As a cookbook junkie and avid canner, I own a shelf full of canning cookbooks. In past years, I've made jams after mulling through them looking for recipes for specific fruits that are in season at the time. I started to notice that many of the jam recipes for different fruits are essentially the same. So, I decided to figure out and test one recipe with one formula for ingredients, that would work for every kind of fruit. The overall goal: make it simple and allow the fruit flavor to shine through.
You only need 3 ingredients to make fantastic jam: fruit, sugar, and lemon. That's it. The easy method of boiling the mixture until it thickens is all there is to it. There's no need for pectin or preservatives. The use of zest and juice from a lemon brightens the jam's flavor and contributes natural pectin for gelling. This simple recipe let's the fruit flavor take center stage, although you can add spices or flavors, if you like (find suggestions further down in the post). This jam is simple, flavorful, and shelf stable to enjoy throughout the year.
The only jam recipe you'll ever need for refrigerating, freezing, or canning. I have tested this jam formula for a variety of berries and fruits. After 15 batches of jam without a single fail, I'm confident in sharing this recipe and method with you as the only jam recipe you'll ever need. It simply works for every fruit. Mission accomplished.
Choose-Your-Berry. In this post, I'm sharing this easy formula specifically for making berry jams. I made 4 kinds of berry jam and it's hard to choose a favorite:
You can also use this recipe for other berries like huckleberry, boysenberry, dewberry, gooseberry, loganberry, etc. In another post, Choose-Your-Stone-Fruit-Jam, I share how to use this same method for making peach/nectarine, apricot, cherry, and plum jams.
These jams are rustic and textured. I like them that way--seeds and all. It also makes the jam-making simpler, easier, and faster. However, if you prefer a smoother jam, you can strain out all or part of the seeds, and blend the fruit until it's smooth. My preference, however, is a chunkier, rustic, whole fruit jam.
No added pectin needed. This recipe gels without added pectin. It relies completely on sugar and the natural pectin in the berries and lemon for gelling. Simple.
Reducing sugar may alter the results. One of the main reasons that jam making fails is that many find it hard to resist reducing the amount of sugar in a recipe. No doubt, the recipe I'm sharing would still taste good if it was less sweet. However, sugar plays more of a role than adding sweetness to the jam. Sugar is necessary in order for the jam to gel properly, and it is an important preservative that contributes to jam being shelf stable. So, if you choose to reduce the sugar, know that it could result in a looser jam that won't gel and jam that has a shortened shelf life.
In this recipe, I've reduced the ratio of sugar to fruit as much as I can without compromising the gelling or shelf life of the jam. I'm always in favor of limiting sugar in recipes, when possible. However, in the case of jam, a normal serving of 1 tablespoon only has 32 calories. That's an insignificant caloric price to pay for adding yummy sweet fruit flavor to a piece of toast. It's worth it to me to make a full-flavored, gelled and preserved jam. However, if you need to reduce or eliminate sugar for health or dietary reason, I recommend that you look for a different recipe that is tested to work. Low and no sugar recipes are likely to have added pectin and a non-sugar sweetener (honey, juice concentrate, or something artificial). However, I can't advise you on the results if you try to alter the sugar in this recipe.
Don't double the recipe. This will result in much longer cooking times and the possibility that the jam will gel poorly or not at all.
Great for gifts. I've made some labels you can add to jars of jam to add a finishing touch and make them ready to have on hand for gifts. Who wouldn't love a jar of homemade jam? Look for my printable labels further down in the post. This recipe is suitable for water-process canning; so, you can make them ahead for gift giving.
(raspberries are shown in photos, but any berry may be substituted)
Step 1. Assemble the equipment
If you'll be canning your jam, here's the recommended gear (see my post with Step-By-Step Canning Tips for more details on the equipment I use):
Step 2. Assemble the jam ingredients:
Fresh or frozen berries. The important thing is to use berries that are ripe (but not over-ripe) and flavorful. Often fresh berries from the grocery store are beautiful but flavorless. Frozen berries are picked at their peak of ripeness. So, go with frozen if you don't have access to in-season, good tasting fresh berries. For this batch of raspberry jam, I had some fresh berries but not enough for a batch of jam. So, I used a combination of fresh and frozen raspberries. (If you have a Costco nearby, they often have giant bags of organic frozen berries--good quality and less expensive than fresh.)
