I love making jam. I do not love eating jam. Frankly, I just don't really like fruit so jam never really hits the spot for me. But several years before my Dad died, he taught me how to make and can homemade jam. I have fond memories of he and his girlfriend making jam during the summer and early fall at my grandmother's house in Michigan. The smell of hot fruited sugar can't be beat. And now that my Dad is gone, I cherish those memories more than ever...and continuing the tradition of making jam helps me keep him close.
So yesterday I realized I had a 2.5 lb bag of pie cherries in the outside freezer that I intended to use for jam this winter. Oops. I ended up making a quick batch while my daughter was at a playdate. It only took me 45 minutes to make a batch of the best cherry jam ever. Typically, I'm a certo girl. Certo, for those new to the process, is pectin (which makes the fruit set up into jam, rather than sauce). Certo is a liquid which comes in a pouch, and it's the only thing my Dad would use. But I wanted to make sugar-free jam, and certo requires sugar, lots of sugar. Instead, I deviated from the norm and went with Ball Natural Gel No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin, in a box...cause it's a powder.
Making jam is really very simple and I'll outline it for you here, in case you want to give it a try. The first time you make jam, you'll be hooked. Trust me.
What you need:
lids & rings (must be new)
sugar or splenda
lid magnet (a stick with a magnet on it, I'll explain this later)
What you do:
PREPARE: Put your jars into the dishwasher and run it with the heated dry cycle. You need to sterilize the jars and keep them hot. Put the lids and rings into a saucepan filled with water and boil them, keeping them on the heat until you're ready to can.
COOK: Next, follow the instructions on your pectin package. They are pretty much all the same, and it involved cooking the prepared fruit (*prepared meaning chopped or crushed, sometimes adding lemon juice) over high heat with sugar, stirring constantly. When the fruit and sugar reaches a rolling boil, add the pectin and cook for 5 minutes or so, depending on the pectin package. A rolling boil is one that you can't stir down.
JAR: Once the timer rings, you'll ladel the hot jam into the hot jars. Take only 2-3 jars out of the dishwasher at a time, fill those, then grab a few more until all the jam is in jars. Wipe off all the edges of the jars with a damp towel so they are clean. Then, take the stick with a magnet on it and grab the lids from the saucepan, place them on top of the jars. Do the same with the rings. Screw the rings on, only as tight as you can using your fingertips...ie, not too tight.
SEAL: Here's where things get a little controversial....I pretty much only use what is called the Inversion Method. That's what Dad used, so that's what I use. After the jars have lids and rings, flip them upside down onto a clean towel on the counter. Time it for exactly 5 minutes. No more, no less. FIVE minutes. After 5 minutes is up, flip them right side up. Then, you wait. You'll hopefully hear the "pop" of each lid sealing. Don't touch them or test them out for several hours or you risk accidentally creating a false seal by pressing on the top of the lid. (My husband did this once, he knows better now.)
Now if the jars don't seal, that's when I might do a water-bath. I don't even want to get into the details of a water-bath, it's just a PITA really. It's not hard, but I rarely use it. Some people will tell you that it's not safe to invert for canning. But for over 25 years of eating my Dad's jam and almost 10 years of canning myself, I'm perfectly content with inversion and feel confident that it's safe. And since I never enter contests with my jam, I think I'm fine. (contests usually specifically state you can't use inversion)
So there you have it.
Jam Making & Canning 101.
Hmmm, maybe that should have been the title for this post.....