Introduction: The Jammy Jam Jam
The history of the Jammy Jam Jam starts as many maker stories often do: I had just moved to a new city and knew very few people.
It was six years ago and San Francisco was my new home. Coming from the East Coast, the produce and abundant farmers markets in the Bay Area were astounding! One of the biggest was just across from my office three days a week and I found myself bringing home more than I could eat by myself. I suppose one solution would have been to buy less produce...but I went the other way. I got into canning.
I started making jam pretty regularly. Prepping and cooking the fruit down can take a long time and I find it's a bit of a meditation if I'm in the right mood, so I'd put on music. A session where a musician experiments with his or her craft is called a 'jam' so I started calling mine "Jam Jams." Then I realized I often did this later at night in more comfortable clothing, or pajamas, and thus the Jammy Jam Jam was born!
In addition to giving me something to do with my free time, I ended up sharing small jars of homemade jam with people and made some lovely friends through my new hobby. A few even came over to make jam with me since it was something a little different to do. It's been a fun little side project to spin up every few months and I'll share some of my favorite tips, resources, and recipes. Please add your own in the comments!
Step 1: Find Some Produce! (What's in Season?)
San Francisco doesn't have as pronounced of seasons as where I grew up in Pennsylvania so I started marking the passage of time by what I could get at the farmers market. Stone fruit season quickly became something I looked forward each year as the stands would be overflowing with plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and cherries!
There are better and worse times for this, especially depending on where you live, but I recommend looking for some produce you can get a lot of and if it's local and tasty, we can work with that :-)
Note: Different fruits have differing amounts of naturally occurring pectin. Check the list below and think of it like an equation. Can you add a low pectin fruit to a high pectin for a good tasty combo? If not, try some commercially made pectin (see later in 'testing for set') or try your hand at making your own pectin. Alternatively, some people like runnier jam (or just use it as syrup) so lower pectin works great there, too. After you wrap your head around the basics, a lot of it comes down to preference.
High Pectin Fruits
apples, citrus rinds, crab apples, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, plums, grapes, quinces
Low Pectin Fruits
apricots, blueberries, cherries, elderberries, peaches, pears, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries
Step 2: Recipe Inspiration
There are a TON of recipes out there. I'll highlight two books that helped me understand the basics of preserves from equipment, which jars should I get (I recommend the standard mason jars!), how to sterilize the jars (which I won't get into here - short answer is you bake them), how to preserve your preserves, and what you can keep and reuse for next time (everything that isn't rubber).
Jams, Jellies, & Chunteys: Great process book, seasonally inspired recipes, thoughtfully done. Definitely recommend.
jam it, pickle it, cure it: I use this less for jam (because the first book is so great!) and more as a springboard for other project ideas. It's awesome.
Let's go through with one of my favorite recipes (my own concoction based on others I love!)
Apricot & Sour Cherry Jam
2 lb fresh apricots
2 c sugar (do this to taste or texture - 2 cups is a guideline)
Juice of a lemon
1 dry pint sour cherries, washed and pitted
(Optional) Splash of Cointreau - the alcohol should cook off while you're reducing the jam
We'll get started on prepping the fruit but for now, place a small plate in the freezer.
Note: I moved to a country that sells a specific type of sugar for jam!
Step 3: Prep Your Produce (Strawberry Tips)
Here's a nifty trick for hulling strawberries.
Hold your strawberry firmly.
Get a sturdy straw. These are made for mason jars and are nice and rigid.
Press the straw up through the bottom of the strawberry, as close to center as possible.
Remove the stem.
Place the washed berry in a bowl and compost the stem.
For other strawberry hulling tricks, check out this other instructable's video!
Step 4: Prep Your Produce (Apricot Tips)
Apricots can often be split with your hands! Then simply remove the pit, cut one or two more times per half, and place the fruit in a bowl and the pit in the compost.
Step 5: Prep Your Produce (Cherry Tips)
My BIGGEST recommendation for cherries is to get a device to help with pitting them. This guy is my favorite! It can do many at once, it keeps all the pits/stones in the reservoir below and helps with the cherry juice spray, and has options for smaller and larger cherries.
As with the others, keep the fruit and compost the rest.
Step 6: Get Your Jam On!
No matter what recipe you decided on, the next step once you have all the fruit cleaned and pitted/stoned/destemmed/etc.
Put the fruit, water, and lemon juice in a heavy nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Add a splash of cointreau (or alcohol of your choice) now if you'd like. It adds nice flavor and the alcohol should boil off.
Step 7: Simmah and Stir
Stir while it simmers. Cook until the fruit is very soft.
Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Depending on the fruit you're using, be careful not to stir too much as you can accidentally break up the fruit too much.
Once the sugar has dissolved, bring to a boil again. Boil for 4-5 minutes and determine how much pectin you need. (See next step.) Remove the jam from heat.
Step 8: Cool and Test for Set
Remember that small plate in the freezer? Take it out and put a small bit of the jam on the cold plate. With your finger, push the dab of jam and see if the surface tension resists. If it does, it's 'set'.
This is commercially produced pectin. Great to add in if you're using fruits that are naturally low in pectin.
Step 9: Can It Up!
When the jam is set, ladle it into a jar. I found a funnel that fits my jar mouth and got a metal one. It works beautifully and is a huge time saver.
From there, you can heat process the jars. There are specific canning pots and tools for these (some of which are super handy!) but the trick is to heat the entire contents in order to create a seal and protect against contamination by molds or bacteria. Be careful as you are heating glass and even though these jars are made for this purpose, they can break under stress.
Step 10: Bonus Step: Laser Etch Your Jars!
If you're going to eat the jam right away, there's little need to process the jam and you can use any jar you'd like. Have some extra fun with a plain, glass jar by putting together a design and etching it using the rotary attachment for a laser cutter.
This is completely optional and I realize a lot of you reading this won't be able to run down to your neighborhood laser cutter to make this a reality, but some of you will! And everyone can think of how to have as much fun creating the outside of this masterpiece as you do with the inside. The Jam continues!
Step 11: Eat It! Share It! Love It!
I love bringing something simple when I'm invited over to someone else's home. A while back, I figured out that when someone throws a housewarming or birthday party, a lot of folks bring a bottle of wine and usually more than can be consumed at the party. I started bringing homemade jam instead.
Some people then introduced me to others as 'the girl who brought the jam' and it started fun new conversations about making things. A few people even invited themselves along to other Jammy Jam Jams! It's been awesome.
There's something precious about making preserves and sharing them that people really appreciate and I've felt that in San Francisco (my old home) as much as London (my new home). I tell my neighbors here to give me the mason jars back when they're done and I'll fill it with the next batch of jam, to which my one neighbor replied, "Another thing I love about America - free refills!" ;-)
Note: A dear friend tracked down an antique set of utensils to give to me as a present as she knew of my Jammy Jam Jams and frequently shared recipes and tips. Pictured here is a jam spoon with a mother-of-pearl handle!