From raspberries, cherries, and super-sweet strawberries to juicy tomatoes, apricots, peaches, and nectarines, there’s no denying that summer fruit is the absolute best. And, when the cold weather creeps up, with its frozen plants and citrus-only offerings, we think back wistfully on the season of bountiful berries and stone fruits. Good news: You can still enjoy your warm weather haul in the dark depths of February. How? Make jam, and put it in a jar. Super simple to prepare, jams and compotes are some of our favorite ways to enjoy fruit, and we eat compotes in myriad ways, from thumbprint cookies to breakfast bars to cakes, and even as ice cream toppings.
But, before we get to jammin, we’ve got a few important distinctions to make. Jam is a thicker mixture of fruit, sugar, and sometimes pectin (an ingredient found in fruits and also in powder form, which helps to solidify). In jams, the fruit is completely broken down, unlike jelly, which is firmer, and compote, where the fruit retains its shape. Compotes are commonly made by slowly cooking fresh or dried fruit in a sugar syrup, and are served cold.
Now, without further ado…some tips, tricks, and tactics for making (and storing) your homemade jams and compotes:
1. Longterm jam vs. short term jam
If you’re hoping to make jam that will last basically forever, home canning is the way to go. Jars should be sterilized (boil them for 10 minutes). Once filled with jam, your jars should be lowered into a pot of boiling water (lid on) and simmered for 10–20 minutes. If you truly want to keep your jam well, you have to create a good seal! If you’re making jam to enjoy for the next few days, the process is much more, well, chill, though you’ll still want to use very clean jars so that mold doesn’t develop.
Since it has solidifying properties, pectin is often used in jams and jellies to create a texture that’s not too runny. Pectin can be found in fruit itself: in underripe fruit, in lemons, and in green apples. Toss a piece of lemon or apple peel in with your jam mixture and then discard before adding your jam to its jar, or use a mixture of ripe and underripe fruit to balance pectin amounts and flavors. Be sure to thoroughly wash your lemon or apple, though, or use unwaxed peel, as you don’t want any wax residue or pesticides ending up in your jam! You can also skip the pectin and opt for a runnier consistency, or just purchase pectin in stores or online.
3. Chop it up
Thoroughly wash your fruit, then chop it up. You can use a combination of fruits, or stick with one. Just make sure it’s not overripe! To make jam, simply cook your fruit down with sugar. Give your fruit a taste before beginning the process, and stick to a ratio of 5.5–6 cups of fruit per 1 cup of sugar.
4. Time to dissolve
Combine fruit and sugar in a large pot at room temperature and let the fruit break down as the sugar dissolves. This should take about 20 minutes. Then, bring everything to a boil over medium heat, add your pectin source (if using), some lemon juice, and a bit of salt for balance, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15–20 minutes, until the jam thickens (thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon without dripping off). It’ll thicken even more as it cools.
5. Jar it
Transfer your jam to sterilized jars and, if looking to preserve longterm, seal the jars and submerge in boiling water and simmer for 10–20 minutes, then allow to cool. If you’re making a jam for shorter term use, simply pour jam in jars, cap it, and allow to cool before you refrigerate.
6. You’ve got (fruit) options
From apricots to peaches to strawberries to raspberries, you’ve got so many options. Take a peek at the farmers market, then go with whatever your heart desires. We do recommend berries and stone fruits, though.
2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled
¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups white sugar
In a wide bowl, crush strawberries in batches until you have 4 cups of mashed berry (see step 3). In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix together strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice (feel free to add a lemon peel, per step 2!). Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to high and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil, stirring often (see step 4). Transfer to hot sterile jars (yep, step 1), leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch space at the top, and seal. Process in a water bath (step 5, guys). Eat.
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