Homemade foods almost always trump their store-bought counterparts. Hardly anything beats jam spread on toast or swirled in yogurt. Put the two together and you have a treat that’s hard to one up. Use these tips and tricks to create a batch of homemade jam in the time it takes to watch an episode of Paula Deen’s cooking show.
Photo: Olia Gozha on Unsplash
Get the basics down.
Jam needs three ingredients: one cup of white sugar, 16 ounces of your favorite fruit in a pot, and a whole lot of patience. Dissolving—not melting—the sugar is key to getting the right texture. There’s no way to rush that process. If you use any heat higher than low, your sugar burns and sticks to your pot. What you’ll end up with is closer to burned marshmallows and brittle candy than jam.
Another factor to your jam’s final texture is the type of fruit you use. What gives jam its signature gelatinous texture is a polysaccharide called pectin. All fruit is at least 5% pectin, but some fruits contain more than others. You’ll find the most pectin in fruits like peaches, apricots, and citrus; whereas cherries, strawberries, grapes, and other berries contain less pectin.
Make your delicious homemade jam with just strawberries and sugar. However, if you prefer a thicker texture, you might want to explore using fruits that contain more pectin. Combine low- with high-pectin fruits for a similar effect. For the perfect, in-spring-season flavor, pair strawberries with apricots.
Do your prep-work.
Jam goes from perfectly done to burned in less than a minute. Before you start cooking, put two or three saucers in the freezer (small plates work too.) After your sugar has dissolved over low heat, bring your mixture to a boil over medium high heat. In about 5 minutes, your jam thickens and reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. This is when you remove your jam from the heat and put a spoonful on a chilled saucer. If the jam runs when you drag your finger through it, it needs more time. If you finger leaves a clean line, the jam is ready.
Frequent stirring helps you monitor changes in the jam’s texture, which signals readiness. As your jam progresses, the fruit release juices into the dissolved sugar. Gently mash the fruit with the back of your spoon, making your jam as chunky or as smooth as you like.
Optimize your pectin.
As your fruits break down in the cooking process, they release strands of pectin that ultimately hold your jam together. Here’s the catch: pectin molecules are negatively charged, which means they repel each other. To achieve optimal jam texture, add a splash of lemon juice as your sugar dissolves. The acidic pH of the lemon neutralizes the pectin’s charge, enabling the molecules to form a gelatinous network as your jam cools. Lemon juice also adds a bright, sparkly note to compliment your jam’s natural sweetness.
Homemade jam is one of the fussiest, yet simplest and most rewarding treats. Enjoy the wafting of fruity scents that only come from fresh jam after just 10 patient minutes. You might even find yourself nibbling before your jam has even cooled.
Olivia Amici is a hustler who has been writing short stories for fun since high school and editing scientific papers since moving to Concepcion, Chile, for a gap year. Before then, she paid her way through community college while working as an event coordinator and a dental assistant. Once she returns to the States, she is excited to complete her degree in biology at University of Florida. In ten years, she would like to be working as a medical research editor and own an African Gray Parrot and a house in San Diego.