A Berry Good Way To Enjoy Fruit Throughout The Year: Jam, Jellies And Preserves!

October 7, 2021

Helen Huffman (12) posing with two jars of homemade jam.

Helen Huffman (12) posing with two jars of homemade jam.

Fruit spreads are not only delicious, but aid in reducing waste, keep you healthy, and continue on traditions that have been held for generations! The basic concept of canning and turning fruit into a storable treat is not new. Everyone has had some form of jam or jelly before in their life! Here are some things you might not know, though. Jam contains both the juice and mashed up chunks of fruit used. Jelly is just the strained juice of the fruit, and preserves contain entire untouched chunks of fruit as well as mashed pieces and juice.

Pectin is what makes the various types of canned berries and fruits into a gel! Sugar aids in thickening, but without pectin, you would be left with a very runny syrup or would have to cook the berries down into fruit leather. You can buy packets of unflavored, dried pectin, but most fruit has enough naturally in it. Lemon juice, which has high amounts of pectin, is often added to fruits and berries that have low amounts such as peaches, blueberries, and cherries. In the end, it’s an optional additive. Look at more descriptive recipes for your fruit of choice to see if you need it or not.

Sugar, water, and fruit are the main ingredients in fruit spreads. The most important part to having a set and flavorful result is to ensure you have a perfect 1:1 ratio of sugar to fruit. You should weigh this out instead of measuring with cups. Often jams, jellies, and preserves are made in large amounts, so it’s likely you will be using multiple pounds of fruit and sugar at the same time. The amount of water added is just enough to submerge both the fruit and sugar.

Now what can you use for your fruit? Basically anything that falls under the fruit category! Berries are most common, but you wouldn’t want to use something that would taste strange like lemon (though that would make an interesting lemonade type spread). Use whatever leftover fruits you have around, as the point of making jam, jelly, and preserves is to use up over ripened fruit before it goes bad. Mix and match as well! You can use any combination of fruits you enjoy. As long as you have equal parts fruit and sugar, it should turn out fine.

Now the actual process of making! Put your fruit, sugar, and water all in a large pot. Make sure the mixture only fills the pot around halfway, as lots of boiling and frothing will occur that could spill over the top of the pot. Bring your mixture to a boil while stirring regularly. Keep in mind what you are going for, either a jam, jelly, or preserve, when mixing. If stirred too harshly, you could break up your fruit too much, which will give you a very different texture than what you may want. Cutting up fruit beforehand might be necessary depending on the stiffness of what you use and its size. Inch by inch chunks are suggested for a jam, whole pieces for preservation, and just juice for jelly.

Once a rolling boil has been achieved, you will mix constantly until you reach the end stage. One of three things should happen to show you your spread is finished. The first option is the spoon test, my personal favorite. You should be able to dip a spoon into your mixture and when lifted out of the pot, an even, consistent layer of spread should coat the back. It should not instantly run off and there should be no breaks in the coating. The second test is to put a ceramic dinner plate in the freezer until it is chilled. Bring it out and pour a small amount of your mixture onto it. Let it cool, then drag your finger through the pool of spread. If your finger leaves a perfectly clean line and the spread doesn’t run in to fill the gap, then you’re done. Finally, a simple stirring test. Drag your spoon in a straight line through the pot, scraping the bottom. If your mixture parts and leaves a clear, defined trail that takes multiple seconds to fill back in, then you are finished.

At this stage, you can move onto storage! Most people can their spread, but it’s not required. You can let it cool completely before transferring into a Tupperware container if you plan to eat it all in a year’s time. If you go this route, it must be stored in the fridge. You can put it in a food safe container and freeze it as well, turning it into a brick that will need to be thawed before consuming. If you want to know how to can your spread, then check in next month for the next editorial under this column! We will be covering canning next and go into full detail on how to can multiple different foods, the things you need to can, and ways to enjoy the preserved food up to decades later!

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