I’ve enjoyed making jam and canning it for the past 8 years. For the first two or three years, my approach was cobbled together from short how-tos on the internet. I was never really happy with the results. I then met someone who was a fabulous canner, who gave me a copy of the Ball Book of Canning and explained a few of the issues. It made a huge difference. I would have saved myself so much time and money if I had gone to the experts in the first place. I tried those “self-seal” jars, where the instructions tell you to simply fill the jars with hot jam, seal them, invert them, and they will seal themselves. This worked about 80% of the time, and the seal would last for just a couple months at best. If I dropped a jar on the table or knocked one over, the seal would break. Freezer jam is another method. I never had the excess freezer space for this to be feasible. Also, since I frequently use my jam as gifts, it would hardly do to offer someone a frozen jar.
I finally acquired what I consider the essentials: a water bath canner, uniform cases of jars, new lids, a jar lifter, a candy thermometer, a funnel, and half a dozen clean dishtowels.
My favorite pectin is Pomona’s Pectin. This allows for a person to invent recipes, experiment with flavors, and gel the jam based on the citrus and calcium content of the fruit, not the added sugar. Many recipes, especially ones that do not use pectin at all, call for something like 5 cups of crushed blueberries, and 5-6 cups of sugar, trying to achieve a ratio of 65% sugar to fruit. This is just too much for me. I want the more mild taste of fruit, not the sharp kick of sugar. Pomona Pectin also can gel 2-4 batches per box, making it far less expensive than alternatives. I couldn’t find Pomona’s Pectin anywhere nearby, so I settled for the No-Sugar/Low-Sugar Ball Pectin.
Whatever pectin you choose, it is essential to follow the recipe inside. Different pectins work in different ways and they cannot be substituted for each other. I didn’t need to use my usual thermometer method of checking for the gel point because of the Ball Pectin I chose, and as a result I cooked my jam a lot less than some other years. I think this worked well for keeping the flavor and texture alive.
I’ve made new jam labels this year, and once I figure out how to post a .pdf for download, they will be free for anyone to use. I also make a little hang tag with care instructions. If you are the recipient of someone else’s homemade jam, I strongly encourage you to not simply pitch the glass jar into the recycling bin. They are not cheap. Repurpose it, reuse it, return it to the jam maker or send it to a thrift store. And if you are considering getting into jamming, be persistent, patient, and have fun with the process. When you are peeling the 12th peach for your batch of jam, scrubbing peach juice from all of your counters, or finally sitting down after two hours on your feet in the kitchen, remember the final result: how fabulous it looks to have all the little jars lined up and how much fun it is to just skip past the jelly aisle in the grocery store.