How to make jam

The berry season is upon us! Here are 8 tips for making your own jam and a recipe for a delicious rhubarb-redcurrant jam with star anise.

It’s no secret that I love making my own jam. I think it tastes so much better than the ordinary, store-bought kind. And it always feels great to eat something you’ve made yourself.

I also often make jam to avoid wasting food. Overripe fruit can almost always be used in some sort of jam. If you don’t have enough fruit for a whole batch, then put them in the freezer. For example, I like to peel and core wrinkled apples and freeze them. That way I always have some on hand to make a quick applesauce for an old-fashioned Danish apple trifle or some apple butter.

Many recipes call for a lot of sugar. Sometimes up to 1/2 to 2/3 the fruit’s weight in sugar. However, I find that I prefer to use less sugar as it brings out the flavour of the fruit. But again, this depends on the type of fruit you’re working with and how you like your jam. The sugar helps extend the shelf life, which is what jam making is all about, but I can live with less.

I like to give my jams a twist. Especially with herbs or spices. For instance, pear and tarragon make a great combo. Strawberry, vanilla and mint. Apple and thyme. Or perhaps a fennel jam – it sounds odd, but tastes lovely with cheese and ham.  And then there are all the liquorice flavours. Fennel, star anise or just plain liquorice root. These flavours go with almost anything. The same for vanilla.

Here are some tips for making your own jam! I highly recommend it as a very rewarding pastime in a hippie sort of way. Try it!

Tips for jam making

  1. Taste and feel as you go. It sounds simple – and it is. When it comes to how much sugar you need, two apples can be very different as can rhubarb harvested early or late in the season.
  2. Consistency. You can choose to use a gelling agent to make your jam set. How thick it should be is a matter of taste. Alternatively, you can simply extend the cooking time. Keep a watchful eye and experiment. You can’t know how a jam will set until it has cooled. I have ended up with jam that was more like thick fruit juice and once, I even created apple bouncy balls. You can put a couple of spoons in the freezer before starting. Put a dollop of jam on the ice-cold spoon and it will cool down quickly, giving you an idea of how the final result will be.
  3. Sterilisation. I always use a sodium benzoate mixture to sterilise my jars. However, some people are sensitive to it, so use with caution. While it is a matter of taste, an alternative is to sterilise your jars using cheap vodka as this will also kill bacteria. In general, the sugar also helps preserve the fruit, but if the mixture comes into contact with a ‘dirty’ jar, then bacteria will form much faster. I place my jars in the kitchen sink and the lids and rubber seals in a bowl. Pour a little sodium benzoate in the jars and then fill with boiling water – doing them same with the bowl. Wait to empty the jars until you are ready to fill them with jam. If I make a huge portion, I also add a bit of sodium benzoate to the jam as a preservative. In this recipe, I didn’t add any preservative. If you do add a preservative, do so after the jam has stopped boiling, as the preservative will lose its potency otherwise.
  4. Filling. When making jam, put the lid on tight right away. This will create a vacuum seal. Also make sure to pour it into the jar as soon as it has stopped boiling. Don’t open the jar until you’re ready to eat it. If you’re making jelly, wait until the mixture has cooled before putting the lid on.
  5. Storing. Dark and cool. It’s a good idea to use small jars that can be emptied more quickly. Large jars can be difficult to use up before they turn bad – even though jam does have a long shelf life.
  6. Learning by doing. Always sterilise an extra jar in the event that you have some jam left over. It’s easier to sterilise an extra jar at the same time as the others rather than to have to sterilise one at the last minute.
  7. Shelf life. There are a lot of different indicators for when jam has gone bad. The most obvious is mould. If there is the slightest indication of mould in your jam, it must be discarded. This also applies if it begins to taste fermented. That is not a good sign. But you can expect a long shelf life as long as you take care to sterilise the jars, store them in the dark and don’t open them all the time.
  8. Is your jam getting old? You can always whip up a batch of raspberry shortbread bars. Sandwich the jam between shortbread pastry and top with icing. Okay, that last tip was actually just for whenever you want raspberry shortbread bars.

Fancy some jam?
After making rhubarb pie, I still had four stalks left of some particularly lovely Danish rhubarb. Since I didn’t have any other plans for them, I decided to put them in the jam pot. I also had 100g frozen redcurrants on hand. They didn’t add much to the taste – perhaps a little colour, but that was it. So they can easily be omitted. To pep up the flavour a little, I added some finely grated lemon zest, star anise and vanilla. The result was almost like red liquorice candy, only a bit milder.

See the recipe here