Jam Making 101: Getting started

Peach Ginger Jam
Peach Ginger Jam
Today I am making jam. I like canning – it is like baking, requiring a certain amount of attention to detail, but like cooking, allows for a bit of experimentation.

I started canning and preserving foods about 8 years ago, when my son was born, in an effort to relive some of the memories from my childhood. The first year, I made one batch of Ollalieberry Jam, from berries picked in Watsonville. Each year, I add something new to my repertoire – now I am up to Peach, Nectarine and Plum jams, canned tomatoes, apple sauce and apple butter, and bread & butter pickles. Mostly, I give these away to friends as hostess or thank you gifts, and my kids eat a great deal.

Just recently, I began preserving as a way to lengthen the season for some of our favorite fruits and vegetables. Our CSA offered tomatoes last year, perhaps I will capture green beans and corn as well. There is really nothing better than pulling a jar of summer tomatoes out of the garage in the middle of winter for a sauce!

Friends have asked how to get started in canning, so I thought I would put together a series of posts about preserving food. Together, we will make Peach Ginger Jam, and I hope that this guide will help you every step of the way!

Step 1: Equipment

Before you get going, you need to make sure you have the right equipment on hand. Here is my recommended list:

  • Canning jars (1/2 pint or pint jars) with two piece lids
  • Water bath canning pot and jar rack (this usually comes as a set)
  • Large pot (you will actually make the jam in this)
  • Jar lifter
  • Tongs (the OXO tong with grips are my favorite)
  • Wide-mouth funnel
  • Ladle
  • Food thermometer
  • 8-cup glass measuring cup
  • Slotted spoon
  • Several clean kitchen towels

Most of these items can be purchased at your local hardware or kitchen store. Keep in mind, you can reuse canning jars and the outer rings, but you need to use new lids every time. Also, while most of my friends and family will tell you I am not the best housekeeper, I do start with a fairly clean kitchen. Keeping unwanted visitors out of the newly preserved foods is a good thing, as Martha would say.

Step 2: Recipe

Tomatoes
Tomatoes

Once you have the above equipment in hand, you will need to decide what to make. I started by making straight-forward jams, using recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I have also found great recipes using the Food Blog Search, including one from Warda of 64 sq ft kitchen and another from Delicious Days. Whatever you decide to make, you will need to find fresh, ripe fruit for the project. Ideally, that would come from a tree in your backyard, but don’t be afraid to ask neighbors or colleagues for extra fruit. Some farms offer a pick-your-own option, and I also visit a local farmer’s market for fresh summer stone fruits. The average recipe needs 5-6 cups of chopped fruit, about 10-12 medium or 3-4 pounds.

OK, now you have the equipment, the recipe and the fruit. Tomorrow, we will talk about the mechanics of making jam!

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5 Comments

  1. Posted July 30, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I love this post!!! LOVE IT! By the end of the summer, I will be you :) Thank you so much for listing everything so clearly for us beginners.

    Favorite Kitchen Gadgets: (I like gadgets – I’m a computer teacher)

    For personal use – cherry pitter (from Ikea) works like a charm

    For party use – Margaritaville Key West Frozen Concoction Maker (houseparty.com sent me one when I took part in one of their parties)

    For prepping food – OXO veggie peeler, Kitchenaid mixer
    and long metal tongs which I use for everything

    I am also very particular about ice cube trays and have tried many kinds. I don’t like the silicon ones because I think they leave an aftertaste on the cubes.

  2. mary ann roberts
    Posted August 15, 2008 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi:

    Read the article about you in the Mountain View Voice today, hey it could be me.
    I’ve been making jam that way for years, just fruit, sugar and lemon juice. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have so much fruit as we planted our own plum, peach and apricot trees, all which I make into jam. Then an apple and pear apple give me bummer crops to share or make into pies and sauces. My mom always canned tomatoes, pickles, and peaches, plus jams. Growing up in the Midwest everyone canned from their garden abundance and I follow suit in Ca. My daughter now makes jam like me too. Enjoy your blog and glad I found it. Will look into the EveryDay Food cookbook.

  3. Kitchen Gadget Girl
    Twitter: kitchengirl
    Posted August 16, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mary Ann,

    Great to hear that you are canning too! And without pectin. I would love to see your backyard – that is one thing I don’t have, a lot of fruit trees. I grew up with plums and apricots in the backyard, but my two fruit trees are not producing yet! Glad to know that you have passed the tradition down to your daughter – I hope to do the same in my family.

    Cheers,

  4. Clive Pritchard
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I am searching for a stone basket to help me when making damson, plum, cherry etc jams. It allows you to seperate the stones in the final stages without losing any liquid etc. Can you help??

  5. Kitchen Gadget Girl
    Twitter: kitchengirl
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    wow, that is a tool I have never heard of! I did a little google search and came up with another person who is looking for one. Sounds like it is a little basket that sits on the edge of the pan, so when you are cooking jam, you can plop the pits into the basket and have them drain.

    When I make jam with stone fruits, I cut the stones off. How easy would it be to just put the whole fruit into the pot!

    Some suggestions I saw were using a little strainer and bending the handle, or perhaps a tea strainer. I wonder if I could put a chinois or large strainer in the pot with the stone fruit, and then just lift it up as the fruit cooks and comes off the stone? I am also going to keep my eye out when I go to small, independent kitchen shops.

    Any readers have ideas?

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