Food canning is one of those things that seems intimidating at first, but trust me when I say that it’s not difficult at all. If anything, you’re going to find yourself obsessed with making jam, jelly, and pretty much whatever other tasty foods you can find and stuff into a canning jar. Okay, maybe that’s just me, but canning really is easy and fun once you get the hang of it, and that shouldn’t take long at all.
So, what will you need to get started? If you’re making sugar free jam, then you’ll want to pick up some no or low sugar pectin. I didn’t even realize that this existed until I spotted some when I was buying canning jars, but Ball makes a product called No Sugar Needed Pectin, which allows your jam to gel just as jams made with sugar. After I ran out of that, I purchased Pomona’s Universal Pectin, a great product that can be used in jams made with or without sugar. The Pomona’s pectin is also concentrated, so it’s very economical because you add much less product per batch. It’s also possible to make jam without pectin. Blueberry and cherry jams turn out quite well without pectin. Remember, though, that you’ll have to cook them longer to get a jam-like consistency.
For those of you out there who are urban dwellers like I am, you may have a bit more trouble finding canning supplies. I found a small selection of canning jars and lids, pectin, and a few canning tools at both Kmart and Ace Hardware. Be prepared for the cashier to give you an odd look and ask what in the world you’re buying, and watch as her expression turns to a mix of confusion and fascination as you explain that, yes, you can make your own jam at home. And please tell me that young people these days do know what home canning jars are and that this incident was a rare exception, or I will feel very disillusioned. If you aren’t prepared to go on a canning supply safari, then you’ll find plenty of places online, like Canning Pantry, that sell everything you could possibly need.
Here are the basic tools that you’ll need to can jams and jellies:
- canning jars (I like the half pint size for this type of canning)
- a water bath canner (I just use my stock pot)
- a jar lifter
- a pair of kitchen tongs
- a wide mouth jar funnel
- a ladle or large glass measuring cup
- oven mitts
- tea towels
Ball is the authority in home canning, and their site has a wealth of information about any type of canning you can imagine. They have guides for preserving different types of fruits and vegetables, how to videos, and links to sites with even more information about canning. I’ll have a brief run through of the water bath canning process below, but Ball’s site does a much better and more thorough job of explaining everything than I do.
The great thing about making jam at home is that you can customize it to your taste. Use more or less sweetener depending on which fruit you’re using and how sweet or tart you like your jam. Cook longer for a thicker jam, shorter for a thinner consistency. It’s all very flexible. The recipe posted below is simply a framework to get you started. And, if you’re making jam with regular sugar, just replace the sweetener 1:1 with sugar and use regular pectin.
makes 4 to 5 half pint jars
Note: If you don’t like large pieces of fruit in your jam, then you can place the prepared strawberries in a food processor and pulse until they’re at a desired consistency.
1. Place canning jars, lids, and rings in a water canning pot or stock pot. Fill the pot with water until it is 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Heat to boiling, and boil the jars, lids, and rings for 15 minutes to sterilize. 5 minutes before removing the jars, place the jar lifter and kitchen tongs in the boiling water to sterilize. Remove jars using the jar lifter and lids and rings using the kitchen tongs, and set on folded tea towels in preparation for the jam. After everything is removed from the pot, continue to keep the water at a near boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the prepared strawberries to boiling. Mix the pectin with the sweetener and add the mix, as well as the lemon juice, to the strawberries just as they begin to boil. Cook over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes, until foaminess subsides and the jam has thickened. Remove from heat.
3. Immediately transfer the hot jam to a large glass measuring cup, or use a ladle with a large mouth jar funnel, and transfer the jam to the jars, filling until ¼ inch from the top. Using the kitchen tongs, place the lids on the jars, and screw the rings over the lids. Since everything is hot, you’ll probably need oven mitts to do this.
4. Using the jar lifter, transfer the jars to the water-filled pot for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and place on folded tea towels to cool. As the jam cools, you should hear distinct “pops” for each jar as a vacuum forms and they seal.