By Brandi M. Seals
Making homemade jam is surprisingly easy. People say it is hard, that it is easy to get burned, and so on. And in a way they are right. It can be hard if you do not have the proper equipment. But as long as you have pair of jar-grabbing tongs (the only utensil you will need that might not otherwise be found in the most basic of kitchens) you are set for making your very own jam.
Making your own jam has its advantages. It is very cost-effective. It is easy to do. You can make any flavor you want, so if you have been searching everywhere for some jalapeno jelly, you finally know where to find it; in your own kitchen. Plus if you want to limit the amount of sugar you or your children take in, homemade jam can be made with significantly less sugar then the store-bought variety. And did I mention, if you process the jam (More about processing later) the jam can last up to year on the shelf?
For your first jam making experience pick your recipe. There are hundreds of them. If you don't have one that has been passed down from your great grandmother try searching the internet or heck buy a packet of pectin (a thickening agent used in most jams). There are always recipes in the pectin packages.
Buy everything you need for the recipe. Typically that means purchasing which ever type of fruit is needed, a box of pectin, and some sugar. That is it.
Prepare the fruit as instructed in the recipe. This may include peeling, dicing, and or mushing up the fruit. Next get out all of the equipment you will need. Some people have intricate canning pots and jar racks, but all you really need to have on hand are the jars you will be using (including the rings and lids), a stockpot, the tongs I mention earlier, and another large pan for cooking the jam in.
If you do not plan to process your jam it will only be good for a couple of days and must be refrigerated immediately after it is made.
Before you even begin making the jam, fill a large stock pot with water. You will want to make sure that once you add your jars to the pot the water will be at least one inch above the top of the jars. Bring this to a boil and put your empty jars, lids, and rings into the boiling water. If you will be using a funnel to transfer your jam to the jars you will also want to boil the funnel. This creates a sterile environment, killing anything that might adversely affect the jam. Leave these boiling until the jam is done and is ready to be transferred to the jars.
Remove the jars first and set them on a dry towel. Fill them with the jam either with a ladle or a funnel, which ever works for you will be fine. Make sure the jam is still hot and that the jars are fresh out of the boiling water when you begin. Keep in mind this will be very hot. If you must move your jars around, use the tongs because they will burn your hands.
Once the jars have been filled (leave at least 1/4 inch of head room in the jars) wipe off the mouth of the jars with a clean towel. Fish out the tops from the boiling water and set them on top of the jars. Make sure they are on straight. Now remove the rings from the pot and tighten them over the lids.
Your jam is now ready to be processed. Simply lift the jars back into the boiling water. Make sure the jars are not touching each other or the sides of the pan. Boil them for approximately ten minutes. Boiling times very by recipe and altitude and can be up to 15 minutes in high altitude areas like Denver. Most recipes will note the processing time. If the water stopped boiling when the jars were added, you must wait until it begins boiling again before you start timing the processing.
When they are done processing, use the tongs to take the jars out. Set them upright on a dry towel or rack. Do not move them as it may interrupt the jelling process. Check the jars in about 8 hours. Press on the lids. If they make a pinging noise or move, the jars were not properly sealed. These jars will need to be refrigerated immediately and will not have the shelf life of the correctly processed jars but they will be equally delicious. If the lids seem fine, store the jam in a dry cool place until you are ready to eat it. Always refrigerate the jam after opening.