A Simple Jar of Jam: 180+ recipes & variations for jam using low sugar pectin
All of my jam recipes up through spring 2013 have been gathered and published in this beautiful ebook, available for instant download on Etsy. Every copy sold goes a long way to helping support this site. Thank you so much for your purchase.
Here's a collection of basic information on Jam Making that I've been working on. For the complete and finished collection of information, see the book above.
Scroll down for sections on these topics:
- The difference between jam, jelly, etc.
- High altitude jam and canning
- Pectin: High/Low pectin fruits
- Some notes on food safety
- Acidity: High/Low acid fruits
- Basic jam terminology
- Basic recipes for freezer jam, cooked jam with pectin, cooked jam without pectin
- Jam containers
- Canning Jam
- Sources for more information
For recipes from this blog, do a search [search bar on the sidebar near the top] for: jam jelly recipes
Jam, Jelly, Preserves – What’s the Difference?
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what you call it, but a lot of people are curious to know the difference between jam, jelly, preserves, glazes, etc. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the differences.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, jam is defined as having at least 65% sugar.** Practically speaking, the FDA has made sugar the star of the show. They use the label ‘jam’ for fruit flavored sugar. If the product has less sugar, then the FDA would label it as ‘fruit spread’.
**UPDATE: As of 4/1/2012, the definition has been changed so that jam must contain 55% sugar. [http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=150.160]
In the rural Midwest, the definition of jam is a little broader and is based on the fruit, not the sugar. The amount of sugar doesn’t matter. It’s all about the fruit.
Jelly is made with only the fruit juice drained away from the seeds and fruit pulp.
Jam is anything made with crushed fruit.
Preserves are made with the whole fruit.
Marmalade is jam made mostly with citrus zest, but sometimes has other fruit added.
Chutney originated in India and is a complex fruit concoction containing sugar, vinegar and spices.
Syrups have a water or fruit juice base, often sweetened with sugar and flavored with herbs or spices.
A glaze is any jam, jelly, etc. that is used to coat something else. Marmalade makes a great glaze on fruit tarts. Herbal jellies make great glazes for meat.
I live in southern Indiana, the highest part of the state, topping out at a lofty 800 ft above sea level! Stop rolling your eyes.
For those of you who live in actual mountains, here's a little guide for the temperature you need to achieve jell.
Jelling temps at different altitudes
Sea level: 220 degrees
1000 ft above: 218 degrees
2000 ft above: 216
3000 ft above: 214
4000 ft above: 212
For more general info on High Altitude canning, here are two good sites.
There are a lot of different brands of pectin out there and each brand may have different types of pectin for different types of jam: Instant pectin for freezer jam, regular pectin which requires a lot of sugar, low/no sugar pectin, liquid pectin.
In the past few years, pectin has widely become available in bulk packaging, making it easier than ever to make small batches of jam requiring less pectin than contained in the traditional, three-tablespoon envelopes of pectin. Bulk pectin is also handy for recipes with low-pectin fruit like strawberries and nectarines. Instead of splitting a new envelope, you can just add an extra tablespoon or two of pectin from the jar.
Be aware that not all pectin brands are alike. Each company has its own formula and they cannot be substituted blindly for each other. If you switch brands, watch your first batch carefully and note whether it jells as well at that amount as your other pectin did. In addition, liquid pectin and dry pectin cannot be substituted without changing the whole jam procedure.
I strongly recommend using only low sugar pectins both for the superior taste of the final product and because they are more cost effective in the long run. Here is a whole post discussing low sugar pectins - with a table that lists price, ingredients, etc.
I regularly switch between Ball and Dutch Jell low sugar brands. For four cups of fruit, the Ball Low Sugar recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of pectin; the Dutch Jell Lite recipe calls for 1/3 cup rounded of pectin. That’s between 5 and 6 tablespoons and quite a difference from the amount of pectin Ball calls for. In practice, I have found that I can use much less Dutch Jell than they recommend, but I usually need a bit more Ball pectin than they recommend.
