August 10, 2012 by
I enjoy making sweet preserves. Of course, this catch-all word also includes jams, butters, conserves, and jellies. Most of the time, I try to use fresh, seasonal, and, if possible, organic fruits. Because, why not? That’s when the fruits I choose are at their best. However, I have used frozen fruit as well (mostly cherries and peaches) and most seem to work just fine. Especially when I have a craving for peach butter in the middle of winter and don’t already have some on hand from the summer season.
Overall, I just have fun when I make preserves. It’s a lot of work; but, when done right, the end result is worth it.
The exact origin of preserved fruit remains debated by food historians. However, jams, jellies and preserves have a rich history and long have been appreciated and loved by generations of happy eaters.
The making of jam and jelly likely began centuries ago in the Middle East, where cane sugar grew naturally. It’s likely that returning Crusaders first introduced jam and jelly to Europe; by the late Middle Ages, jams, jellies and fruit conserves were popular. Especially among the upper class and royalty. (Another example of something good coming from something bad.)
In fact, the word “jelly” comes from the French word “gelée” which means to congeal.
The world’s first known book of recipes, Of Culinary Matters, written by Roman gastronome Marcus Apicius in the 1st Century, includes recipes for fruit preserves.
Marmalade is believed to have been created in 1561 by the physician to Mary, Queen of Scots, when he mixed orange and crushed sugar to keep her seasickness at bay. It has been suggested that the word marmalade derives from the words “Marie est malade” (Mary is sick), but it is far more likely that its origin is from the Portuguese word marmelo for quince.
Marmalades were a kingly delicacy and many a royal sweet tooth demanded an array of fruit flavors rich with sugar. Chroniclers describe at length the magnificent & table groaning feasts of Louis XIV, which always ended with marmalades and jellies served in silver dishes. Each delicacy served at Versailles was made with fruit from the king’s own gardens and greenhouses.
In the United States, early New England settlers preserved fruits with honey, molasses or maple sugar. Pectin extracted from apple parings was used to thicken jellies.
In 1897, Jerome M. Smucker first pressed cider at a mill in Orrville, Ohio. Later, he prepared apple butter too, which he offered in crocks that each bore a hand-signed seal — his personal guarantee of quality. And, thus, a well-known brand name was born.
A grape jam patent was first issued to Paul Welch in 1917 for the puréeing of grapes. He called the product “Grapelade.” The entire production was purchased by the U.S. Army and shipped to France for consumption by the troops during World War I. When the troops returned to the States after the war, they demanded more of this “Grapelade,” and it was produced in quantity. And many generation of happy children have enjoyed Welch’s Grape Jelly.
The Food and Drug Administration established Standards of Identity for what constitutes jam, jelly, preserves and fruit butters in 1940.
(information from www.jelly.org/lore.html)
What is the difference between different types of preserves you ask? Good Question.
Jelly is a clear product generally made by cooking fruit juice with sugar and pectin as a jelling agent and citrus juice (lemon or lime) as an acid to help give it an even firm, even texture. As a rule, jelly contains no fruit pieces.
Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit cooked with sugar and, sometimes, pectin, and citrus juice (lemon or lime).
Preserves are fruit cooked with sugar to the point where large pieces of fruit are basically suspended in a sugar base.
Marmalade is a soft, usually citrus-based, jelly that includes both the flesh and peel of the fruit in the base. The peel helps give the marmalade its sour/bitter flavor.
Conserve has more than one fruit and also usually includes nuts or raisins or currants. It is cooked down until very thick and can be used as a spread or like a chutney.
Chutney originated on the Indian Subcontinent. It is generally not served as a spread, like a conserve, its closest Western cousin, but as a condiment. It can range from mild to hot on the spice scale. It usually consists of chopped fruit, vinegar, spices, and sugar.
Fruit Butter is a fruit puree combines with citrus juice, sugar, and spices. It is slowly cooked down to a smooth, thick consistency. It contains no actual butter, however.
Curd is a dairy based spread made with butter, eggs, sugar, and is usually flavored with either citrus, especially lemon, or berries.
Fruit Spread is a relative new comer to the preserve family. It’s is generally a lower calorie spread made with fruit juice concentrate and/or low-calorie sweeteners as all or partial replacement for sugar.
One of the most important ingredients in making fruit preserves, is pectin. Pectin is a complex, non-nutritive polysaccharide extracted from apples or citrus fruit. It helps form a gel when combined with the correct amount of acid and sugar.
Essentially, pectin helps forms with water in an acid enviornment. The added sugar helps the pectin’s ability to gel and effects the texture and consistency of preserves as they set.
Some fruit, such as apples and plums, have enough natural pectin to generally not need any extra pectin added. Other fruits, such as strawberries and pears, always need added pectin.
You can also make your own pectin from apples. There are numerous recipes available in books or on the internet.
Classic Pectin. Both powdered and liquid. This is most commonly used type of pectin.
