By Brandi M. Seals
I love the idea of giving homemade gifts. I do it every year. I make something for an extra gift. Last year I made chocolate chip and coconut cookies. This year I made jam. I even went so far as to make a large sunbonnet sue quilt for my mom and dad's gift this year. If you have never given a homemade gift before, I really encourage you to give it a try.
Jam is one of the easiest gifts you can make. It takes about a half hour to an hour from start to finish and you end up with enough to make several small gifts. Each recipe yields a different amount but between 6 and 8 half-pints of jam is typical.
Start by picking the kind of jam you want to make. If you planned ahead you got fruit while it was in season. You can make jam from fresh fruit or frozen fruit. I like to buy fruit when it is in season and then freeze it until I can use it to make jam later in the year. This year I did a blueberry peach jam and a plain peach jam.
Next buy the necessary supplies. You will need half-pint jars, lids, and tops. Generally you can find them all sold together or if you already have jars you can pick up some new lids. Lids can only be used once but jars and rings can be used repeatedly as long as they are in good condition.
You will also need to pick up some pectin. Pectin comes from apples and it helps the jam to thicken and gel. There are many brands of pectin out there. Get what you feel comfortable with. I do recommend that you get a low or no sugar required pectin. Regular jams may require several cups of sugar (usually around 6) in order to gel properly. When you used the low or no sugar pectin, you can cut the amount of sugar to much less. I never make my jam with more than 3 cups of sugar but feel free to do whatever you like.
Inside the pectin box you will find recipes for make very simple jams. If this is your first time giving jam a try, I suggest you use one of these easy recipes. Generally they call for water or fruit juice, the fruit you have selected, pectin, and sugar. Occasionally you will need to add some acid to the fruit, usually in the form of lemon juice.
You will need a large stockpot (or canner if you have one) for processing the jars. You will also need jar tongs. Jar tongs are the most important element as they will hold onto the jars better than regular tongs and can therefore eliminate most of the risks of burns.
Jams that you give away need to be processed (otherwise they would need to be kept in the fridge or freezer and they have a shorter shelflife). Processing means that once the jam has been made and placed in the sterilized (boiled) jars the tops were added and screwed down before taking another dip in the boiling water. Processing times very by location but range from 5 to 15 minutes in boiling water. If the water is not boiling when the jars are added, you cannot start timing them until the water reaches the boiling point.
When the jams are done processing, remove them from the water and allow them to cool for at least 8 hours before handling them. You will want to press on the tops of the jars. If they make a popping noise, the jar was not processed correctly. It must be kept in the fridge. If there is no noise the jam can be stored in a dark, cool area for up to a year. They only need to be refrigerated after opening.
Before giving the jam away, cut out squares of fabric. Unscrew the rings on the jars and place the cloth over the top of the jar. You can hold it in place by screwing the ring down or use a rubber band if you prefer to keep the ring. This just dresses things up a bit. Try to pick fabric with a pattern that is simple yet pretty.
I also suggest you make labels for your jam. You can do this in any style you like. Write it one a mailing label or design something and print it up on the computer. The choice is yours. Just be sure to include the jam flavor and when it was processed.