How do you know how much to use? Follow the guidelines in the recipes included with your pectin. If you like a softer jell, then use less pectin next time. If you like a harder jell, then use more. Take notes or write them on the side of your pectin container with a pen or marker.
Robin's Rule of Thumb for Pectin: Use 1 Tablespoon of low sugar pectin for every cup of fruit in the recipe. Don't use more than 6 cups of fruit in a batch. This generally works for even lower pectin fruit like pears. If you aren't sure, then make a small batch, see what happens and adjust accordingly for your next batches. Use more pectin for low pectin fruit. Use less pectin for high pectin fruit.
Low Pectin Fruits require the addition of a full measure of pectin or a very long cooking time. Don't skimp on pectin when you're using these fruits for jam.
- Italian plums
- citrus peels: limes, lemons, etc. with the white pith and seeds. [You can put the pith and seeds in a tea ball or bag during cooking so you can remove them from the finished jam.]
- elaeagnus [autumn olive]
- Eastern Concord grapes
- plums, not Italian
There is a lot of emotion around this topic in the canning world. Some people are very, very nervous about canning anything and are sure that the next bottle of home canned beans they eat from is the one that's going to kill them all.
Be smart. Be careful. But let's not over-react, please.
When you open a jar, listen to it and sniff it. If the seal sounded funny, pitch it. If it wasn't sealed well, pitch it. If it looks or smells weird or is moldy, pitch it. The Ball Blue Book [see my sidebar or my canning page for a link] has a great troubleshooting guide for weird looking stuff in jars. It's normal for peaches and mangoes to turn a bit brown after a few weeks. A lot of debris is harmless debris from salt and hard water, but not all of it. You want to be educated. Spend some time with the troubleshooting guide.
I do not recommend canning all of my jam recipes because some of them might be lower in acid than might be generally agreed upon as being safe. When in doubt, ask me first or do your own pH test. The FDA likes a pH of 4.6 or less.
That said, I do can my jams. All of them. The only problems I have ever had are with the jars that I tried to seal using the inversion method of turning them upside down to cool. Very unreliable. The jam turns runny on the tops after a couple of months and there is usually mold when you open the jar, even if the seal is intact. Sniff it - if it smells fermented or funny, toss it.
If you want to make a lower acid jam recipe but are nervous about canning it, then seal it up in jars and keep them in the fridge or freezer. The combination of being sealed and cold should keep that jam safe for a long, long time.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a canning expert, I am jam-making expert. I can only tell you what I do. If you're nervous, do your own research and make your own decisions. Check out the canning books in my sidebar and the sources at the bottom of this page.
Here is the FDA document that discusses acidity: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/AcidifiedLow-AcidCannedFoods/default.htm
Shoot for a pH of 4.6 or lower.
How do you measure pH? Canning Across America recommends against using pH strips to gauge pH. Use a meter like one of these: pH meters. You'll see a wide variety of prices and reviews, so do your research before you buy.
For more information on acidity, check out the sources at the bottom of this page.
Here are lists of high acid and low acid fruits. High acid fruit can usually be made into jam without adding extra lemon juice. Low acid fruits need the lemon juice or can be mixed with high acid fruit to lower the pH.
High Acid Fruits
- green apples, tart apples
- tart plums
Low Acid Fruits should be canned with extra acid added for shelf stability and food safety, according to the FDA.
- sweet apples
Jam Making Terminology For Beginners
For people who grew up in a house where Mom and Grandma canned every year, making jelly and jam is second nature. For you guys who are new to this, here are a few definitions of things that you'll see in jam recipes.
What does it mean to boil hard? A hard boil is a boil which you cannot stir down. No matter how hard you stir, it will still be boiling madly and you will not be able to stir it down. Use a long handled spoon. Hot jam splashes leave spectacular burns – we know!
What does it mean to sheet or double drip off a spoon or spatula? Dip a spoon or spatula into your hot finished jam in the pot and then let the jam pour off of it. Watch those last few drips. They should slow down and you should see them joining together into double drips or even sheets of jam coming off the spoon. If you want your jam to set, but it is still coming off in single drips, then keep boiling it down.
