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That's My Jam! Everything You Wanted to Know About Making Jam at Home

That's My Jam! Everything You Wanted to Know About Making Jam at Home

  Spicy tomato jam . Photo by Lauren Kirchmaier

Spicy tomato jam. Photo by Lauren Kirchmaier

Making jam is a simple way to use up big hauls of summer produce, and a great use of bruised items that might otherwise go to waste. It’s especially awesome as a way to eat seasonally, stretching summer flavors through the winter months.

Though it might seem like a big task to tackle, jam doesn’t need to be daunting! It’s a fun project and comes in infinite varieties, so if yours doesn’t come out exactly how you pictured it the first time, it’ll still probably taste great. If you’re new to jam, here are some FAQs to get you started on the path to sticky goodness that will last you months to come.

Jam? Jelly? Marmalade? Why all the different names?

All of these refer to fruit cooked with sugar to preserve it, but there are a few distinguishing differences. Jam is made using whole or cut up pieces of fruits. Jelly can refer to a product made from juice rather than whole fruits. Marmalade refers to a similar process for preserving citrus.

What is the best recipe for jam?

Jam is all about striking the proper balance between fruit, sugar, and acid, which can vary depending on the tartness and sweetness of the fruit that you’re using. Think of jam making in ratios -- for every pound of fruit you use, you’ll want to use somewhere around ¼ cup to a cup of sugar, and a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice. It’s a big range, and has a lot to do with the fruit itself as well as your personal preference!

Do I have to make a sweet jam?

While many popular jams feature sweet berries, you can absolutely make jams out of savory ingredients too, like this spicy tomato jam!

What’s pectin and do I need to use it?

Pectin is a naturally occurring fiber that can be found in most plants, including fruit. It’s a thickening agent that helps jams to “gel” to that spreadable, not-too-runny consistency we’re used to seeing in store-bought jams. Depending on the natural pectin content of the fruit you’re using (apples and citrus have a lot while berries have little), you may be able to achieve this outcome without adding any pectin at all. For some lower-pectin fruit combinations, adding extra (extracted from high pectin fruit friends) can help you to get this effect!

Do I have to can my jam?

Not necessarily! Many people prefer to make refrigerator jam, meaning they skip the step of canning their final product and instead store their jam in the fridge or the freezer. If you’re making a small to medium amount of jam, you’ll be able to eat it well long before it would go bad, as the sugars and acid in the jam give it a hearty shelf life in the fridge.

How long does jam last?

Jams can usually keep for about a month in the fridge, and up to a year in the freezer. If you plan to make a bigger batch of jam that exceeds the capacity of your fridge and freezer, canning is a good way to ensure it stays fresh. Canning doesn’t have to be too complicated. There are lots of helpful guides available to home chefs to help them through the process. If you’re ready to get started, here’s a hyper-thorough guide on all things jamming and canning!

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