Step 3. Add berries and sugar to 8-10 quart pan. Use a Microplane to zest the lemon directly into the pan. Then cut the lemon in half and juice it.
Step 4. Put 2 or 3 small plates in the freezer. These will be used later for testing when the jam has gelled.
Step 5. Combine ingredients in large, wide (8-10 qt), heavy bottom pot over medium heat. As soon as the sugar dissolves, increase heat to medium-high. The raspberries will fall apart as they cook, so there's no need to mash them. (Blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries need to be pressed with a potato masher to break them into smaller pieces.)
Step 6. Once the mixture boils, stir it frequently with a flat bottomed spoon/spatula to prevent scorching. Mixture will foam up and expand, and then shrink back down as it cooks more.
Step 7. After it's been boiling for a few minutes, use a metal spoon to skim foam from the surface. (The foam is removed because it has a bad taste and appearance in jam jars, and the additional air bubbles make the jam less shelf stable.)
How to know when the jam has gelled enough. I like my jams slightly looser than some--thick enough to be spreadable, but not as thick as jelly. Truthfully, every batch comes out a little differently; there's a range of how much gelling results in a successful batch. (Whew! You can relax about getting it just right.) You can't use cooking time to know when the jam will gel, because the actual time is effected by your cookware, stove heat, and the fruit itself. Here's what I do to make sure it's gelled "enough".
Below is how my raspberry jam looked when it had gelled properly. It ran very slowly (hardly at all) when I tilted the plate, and the path I made with my finger slowly oozed back together only slightly.
Once the jam is ready, pour it into jars or plastic containers to keep it in the refrigerator for 2 months or the freezer for up to 6 months. Use water process canning if you want to safely store the jam in jars at room temperature for a year.
If you prefer to freeze your jam, Ball makes plastic freezer jars that come in the same sizes as mason jars. Most of Ball's glass jars are freezer safe now, too. Make sure you leave at least 1/2" head space to allow for expansion when the jam freezes. Press a round of parchment paper on top of the jam before screwing on the lid; this will prevent ice crystals from forming in the freezer.
Below are step-by-step photos that explain how to can the jam.
1. Prepare the jars & lids. I use half-pint jars for jam, but you may also use pint jars. Wash the jars in hot sudsy water, rinse and dry them. The jars don't have to be sterilized, since the filled jars will be processed for 15 minutes (as per new canning guidelines from Ball). The washed jars need to be hot when they're filled with hot jam. Keep the jars hot in the canner filled with simmering water. Or, my preference is to put them on a tray in an 180 degree oven to keep them hot until it's time to fill them. I think that's easier that juggling them in and out of hot water right before filling them.
The lids and rings should be washed in hot sudsy water, rinsed and dried. The lids do not have to be kept hot in simmering water according to new canning guidelines.
2. Fill the jars. Use a canning funnel and ladle to fill each hot jar with hot jam, leaving 1/4" headspace.
3. Insert a bubble remover down the side of the jar and pull toward the center to release any bubbles (you can use any long, thin object like a chopstick).
4. Clean jar rims thoroughly with a wet paper towel. If the rims are dirty the jars won't seal.
5. Add a lid to each jar. Screw on a ring until it is "finger tight".
6. Use a jar lifter to lower each jar vertically into the canner of boiling water. There should be at least 1" of water over the tops of the jars. Cover and return water to a rolling boil. Process jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and remove lid; leave jars in hot water for 5 more minutes. (I'm using the Ball Electric Canner in these photos.)