Basic ways to make jam
You’ll find that the vast majority of fruit can be turned into jam in several ways: freezer jam with pectin; regular cooked jam with pectin in a pot, jam without pectin in a pot, and baked jam. All you have to do is decide which type of jam you want to make before you start, then make sure you have the right kind of pectin if you need it.
Freezer Jam is made with fresh, uncooked fruit and instant pectin. Make sure the fruit is clean. This jam has the freshest taste and is great for strawberries and mangoes and other fruit that changes flavor significantly when cooked.
The traditional way of making jam is to cook it. You can cook it in a pot on the stove top, or in a crock pot, or in the oven. Often, the fruit is cooked with pectin and then sugar added later. If no pectin is used, then the jam is cooked down until it jells. This means that in order to jell, it might lose a lot of volume. A lot, I tell you. Cooked jams can have a lot of sugar or no sugar at all. If they are canned appropriately, they will store well for a year or more. Just put them in a jar with a new canning lid and process them for canning while they’re still hot.
Simple Fruit Jam Recipes
For those of you who are new to the whole jam-making game, you’ll find that it is easier than you expect and I’ll start you with a few easy recipes to get you going.
The process is pretty much the same regardless of the fruit you use.
Step 1: Choose your fruit.
Step 2: Choose the method of jam you want to use.
Step 3: Get the right kind of pectin if you need it.
Step 4: Collect and wash your jars and lids.
Step 5: Make your jam, put it in the jars.
Step 6: Process the jars for canning, if necessary.
Below, you will find a description of the process I use for each type of jam recipe that I typically use. Following each description, I've given you a simple recipe for each type of jam.
- Mix the pectin and sugar together well in a bowl.
- Chop or crush your fruit – a potato masher or pastry blender works fine.
- Mix the pectin/sugar in with the fruit and stir, stir, stir for at least 3 minutes.
- Put jam into freezer safe containers.
- Let sit out for at least 30 minutes.
Strawberry Freezer Jam
- 3 1/3 cups sliced, crushed strawberries
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 4 tablespoons Ball Instant Pectin for freezer jam
Cooked Jam with pectin
- Chop the fruit and put it in a pot. Don’t heat it yet.
- Add the pectin to the fruit.
- Add a bit of water if the fruit is dry. You don’t want it to burn.
- Bring the fruit to a hard, rolling boil. Stir, stir, stir.
- Boil one full minute.
- Add the sugar and stir, stir, stir.
- Bring to a hard, rolling boil. Boil one full minute.
- Ladle into jars.
- Wipe rims. Put lids on.
- 4 cups chopped plums
- 4 Tablespoons Dutch Jell All Natural Lite pectin
- 2 cups sugar
Chop the fruit well and put them into a pot with the pectin. Stir the pectin in well before you turn on the burner. Add a little water (1/2 – 1 cup) if the fruit needs it so it won’t stick to the pot. Heat the fruit mixture stirring frequently until it reaches a full, hard rolling boil that you can’t stir down. Boil hard for 1 minute. Add sugar. Stir well and return to boil. Stir continuously until it reaches a hard rolling boil. Boil for one minute. Check to make sure the jam is coming off the spoon in sheets or double drops. Ladle into hot jars. Cover and process for canning.
Cooked Jam without pectin
You'll notice that this recipe requires a lot more sugar to get a jell. If you want a low sugar jam, use pectin.
- Chop the fruit and put it in a pot with the sugar.
- Add a bit of water if the fruit is dry. You don’t want it to burn.
- Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Cook until the jam reaches 220 degrees, sheets or double drips off a spoon.
- Ladle into jars.
- Wipe rims. Put lids on.
Black Raspberry Jam
- 4 cups black raspberries
- 4-6 cups sugar
Wash berries. Put berries in a pot and crush them with a potato masher. Add sugar and heat to a low boil. Simmer until the jam reaches the desired consistency – or until temperature reaches 220 degrees. Stir frequently as the jam thickens. Unwatched pots boil over and burn very quickly.
The worst thing that could happen when you are making the recipes in this book is that your jam might not set. [One thing to note is that sometimes runny jam sets on its own if you leave it alone for a few weeks. If you have the option of waiting before you try to ‘fix’ it, then wait. It might surprise you.]
