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This might be embarrassing to admit, but until recently, I didn't know the difference between a jam and a jelly. That is, until I spoke with Pamela Bennett, author of Jams & Jellies in Less Than 30 Minutes. She quickly explained that a jam consists of one or more fruits, and the "final product allows you to see the blueberries, apricots, or other fruits shining through the jar!" A jelly, however, is typically clear without chunks of fruit. Seems pretty obvious now, no?
Bennett is a woman who knows her jams and jellies and, like the title of her book indicates, can make them quickly. In fact, she makes it seem easy, effortless, and fun - which is why she wrote the book. As she says, "I realized that jam making isn't the difficult, laborious process that most people imagine. My mama made the most incredible jams, and I revitalized the process by eliminating old-fashioned steps that our great-grandmothers followed."
She's highlighted the basics below and shared a few recipes from her book so you can get started today. What to begin with? Try her No-Cook Strawberry Jam.
Good luck and let us know how your jams turn out!
Basic Components of a Jam/Jelly
Jam making needs only four components: fruit(s), sugar, an acid (such as lemon juice/lime juice or vinegar), and pectin. Using my process, the fruit(s) are brighter and more vibrant in color and tastier because no 'unpronounceable additives' are used! The balance of the acid (lemon/lime juice) and the sugar helps in the actual gelling process. And pectin is a purely natural ingredient - made from apples! It's the 'miracle' product that binds everything together and makes the jam or jelly actually 'gel.'
[Editor's Note: Pectin comes as a liquid (made from apples) or dry (from citrus fruits or apples). It can be found in most grocery stores, just make sure to check the expiration date as they expire.]
The Importance of Sugar
Sugar not only makes the jams and jellies yummy, it is a critical ingredient in creating the gelling process. To edit some of the sugar while you're making a jam doesn't just affect the taste, this alteration can cause bacteria to grow and also cause spoilage. So, be safe, and don't alter the sugar required in the recipe!
Ripeness of the Fruit
In general, over-ripe fruits should be avoided. A strawberry that's "just a little bit bruised" isn't going to taste or look better just because you decide to use it in your jam. You're not covering up a flaw; over-ripe fruit should be discarded. Since my book doesn't call for any artificial ingredients, your fruits are the star of the show! The flavors from these recipes are richer and they're the true essence of the fruit, so put only the best in your product. Many of my recipes use frozen fruits so you can make a blueberry jam in snowy February, but we won't compromise on flavor. The cantaloupe jam, for instance, requires 'just ripe.' Once you've made your own "little masterpieces in a jar," you won't purchase store jam again because you can see and taste the difference.
Easy Ways to Sterilize Jars
Either wash the jars in the dishwasher, hot-cycle (wash, rinse, and dry) or wash by hand in hot, sudsy water. Use fresh, clean kitchen towels to dry. Avoid over-handling the jars - you can use kitchen tongs, but it isn't necessary. Jars or plastic containers need to be squeaky clean to prevent bacteria from growing. Lids are necessary; prepare them the same way.
Take Note of the Weather
Weather does play a role in the outcome of your jam making. A clear day produces a clear jam and especially, jelly. The vibrancy of the colors, the clarity of the fruits, the pectin itself all are affected by the humidity and sunshine on the day you make jam. Sunny days = sunny products!
Avoid Common Mistakes
1. Follow the recipe: There's a reason for the amount of sugar or the skimming of the fruit while preparing. Read the instructions so you're familiar, prepare your jars, assemble all the ingredients and kitchen tools.
2. Take into account that the humidity and climate of your region might require a few minutes more of cook time and a few more minutes of the jam 'setting up' while it waits on the counter top before refrigeration.
Remember, these yummy recipes will not be rock-solid like a jar of jam that's been on the store shelf for over a year - yours are luscious and are good for breakfast, dinner parties, marinades, or grilling.
You're the one creating a fabulous jam; don't be intimidated to try these recipes! My instructions and ingredients are simple. Some recipes only require 3 ingredients - how easy is that?!
The best secret is that you're preparing something delicious and beautiful for your family/friends, dinner party, or celebration, and they'll think your culinary skills have reached new levels. We won't have to tell them it was actually rewarding and E-A-S-Y! You deserve the compliments!
— Yasmin Fahr