Introduction to Jam Making (Overview)

I’m so excited to be making jam with you this month! I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of all the frozen fruit in my freezer, and I’m very glad to have this opportunity to make jam once a week for a whole month. I’m hoping to end up with 24 jars of jam by the end of this month – that should see us nicely through to Easter or so! I tend to use about 1kg of fruit for each batch of jam, and that usually gives us about 6 small jars. I say ‘usually’ because it’s a bit variable, and sometimes we und up with more, and sometimes with less. In this first Jam post I’m going to talk a little bit about the general principles of jam making – how it works, what you need to do it – and then also share my detailed instructions for the jam I’m making in the video. Please comment below or message if anything is unclear or you have questions – and to share what jam you’re making! Remember that the whole point of Skills from the Hills is to (learn to) make things slowly and reliably throughout the month. Ideally you’ll be making jam four times in November so that by the end of it you’ll have practised the routine several times. I’d recommend finding a time each week where you can set aside an hour or two to do this – say, every Sunday afternoon, or every Monday morning. The repetition and regularity will help you feel that you really understand what you’re doing, and by the end of the month you won’t really have to think about how to make jam – you’ll just do it. 

A caveat: this is how we make jam. There are lots of different ways – each person will have their own recipe, and over time you’ll develop yours, too. Some folks use different amounts of fruit and sugar, or cook their jam on different heat settings and for a different length of time. Everyone’s cooker, pot, and fruit is different, and what I’m sharing here is meant as a basic recipe that you can adapt to your circumstances. I’ll do my best to describe not just what we do but also what the jam looks and feels like at each stage.

When you’re making jam I’d like you to pay attention to this – don’t just follow the instructions blindly to the letter, but think about what is happening and why you’re doing each step. This will help you feel like you know what you’re doing, and to deal with any unexpected problems. I’ll try to guide you through this below!

If you’ve never made jam before you’re probably worried about it setting (or rather it not setting), and what to do if it doesn’t. I’ve got some suggestions for that in the instructions below, but please don’t worry – your work won’t be wasted! Jam that refuses to set (and this happens sometimes) make a brilliant topping for porridge and pancakes, and it’s delicious drizzled on ice cream and even cake. Part of the joy of making things yourself is that you’re free to experiment with what you enjoy – just because your jam doesn’t have the same consistency and flavour as store-bought jam doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It means that you’ve made something delicious that you can use in lots of different ways, and it’s really satisfying to think of them. Making jam (and the other skills we practice together) is not just an exercise in learning that particular skills, but also a chance to look at a thing without the constraints of what it should look/smells/taste like. Do you like it? Can you think of a use for it? Then you’ve made it successfully! Like growing your own veg and appreciating wonky fruit and the wonderful flavour of broccoli leaves – something you never see in the shops – making your own [whatever] is a wonderful opportunity to discover new things to enjoy, or new uses for things – and to resist the narrative of capitalism where an advert or a label tells you what a thing is good for.

General Principles of Jam Making

Making jam is really simple: you cook fruit with sugar and lemon juice until it’s soft and mushy, and then you heat it rapidly to 104.5C (the magic number where jam will set) and transfer it into jars. Strawberries are notoriously difficult because they’re low in pectin, which affects their ability to set, but I find that adding in apple juice helps with that. Apples are high in pectin, and their flavour complements pretty much all other fruit well. There are so many delicious fruit that you can turn into jam, and finding new combinations is endlessly exciting – experiment with what you grow yourself, what is grown locally, and what you can forage in public spaces.

Without canning – in a pressure canner, or by submerging your filled jam jars in boiling water for a period of time – jam will not last for years. There is much debate in the UK about whether canning is really necessary, and I would suggest that you aim to make as much jam as you’re likely to get through in 3 months – if you’re going to keep it longer than that I would very much advise canning. However, once you start making your own jam you’ll probably find lots of ways to enjoy it, and I suspect that a batch won’t last 3 months! I would recommend freezing any fruit you harvest and making jam periodically – once a month, maybe? – so that you have lovely jam all year round. You could also keep it in the fridge or freezer to extend its shelf life, or in a cool root cellar/larder space. For more information on canning and storing I’d recommend the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. If you’d like to buy a jam-making book I can recommend Vol. 2 of the River Cottage Handbooks, Preserves by Pam Corbin.

The course is made up of 4 tutorials:

  1. Materials and Method
  2. Chili Jam
  3. Apple Butter
  4. Green Tomato Chutney

Click on the image to get started:

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