We haven’t had a serious how-to post in a long time, so I’m delighted to introduce Christina (you remember her wedding graduate posts) writing about canning jam for her wedding. I can personally vouch for this jam, as she sent you some as a thank you, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it at breakfast. I used to make jam with my grandmother when I was small, and this post has me dying to try it again (and I’m usually a lazy girl). So here are some lessons in (not so lazy-girl) canning. Enjoy.
Canning is not necessarily cheaper than buying your own favors and it’s certainly more time intensive, but it is unique and awesome. It keeps for a long time, so you can do the majority of the work for the favors well before the wedding. Also, who doesn’t like jam? No one, that’s who.
- Canning jars with lids and rings
- Pectin (optional)
- Fruit Fresh (optional)
- Lemon juice
- Canning pot
- Jar lifter
- Supplies for tags (sticker paper, merchandise tags, etc…)
Step One: Pick Your Fruit
Decide what kind of preserves you want to make. Are you apple people? Peach? Strawberry? Raspberry? Or are pickles something that call to your soul? When selecting your fruit, you have to consider price, growing schedules and your preparation needs. Raspberries are delicious, but they’re $5 a pound at my local pick-your-own and start to mold in the blink of an eye. Cherries are OMG so addictive, but do you want to pit enough cherries to make jam for eighty people? It takes me twenty minutes to get enough to make a cobbler. Apples, peaches and pears are good, durable fruits with a lot of possible recipes you can try. Yes, you have to peel, chop and core them, but all in all, the prep work is not that bad.
Step 2: Do the Math
Once you pick your fruit, you have to go and… pick your fruit. Well, you don’t have to, but the prices at a pick-your-own are far better than the farmer’s market and the fruit is usually riper, fresher and more flavorful than what you would get at Costco or the supermarket. It’s also more environmentally friendly and a ton of fun (and addictive. Join us.). Pickyourown is a great website to find a farm near you.
The amount of fruit you need is determined by how much jam you need and how many people you’re having. I set myself up to have a quarter pint (4 oz) jar per guest. That holds around half a cup of jam. If you want to do pickles or are feeling generous, consider half pints (1 cup) or pints (2 cups). Six cups of prepared, slightly smooshed fruit makes around 80 ounces of jam (or around 20 quarter pints). So how much fruit do you need? Well, it really depends on the size of the fruit, but for the apples, peaches, etc… probably about 10 pieces (or 3 pounds) per batch. When I made jam for my wedding, we got somewhere around 35 pounds of peaches for 96 quarter pints and ended up with a little leftover. If you’re making your own apple butter, the amounts will be different. If you’re really concerned about under- or over-buying, do a test run with your first flat and let that determine what you want to do with the rest.
Step 3: Make your jam!
The beauty of making your own preserves is that they’ll last around a year before spoiling, so you could pick the fruit in September, make your jam and then give it out as favors in your May wedding! This is especially helpful when thinking about winter and spring weddings, when very few fruits are in season. Some fruit has a short shelf-life off the tree, so if you don’t think you’ll be able to make massive amounts of jam quickly, consider freezing what you need. I picked peaches in September, made some jam and then skinned, chopped and froze the remainder to jam in January and February. This also gave me a shorter sitting around time for the May wedding, so I was less concerned about spoilage. Apples will last for a few months in the crisper of your refrigerator.
Some tips about making jam:
- Use an established recipe to ensure a safe finished product. “The Ball Book of Canning” and pickyourown both have good instructions. Experimenting is fun, but can result in botulism, which is not how you want someone to remember your wedding.
- Pectin is a thickener that is used to make your jam less runny. It is also very bitter, so you’ll have to increase the sugar you add to the recipe. You can make jam without pectin; it’ll probably be less firm. Again, follow a recipe.
- Fruit Fresh is a preservative used to keep peaches, pears and apples from browning. You can use lemon juice instead (usually ¼ cup for the 6 cups of fruit). Lemon juice is also a part of the jam making process regardless of what you use. The USDA recommends using bottled lemon juice to ensure 5% acidity levels for safety’s sake.
- If your recipe calls for vinegar, check the label to ensure 5% acidity before adding it to your jam for safety’s sake.
- Since you’ll be processing your jam for less than 15 minutes in a water bath canner (I assume), make sure you sterilize your jars shortly before putting your jam in them. I usually add the jars to the big canning pot while I bring it to a boil and let it simmer while I continue cooking the jam and simmering the lids (in a separate, smaller pot).
- Jam should be made in small batches. Don’t double your recipe, unless you want to spend hours waiting for your jam to gel. On the bright side, this allows you to try different recipes and offer different kinds of jam (we did peach, peach vanilla bourbon, peach bourbon, low sugar peach and peach ginger). Consider your guests’ tastes with these recipes—I think peach basil jam is bananas, but my friends have more traditional tastes.
- Keep the cardboard boxes your canning jars come in. It’s the easiest way to store them.
- Your finished jam should be stored in a cool, dark location with the rings off. You can stack your boxes, but leaving the rings on will make it harder to see any potential spoilage or leaking. (We stacked ours in the back of a closet.) It’s simple enough to have someone screw on rings if you do a wedding sweatshop the week before.
Step 4: Label Your Jam
Once everything’s set and your jars have cooled, you should definitely label them (if for no other reason than you don’t mix up which jar is what). You can buy canning label sticker paper to print and stick on the lids. There are also some great custom designs you can buy on etsy. Keep in mind most canning jars have raised designs and cannot easily be labeled on the sides.
We printed our wedding “logo” on paper, cut it out using a 2” circle punch and ran the circles through a Xyron (what we had). Then we added the brown paper labels tied on the rings with ribbon. If you do something like this, keep in mind you may lose labels in transit.
Making more jam than you need means having some to give to vendors, coworkers, etc… or your own furtive stockpile, depending on your jam consumption. Happy canning!