of butter or margarine to the mix in step 6 to reduce foaming, but food experts debate whether that may contribute to earlier spoilage, so I usually omit it and skim.
But save the skimmed foam! You can recover jam from it to use fresh! See this page for directions!
Step 10 - Testing for "jell" (thickness)
I keep a metal tablespoon sitting in a glass of ice water, then take a half spoonful of the mix and let it cool to room temperature on the spoon. If it thickens up to the consistency I like, then I know the jam is ready. If not, I mix in a little more pectin (about 1/4 to 1/2 of another package) and bring it to a boil again for 1 minute.
Notes about "set" (thickening or jell): It takes 3 ingredients for jams and jellies to set: pectin, sugar and acidity. The amount of pectin that is naturally occurring in the fruit varies from one type of fruit to another and by ripeness (counter intuitively, unripe contains more pectin). See this page for more about pectin in fruit. It takes the right balance, and sufficient amounts of each of pectin, sugar and acidity to result in a firm jam or jelly. Lastly, it takes a brief period (1 minute) of a hard boil, to provide enough heat to bring the three together. Generally speaking, if your jam doesn't firm up, you were short in pectin, sugar or acidity or didn't get a hard boil. That's ok - you can "remake' the jam; see this page!
Step 11 - Optional: Let stand for 5 minutes and stir completely.
Why? Otherwise, the fruit will often float to the top of the jar. This isn't a particular problem; you can always stir the jars later when you open them; but some people get fussy about everything being "just so", so I've included this step! Skipping this step won't affect the quality of the jam at all. I usually don't bother.
You’ll also notice that the less sugar you use, the more the fruit will float (chemists will tell you it is due to the decreased density of the solution!)
Step 12 - Fill the jars and put the lid and rings on
Fill them to within ¼-inch of the top, wipe any spilled jam off the top, seat the lid and tighten the ring around them. Then put them into the boiling water canner!
This is where the jar tongs come in really handy!
Step 13 - Process the jars in the boiling water bath
Keep the jars covered with at least 2 inches of water. Keep the water boiling. In general, boil them for 5 minutes, which is what SureJell (the makers of the pectin) recommend. I say "in general" because you have to process (boil) them longer at higher altitudes than sea level, or if you use larger jars, or if you did not sanitize the jars and lids right before using them. The directions inside every box of pectin will tell you exactly. The directions on the pectin tend to be pretty conservative. Clemson University says you only need to process them for 5 minutes. I usually hedge my bets and start pulling them out after 5 minutes, and the last jars were probably in for 10. I rarely have a jar spoil, so it must work. But you don't want to process them too long, or the jam will turn dark and get runny. See the chart below for altitude adjustment to processing times, if you are not in the sea level to 1,000ft above sea level range.
Note 1: If you plan to eat the jam immediately, or don't have canning equipment, you can let it cool, then store it in the fridge or freezer! It will keep for a month or two in the fridge and almost indefinitely in the freezer
Note 2: Some people don't even boil the jars; they just ladle it hot into hot jars, put the lids and rings on and invert them. No authority I know recommends this, and putting the jars in the boiling water bath REALLY helps to reduce spoilage! To me, it makes little sense to put all the working into making the jam and then not to process the jars to be sure they don't spoil!
Recommended process time for jams in a boiling water canner.
|Process Time at Altitudes of|
|Style of Pack||Jar Size||0 - 1,000 ft||1,001 - 6,000 ft||Above 6,000 ft|
Step 14 - Remove and cool the jars - Done!
Lift the jars out of the water with your jar lifter tongs and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight) You can then remove the rings if you like, but if you leave them on, at least loosen them quite a bit, so they don't rust in place due to trapped moisture. Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed verifying that the lid has been sucked down. Just press in the center, gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it. Some people replace the lid and reprocess the jar, then that's a bit iffy. If you heat the contents back up, re-jar them (with a new lid) and the full time in the canner, it's usually ok.
Once cooled, they're ready to store. I find they last up to 12 months. But after about 6 to 8 months, they get darker in color and start to get runny. They still are safe to eat, but the flavor and texture aren't as good. So eat them in the first 6 months after you prepare them! Another trick is to keep the uncooked berries or other fruit in the freezer and make and can the jam as needed, so it's always fresh.
From left to right:
You can get all of the tools in a kit here:
Summary - Cost of Making Homemade Strawberry Jam - makes 8 jars, 8 oz each**
|Item||Quantity||Cost in 2009||Source||Subtotal|
|fresh whole berries (strawberries)||10 cups||$9.00/gallon||Pick your own||$11.00|
|Canning jars (8 oz size), includes lids and rings||8 jars||$7.50/dozen
Lids alone are about $1.25 per dozen
|Grocery stores, like Public, Kroger, Safeway and sometimes, Big Lots, local hardware stores and big box stores||$5.00|
|Sweetener - see step 4||4 cups||$1.75||Grocery stores, like Public, Kroger, Safeway and sometimes, Big Lots, local hardware stores and big box stores||$1.75|
|Pectin (no-sugar, low sugar or regular, dry)||1 and a third boxes *||$2.10 per box||
or about $2.56 per jar
(if you already have the jars, and just need new lids: $1.82 per jar
And if you grow your own strawberries, it's almost free!
|* pectin use varies - blackberry jam
needs very little, raspberry a little more, strawberry the most.
** - This assumes you already have the pots, pans, ladles, and reusable equipment. Note that you can reuse the jars! Many products are sold in jars that will take the lids and rings for canning. For example, Classico Spaghetti sauce is in quart sized jars that work with Ball and Kerr lids and rings- some authorities do not recommend these, saying they are more prone to break, and while I have found that is true of mayonnaise jars, I have found the Classico spaghetti jars to be pretty sturdy.
[General picking tips and a guide to each fruit and vegetable] [How much do I need to pick? (Yields - how much raw makes how much cooked or frozen)] [Selecting the right varieties to pick] [All about apple varieties - which to pick and why!] [Picking tips for Vegetables] [ Strawberry picking tips] [ Blueberries picking tips]
Illustrated Canning, Freezing, Jam Instructions and Recipes
[ All About Home Canning, Freezing and Making Jams, Pickles, Sauces, etc. ] [FAQs - Answers to common questions and problems] [Recommended books about home canning, jam making, drying and preserving!] [Free canning publications to download and print]