Runny jam is not a crisis.
Really. There are no jam police who are going to show up at your house and take your children away because you made runny jam. It really doesn’t matter if your jam doesn’t set.
At our house, we call runny jam ‘syrup’. You can use syrup on pancakes and ice cream and as cake topping and as meat glaze.
If you decide you want to turn your syrup into jam that sets, then there are a couple of ways you can do it.
1. Boil it down: The simplest is to put the jam back into the pot and boil it down until it’s as thick as you want. When it comes off a spoon or spatula in sheets or double drips, then it’s going to set.
2. The two pot fix. In a larger pan, heat up all of the jam you want to fix. In a small pan, mix another tablespoon or two of dry pectin in a cup of cold water – it must be cold. Dissolve the pectin in the water and bring it to a boil. Boil the pectin hard for one full minute. Pour the pectin into the jam and stir it well. Bring to a boil and boil hard for one full minute. You should see a noticeable thickening of the jam and it should come off the spoon or spatula in sheets or double drips. Keep boiling until you do.
For freezer jam, you can use recycled plastic food containers, ice cream containers, or new containers made for freezing food in. Make sure there’s a place where you can label it and easily see the label.
For jams that will be processed in a canner for long term storage, use glass jars made for water bath or steam canning. There are many sizes of these jars and you can use any of them. They come with two part lids – a metal disk, called a ‘lid’ with a rubber circle on one side that will seal to the top of the jar; and a metal ‘ring’ that screws down on top of the lid and keeps it in place during the canning process. Once the jars are processed and cooled, the lids will seal tight and you can take the rings off and use them for another jar later. The lids will stay put.
You can use any other type of decorative jar to put your jam in as long as you are going to keep the jar in the refrigerator. Don’t try to hot process a recycled fancy jar with a used lid. They will not give a safe, reliable seal.
Note: The amount of time needed to process your jam for canning depends on the size of the jar you put it in. Generally, for high acid food, I process pint jars and jelly jars for 10 minutes and quart jars for 20 minutes. Processing time goes up for other foods. [For example, a quart jar of beans should be processed for 40 minutes at least.]
Processing Jam for Canning
Over the years there have been many ways that people sealed up their jam for long term shelf storage.
Wax: For years, many people poured a layer of hot wax over their jam before they put the lid on. I remember popping the wax off new jars of strawberry jam when I was a child. The wax was often saved and melted down for next year, too. Though many people use this method successfully, this method of sealing up your jam is not sterile. Using wax to seal is no longer recommended.
Inverted jars: Another traditional method of sealing jars is to ladle the hot jam into hot jars and put hot lids on them. As soon as they are closed tightly, they are turned upside down to cool. The heat of the jam softened the rubber on the lids and they would seal without more processing. I have found that method to be very unreliable. The lids might look sealed, but the seal is not tight enough. It is very disappointing to open a jar of jam 3 months later to find mold on it. Do not use the inversion method.
Steam Canning: This method puts jars into a covered pot with a few inches of water that is heated to boiling. The steam produced heats the jars and seals and produces a very tight seal. This method is excellent for high acid and high sugar jams. This is the method I use to seal my jam in jars that we're going to keep. Please note, some states advise against the use of steam canners and they are not for sale in those states. All of the jam that I sell is canned using the water bath canning method below.
Water Bath Canning: In this method, jars are closed tightly and put in a deep pot. The pot is filled with hot water and the water is brought to a boil. The jars get a boiling water bath. All of the jam that I sell is canned using the water bath canning method. All states recognize this as an acceptable method for canning jams, fruit and vegetables, but not meats or fish. Different items require different processing times. That information is available in reputable canning books like the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving or at your local county agricultural extension office.
Pressure Canning: This method is like the water bath canning method, except that the pot can be controlled for the amount of pressure that builds up under the lid. This method is the preferred method for canning dense vegetables such as pumpkin, and things with meat or fish in them. Pressure canning is unnecessary for jam, jelly, chutneys, etc. You can use it if you want to, but it’s overkill.