Saturday, August 25, 2012

I live in one of the berry capitals of the country.  Our county produces a ridiculous amount of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, not to mention the insane (and rather nuisancy) amount of wild blackberry cane that grows everywhere.  But it was just recently--last summer, amazingly--that we ever went and picked berries.

Canning was something that I thought was too hard, too time consuming, too scary to contemplate, a task that required a crazy specialized set of skills and equipment.  But last summer, after having two years of successful pickling under our belts, and having raced the kids to fill buckets of strawberries with little long-term thought to the purpose of having picked 16 pounds--I made my first jam.

And, guess what?  It was easy.  I'm serious.  If you can follow a basic recipe for cookies off the back of the chocolate chip bag, you can make jam.  Heck, if you can make a Lean Cuisine in the microwave without setting it on fire, you can make jam.  The main thing you need is TIME, but even the most intensive recipe can be made in an afternoon.

For my first try I followed a recipe from Sunset magazine, but was not happy with the amount of sugar it called for.  (Pectin needs sugar for its chemical reaction, so you can't just reduce it or substitute.) And even the low-sugar pectin that you can get at the grocery store still requires cups and cups and CUPS of sugar; it's only low in comparison.

[I just noticed when I popped over to Amazon that Sure-Jell's low-sugar pectin now says it has no-sugar recipes.  It didn't have that last year.]

All hail the internets--I quickly discovered the existence of Pomona's Universal Pectin, which besides being a product that sounds like it's from the 1870s, allows you to make jam with little or even no sugar.

Here's what we've tried so far, the past two summers:

  1. Strawberry-raspberry jam, from Sunset magazine.  Lovely, and VERY sweet.  The Jam that Started it All.  I made 4-oz jars and gave most of it away to the neighbors because I was so excited that I Had Made Jam!  Note to self: next time, ask neighbors to return jars.
  2. Low-sugar strawberry jam, following the recipe on the inside of the low-sugar Sure-Jell package. Traditional and yummy.
  3. No-sugar blueberry jam, following the recipe inside the Pomona's Universal Pectin package.  This turned out thick and spreadable, almost like a fruit butter, and took us through the winter.  Even in the depths of February this tasted like summer.
  4. No-sugar strawberry jam using the Pomona's recipe.  Even I, and I love tart foods, think this one could have benefited from a little sugar.  That said, it's awesome with peanut butter on toast, and it makes an fresh-tasting, ruby-red dessert topping.  If I give any jars away for gifts, I'm going to say it's strawberry sundae topping and the recipient will be none the wiser.
  5. Low-sugar strawberry jam using the Pomona's recipe.  No verdict yet because we haven't opened it yet.
  6. Low-sugar raspberry jam, again following the Pomona's recipe--next up to be opened.  I also made a bunch of 4 and 8 oz jars of this for gifts.  Raspberry jam is my absolute favorite, so I am thrilled we didn't miss raspberry season this year.
Finally--lest you think we have gone completely health conscious--for a belated birthday gift I got a copy of Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan, who has an awesome website called, not surprisingly,  This book goes way beyond jam to cover condiments, fruit butters, marmalades, curds, salsas, pickles, and more.  This is a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it for new-to-intermediate canners.  Her jams and jellies are all full sugar, so I wouldn't personally make them for everyday family use, but we did make one very special jelly with an eye toward gifts: tart cherry/amaretto jelly.

Have you tried canning fruits, jams, jellies, or anything else?  what are your favorite recipes?

1 comment: said...

I love blueberries so bad! My grandmother is a guru in preparing some tasty stuff from blueberries:) I love her blueberry pie.