7. Use a jar lifter to remove each jar vertically and set on a towel. Leave undisturbed for 12 hours. Within 30 minutes after the jars are removed from the water, you know they've safely sealed if the center of the jar is slightly indented (it shouldn't give when you press it); often you'll hear a popping noise when they seal. If any of your jars don't seal, store them in the fridge and use them within 2 months, or freeze them for up to 6 months.
view on Amazon:
Store your sealed, processed jars in a cool, dark place (a cabinet or pantry is fine as long as it doesn't get too hot); a basement is ideal.
Here's a look at the finished raspberry jam. Bring on the toast and English muffins!
Follow exactly the same procedure and use the same ingredient amounts to make the variety of berry jam of your choice. Here are the others I have tried.
Blueberry Jam. The only difference between making this and the raspberry jam described above is that you need to mash the blueberries a bit. Wait until they have cooked some, the sugar is dissolved, and the berries have softened. Then, as they continue cooking, use a potato masher to break the blueberries apart until they're a consistency you like.
Strawberry Jam. These berries need to be hulled and quartered before adding them to the pan. Let them cook and soften some before using a potato masher to break the strawberries apart until they're a consistency you like.
Oops alert--use a big pan! Of all of the berry jams, strawberry is the variety that expands the most when it begins to boil. Make sure you use at least an 8 quart pan, 10+ quarts is better. I'm using an 8 qt. pan in the photo below, and it almost overflowed. Too close for comfort! The mixture eventually cooks back down, but you need ample room in your pot for that initial expansion.
The end result is some kind of wonderful--this is King-Man's favorite jam.
Blackberry Jam. I make this with locally grown berries, and it's my personal favorite. Blackberries also need a little help from a potato masher to break them apart while they're cooking. Otherwise, it's just like making the raspberry jam.
Mixed berry jam is easy to make--simply combine any variety of berries you choose and follow directions using all of the same ingredient amounts in the recipe. Bags of frozen mixed berries are widely available (look for jumbo bags of them at Costco) and make it easy to whip up a quick batch of jam at any time of the year.
Add spices, herbs, and flavorings, if you like. Me? I prefer to can jam in its simplest form where nothing interferes with the pure, delicious fruit flavor. If I'm in the mood, I'll jazz up an opened jar by stirring in a little something extra like cinnamon, vanilla, or even a diced jalapeno for a hot kick. If you prefer to add extra flavors to an entire batch of jam, here are some possible additions; simply stir these in and cook them along with the fruit, sugar, and lemon mixture. Taste before adding the mixture to jars to make sure you have a desirable balance of flavors; make adjustments as necessary.
For a finishing touch, I like to label my jars. That way they're easy to identify on my shelf, look attractive on the table, and are ready for gift giving, too. Jam is universally loved and fun to share. Going to a party? Grab one of these to take as a perfect host/hostess gift. Need a little something for a teacher, co-worker, or neighbor? You can't go wrong with a jar of jam. Give one or several in a gift basket. Print the labels and stick them on the sides or lids of each jar--easy!
Download printable jar labels/tags. These are sized to fit on jar lids (regular or wide mouth) or sides.
If you don't have a printer or specialty papers, you can have a store with printing services download and print them for you (Kinkos, Office Depot, Staples, etc.)
Click on the image of your choice to download & print a full sheet of labels/tags.
Cut with scissors or a circle punch. You can cut the round tags out carefully with scissors, or use a circle punch to make the task easier and more precise. I use a 2-1/4" circle punch; it fits both regular and wide canning lids.
view on Amazon: 2-1/4" circle punch (this fits mason jar lids)
Write-on labels are an easy option if you don't want to go to the trouble of printing and cutting your own. These ready-made rolls of labels are sized just right for canning jars and they are dissolvable for easy removal when the jar is empty.
Those are some gorgeous jars, don't you think? They taste as good as they look. My favorite way to use them is as a spread on toast, English muffins, biscuits or bagels. They can also be added to yogurt, smoothies, tea, or fizzy water to add sweet fruity flavor.
Make it a Yummy day!
Hooked on making jam? If you can afford it, this awesome copper jam pan is fabulous. I splurged on this beauty this year, and I love it. (view on Amazon)
Want more easy jam recipes? Check these out: