I am a jam snob. I freely admit it. I haven't bought jam at the supermarket in over five years. I'll never be able to go back after eating the homemade stuff. There's just no comparison. But here's the good news: you can be a jam snob, too. Making your own jam is really, really easy. Honest.
This past Saturday, my friend and I spent many hours making pluot jam. For those who don't know what a pluot is (which is just about everyone I've ever met), a pluot is a cross between a plum and apricot. And lucky for me - my in-laws have a tree (no one quite knows how it became a pluot tree) that puts out a ridiculous amount of fruit each year. So, like last year, my husband and I picked way too much (like 50 lbs.) and my friend and I started jamming like crazy. Nearly six hours (and about 35 lbs. of sugar) later, we had over 100 cups of jam to split between us. Your jam adventure, though, needn't take nearly as long, nor do you need to make even close to that much. It's all about how much you want, how much fruit you have, and what your family will actually eat. Even now, I'm wondering what I'll do with all this jam....
But enough about what I've been doing. Making jam is a simple way to preserve all the delicious berries and fruit of the summer months. There's just something so lovely about taking something that has been ripening in the sun and preserving it for the cold months of winter. To make it, you really only need three ingredients: fruit, sugar, and pectin. Sometimes you need some lemon juice (some fruits need the extra acid) and a couple teaspoons of butter (to prevent foaming). Note: for a much more in-depth introduction on jamming, check out this article from one of my favorite websites, Simple Mom. It's got a lot of great info. The only problem I found with it was that she said that processing isn't necessary as long as the jars and jam are hot. Personally, I wouldn't risk it. Either process your jam or freeze it, I say.
With each box of pectin (I always buy the powdered kind of pectin), comes an insert complete with recipes and instructions on how to make the jam. The insert has a chart with every fruit you could possibly want to make jam out of (well, except pluot - I just used the plum recipe), how much of that fruit you'll need, along with the amount of sugar you'll need (every time I make jam, I feel a little sick at how much sugar is needed - jam certainly is not health food). It gives instructions on how to prepare the fruit (either chop or mash) and then how to cook it.
The method is quite simple - cook the prepared fruit and pectin until it comes to boil, add the sugar, bring it back to a rolling boil, and cook for a minute longer (this is when it gets scary and splattery - be sure to use a tall pot and a long spoon to avoid burns.). Once the minute is up, put the jam into sterilized jars, secure the lids, and process in either a water-bath or steam canner. Always adjust your processing time for altitude if you live a 1000 or more feet above sea level (for example, the recipe on the insert says to process for ten minutes and then I add another ten since I live between 3,000 and 6,000 feet elevation. You will find the helpful altitude adjustment chart on the insert, too). You can also skip the processing and make freezer jam. I've never made the freezer jam myself, but I've heard it's also easy to do.
I feel kind of like a slacker giving semi-vague instructions and just telling you to check out the pectin insert, but, seriously, all the info you could possibly want is on that little piece of paper. Let it guide you. You can't go wrong. Plus, if, for some reason, some of your jam doesn't set quite right and is a little too liquidy (this happened with one of our batches), you can always go back and fix it (yes, yes, the instructions to do that are also on the insert). Homemade jam is delicious and forgiving. What more could you want in a condiment?