Liquid and powdered pectins are not interchangeable. Liquid pectin is always added after boiling and not reheated back to a boil but immediately ladled into the sterilized jars. Powdered pectin must be added then boiled for a period of time to activate the gel process.
Instant pectin. It’s used for uncooked freezer or refrigerator jams and jellies.
Low/No sugar pectins. These use calcium powder to start the gelling process. You can use up to 40% less sugar, low calorie sweetener, or honey in place of regular granulated sugar.
Pectin can fail to gel your preserves if it is too old, or under/over-cooked. Also, if an ingredient, like sugar, is added at the wrong time, it can interfere with the pectin and the jam won’t set up.
On the left, improperly made strawberry jam. I put in the sugar too soon and cooked the jam too long. The pectin failed and the jam never set. One the right, a masterpiece.
There are a few tools that are very helpful when you’re canning. A wide-mouth funnel, a magnet (for picking up lids out of hot water), a bubble remover/headspace tool, and jar tongs.
The starter kit with all the utensils. It’s fairly inexpensive.
Magnet, funnel, headspace tool, and jar tongs.
If you don’t have these items, you can do some substituting. Just be sure that whatever you use is non-metallic or a non-reactive metal (i.e. stainless steel) so it doesn’t react with the acid in the preserves. (As a matter of fact, I find a pair of standard tongs with rubber bands wrapped around the ends work better for picking up the 4-oz jars instead of the jar tongs.)
Jars. Gotta have them. There are 4 standard sizes of jars available to the home canner: 4-oz, 8-oz (1/2 pint), 16-oz (pint), and 32-oz (quart). The pint and quart sizes are more often used for pickle, vegetable, and whole fruit preserves. 4-oz and 1/2 pint jars are used mostly for jams, jellies, etc.
4-oz and 1/2 pint jars. These are the most common sizes used for jam & jelly making.
When you buy jars, they generally come in a box of 12. They will contain jars, rims, and lids.
The components of the canning jar. Jar, lid, rim.
When you open the box, inspect the jars carefully. Make sure there are no cracks in the jars. If you find any, throw the jar away. Keep the lid and rim, though, if they’re not damaged.
Jars and rims are reusable if you want to make preserves again. The lids are not. The seals on the lids are one-time-use only. If you want to just use the jar for storage, then you can re-use the lid. But it can’t be used again for sealing the jar after processing.
There are also 2 sizes of “mouth” on a canning jar: regular and wide. I generally use regular mouth jars for sweet preserves.
Boxes of regular and wide mouth jar lids. When buying extra lids, be sure you buy the correct size for the type of jar you’re using.
It’s always good to have an extra box or two of lids on hand. As I stated above, lids can’t be reused unless you’re going to be using them merely for storage. Otherwise, the lid must be discarded.
Before starting the canning process, the jars, lids, and rims must be washed in hot, soapy water, rinsed thoroughly, and drained. This can be done in the dishwasher if you like, but I find it easier to just wash by hand. Plus, it’s faster.
Clean jars, lids, and rims.
Have a large canning pot, or as I happen to have, a large stock pot, with a jar rack in the bottom.
My well-used jar rack.
Fill the pot with water (filtered, if you can) and then place the jars in the rack. Ideally, the jars don’t touch.
Jars ready for sterilizing.
Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil and boil the jars. Make sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars.
Most books I’ve seen recommend boiling the jars for anywhere between 1 – 5 minutes. Me? Once the water is boiling, I just let it boil and leave the jars in. I’ll add water as I need to.
Place the lids in a small saucepan and cover them with water. Again, I generally go at least 1″ above the lids. I bring the water to just the boiling point, turn the heat down, and let the lids sit in barely simmering water. This sterilizes the lids without melting the seals. (If the seal melts before it’s placed on the jar, it’s no good.)
Lids in simmering water.
You don’t need to sterilize the rims. If everything is done properly, they’ll never touch the food. But, if it makes you feel better, you can sterilize them if you like.
And, finally, a few notes on jam making (and preserves in general):
The USDA doesn’t recommend modifying canning recipes (and NEVER make multiple batches at once; i.e. doubling), since improvising could affect the acidity of your canned goods and create an environment for bacteria to thrive. But as any cook knows, half of the fun of making a recipe more than once is the tweaking! There are a few changes that you can make to the recipes, safely, however.
SUGAR: Feel free to add more or less. It’s only added for flavor and to help stabilize the shape, set, and color or whatever it is you’re canning. It’s not added as a preservative. Keep in mind, though, that insufficient amounts of sugar in jams and fruit spreads will result in runny, dribbly spread, which can sometimes – but not always – be remedied by increasing the cooking time or by adding more pectin.
LEMON or LIME JUICE: Unless otherwise noted in a recipe, always stick to bottled citrus juices, since fresh can vary in acidity.
HERBS and SPICES: Feel free to play with the amounts of herbs and spices called for in a recipe – it won’t adversely affect the recipe’s pH.
