How to Make Jam: A Surprisingly Easy Guide to Preserving Fruits at Home
If making jam as a stay-home activity has ever crossed your mind, now is the perfect time to start—take it from someone who has made jam his passion project for the last eight years. As an avid jam-maker who began crafting my own preserves once a month and have now ramped up to almost twice each week, I've had a considerable amount of practice, and plenty of failures, too. Through years of trial and error, I've learned that the easiest way to approach a jam project is to remember that the goal is to preserve seasonal fruits for enjoyment later.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about jam making is that you will need a lot of gadgets; the reality is that all you need are:
- a stovetop
- a big stockpot
- a tool for stirring, preferably a silicone spatula or ladle with a long handle to stir the boiling mixture
The process could not be any easier:
- cut the fruit into pieces
- add sugar
- boil it down until the mixture thickens
That’s your jam.
When it comes to sugar, remember that it's a crucial ingredient—it acts as a preservative and is essential to jam making. Feel free to adjust-to-taste the amount that goes into the jam you're making at home, or opt for unprocessed sugars or lower-GI sugars—though I don’t recommend using honey. You can also amp up acidity by adding lemon juice, which contains essential pectin that helps with the setting of the preserves when chilled.
Most importantly, try experimenting with your own cocktail of seasonal fruits—create a custom berry blend for a mixed berry jam; infuse fresh herbs into peach jam, which makes a wonderful topping for buttered toast and overnight oats; or better yet, add a splash or two of good single malt into a pot of sweet orange marmalade.
Me, I love working with berries and stone fruits. I also have a soft spot for marmalades, the sweet preserves of citrus fruits which include cut peels—these processes require more time and careful handling of fruit. It's almost meditative: standing at the kitchen counter peeling orange rinds into uniform strips for a thin- or thick-cut marmalade; slowly simmering the peel to soften its toughness, releasing a zesty aroma that fills the room; turning the pot of sweetened juices and peels into a sticky and translucent elixir that sets into quivering amber jellies inside glass jars, all to be enjoyed in months to come.
Making marmalades may take hours, and more often than not, time flies by during the preparation process, making it an ideal home-cooking project.
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All that said, there are some important tips to keep in mind when embarking on your first jam-making adventures.
- The ingredients must be fresh, and the best quality if possible. The jams are only as good as the quality of the fruits you make it with. Those who insist on using near-rotten fruits for making jams are likely just as rotten when it comes to their principles on food. While fruits do not need to look perfect, they do need to be of good quality.
- A large pot with high sides will facilitate the cooking, especially since the boiling process usually sees the jam rising high up the sides.
- Sterilise jam jars by plunging them in a pot of boiling water ahead of time and fill the dry jars while the jam is hot.
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The best part? The possibilities are endless. You can count on lemons, oranges, and apples all year round, but fruits with a short window of seasonal availability are ideal for preserving. Every summer, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of mangoes—followed by cherries, peaches, plums, apples, and pears. Visit your local wet markets, which offer the most in-season produce, although certain farm stands across town also offer fruits from local farms in New Territories and Lantau. In Hong Kong, local thick-skinned lemons and passionfruit are great year-round, and winter strawberries from Yuen Long are a seasonal organic crop that makes a killer strawberry jam.
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Home preserving may seem technical and complicated at first, but the joy of transforming the season’s best fruits into a spreadable breakfast and tea topping is hugely rewarding. My personal preserving journey has allowed me to gain more knowledge on fruits and ways to refine my techniques to create better preserves, which are excellent to enjoy myself and as gifts to share among friends.
Top takeway tips for the jam-making novice:
- Purchase good fruits, seasonal if possible.
- Clean and sterilise glass jars for longer storage time, or keep the finished jams in the fridge.
- Adjust sugar to taste, following a general rule-of-thumb of 50 per cent weight of total fruit.
- Consume jams within six months of production.
- Keep a journal on home preserving, adjust the recipes and feel free to try new fruits.