HONEY: Honey can be substituted for sugar, though keep in mind that it’s not a cup-for-cup conversion, since honey is more dense than granulated sugar.
A few changes to never make:
NEVER decrease the amount of acid, whether vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice
NEVER substitute vinegar for bottled lemon or lime juice in a recipe, since vinegar is slightly less acidic than the citruses.
(Source: Tart and Sweet, Rodale Books, 2010)
Now, on to the recipe.
4 lbs. strawberries (Always buy extra to take into account bad berries, trimmed out bruises, and from removing the tops)
1/4 c. lemon juice (use bottled; see above)
1 pkg. (6 tbsp.) powdered pectin
6 1/4 c. sugar
1. Wash, trim, and cut the strawberries in half or quarters, depending on the size.
4 pounds of cleaned, trimmed, and cut strawberries.
Place 1/4 of the strawberries in a large saucepan. With a potato masher, crush the strawberries. Continue with the rest of the strawberries, 1/4 at a time. (The strawberries don’t need to be smooth. A rough crush will do.)
Crushing the strawberries
2. Add the lemon juice and pectin to the strawberries.
Adding the pectin and lemon juice
Place the saucepan over medium heat and, stirring frequently, bring the berries to a boil.
3. Add the sugar and stir constantly until it is dissolved.
Adding the sugar.
4. Stir frequently until the strawberries come to a boil again. When the come to a hard boil, stir constantly and boil for 1 minute.
Just after all the sugar is dissolved.
Boiling strawberry jam.
5. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Skim off as much of the foam as possible.
Skimming off the foam. Take care not to get any of the hot jam on your skin. It hurts.
6. Now, it’s time to use your tools. Take the small saucepan with the lids off the stove and set it close to where you’ll be filling the jars. Take the canning pot from the heat and carefully, using the jar tongs, remove the jars from the boiling water. (If you’re using regular tongs with rubber bands, make sure you pick the jars up on the outside. Do not have anything touching the inside of the jar.) Take care when you pour out the water so that you don’t burn yourself. I like to have a rimmed baking pan lined with a towel to put the jars on as I take them out of the pot. It makes them easier to carry to where I’m filling the jars and to take them back to the pot for processing. Leave the jars right side up.
Take a jar and place the funnel on top. With a ladle (stainless steel is fine. It won’t react with the acid), carefully fill the jar, leaving 1/4″ headspace at the top.
Using the headspace tool to measure 1/4″. Very important that the headspace is correct.
A word on headspace:
During processing (either in a water bath, as this recipe calls for, or a pressure cooker for low acid foods and meats), the heat causes the contents of the jar to expand. Air escapes around the two piece lid. If there isn’t enough headspace, the food could seep under the lid as it expands. This will interfere with sealing.
After processing, the contents of the jars contract as they cool and the lid is pulled down tight and the jars seals themselves. If you have too much headspace, the processing time specified in the recipe may not be long enough to drive out the air. This can also interfere with proper sealing.
Any canning recipe should specify the headspace, but, generally, use 1 inch for low acid foods (such as vegetables), 1/2 inch for whole fruits, and 1/4 inch for jams, jellies, and most other sweet preserves.
Use the other end of the headspace tool, if needed, to remove any air bubbles.
Now, to help make sure the lid will seal properly, take a damp paper towel, and wipe off the rim of the jar. Any food on the rim will interfere with the seal.
Cleaning the rim of the jar.
Take the magnet and pick one of the jar lids out of the hot water, shake off the excess water, and carefully place it on top of the jar.
Taking a lid from the water.
Now, take a rim and screw it to finger-tight on the jar. Don’t make the rim too tight, or air may not escape during processing. You can tighten the rim once the jar has sealed.
Jar ready for processing.
Continue with the rest of the jars.
Once all the jars are filled, put them back into the canning pot. Be sure the water level is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars.
Jars all ready for processing.
Cover the pot and bring the water back to a boil. Once the water is boiling, boil the jars for 10 minutes. You are now processing the jam.
Once the jam has been processed, take the canning pot off the heat and carefully remove the jars. Place the jars on racks and let cool.
Strawberry Jam. Fresh from the canner.
The jars can take up to 24 hours to seal. However, it usually doesn’t take that long. You’ll know the jars are sealed when the lid becomes concave. You’ll also hear something like a “ping” when the jar begins to seal.
Once the jar is sealed, you can tighten the rim.
Ideally, let the jars sit for about 24 hours before moving them. But, as long as you let them sit until they are cool, you should be fine.
If the jar doesn’t seal, put it in the fridge and eat the jam within 2 – 3 weeks. You can also remove the contents from the jar, wash it and the rim, discard the lid, re-sterilize everything, fill the jar again and process. It’s up to you.
Be sure to label and date the jars.
You can keep sealed, unopened jam for up to 1 year (recommended). Once it’s opened, you should eat it within about 3 weeks.
If you find any mold, throw the contents away. Immediately. Just a little safety tip.
However, if all was done properly, you should have no issues.