Admit it — you're simply afraid.
The jam will be runny. The equipment might take over your cabinets. And probably your biggest fear about canning, jamming or preserving is that your pickled green beans or delicious blueberry jam will absolutely, positively kill someone.
Time for a voice of reason.
"Botulism doesn't like acid or sugar or salt," says jam maker Pam Corbin, whose "River Cottage Preserves Handbook" demystifies making your own preserves.
Killing Grandma? Probably not going to happen. So let's run through the list of potential problems with Corbin.
Runny jam. Don't start with strawberries.
"Strawberry is the one that trips people up," Corbin says. "Strawberry jam is one of the most difficult to make."
Low in pectin, the substance that makes jellies gel, strawberries will need a boost from powdered pectin or from another fruit. For an easier first attempt, try apples, gooseberries, black currants, raspberries or plums (or a combination). These high-pectin fruits will give you the success you're looking for right out of the box.
Equipment? Well, you will need some of that. A thermometer is helpful because, Corbin says, the safest, most successful jams are those put into sterilized jars when the jam temperature is at least 88 C (190 F). "You pour it right to the top of your lovely clean jar and put a lid on it, and the heat gives you a good seal," she says.
And yes, you need the jars. Jams and jellies have their own flat-lidded contraptions called "jelly jars," and pickles and preserves can be made in either screw-top or latched jars with a rubber seal. Either way, you have to hit the hardware store or kitchen shop for them.
"But once you've got them, you've got them for life," Corbin says. "You can use the jars for 30 years."
As for botulism? With improperly processed canned goods, it can be a problem. Most recipes for canning in the U.S. call for boiling the jars once they have been filled and sealed.
Sounds like too much trouble? There is an easier way. Try freezer jam. By storing the jam in the freezer, no boiling is needed. Jams can be safely stored in the freezer for six months or more. Simply thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Chili Pepper Freezer Jelly
This recipe for spicy-sweet chili pepper jam is easy and versatile. Pam Corbin, author of "The River Cottage Preserves Handbook," suggests using whichever variety of chili you prefer — hot, fruity habeneros; rich, mild poblanos; or searing hot jalapenos.
This jelly is great for holiday entertaining. For an easy appetizer, spoon some of the jelly over a slab of cream cheese and serve with toasted baguette slices. Or flake smoked mackerel onto crackers and dab with the jelly.
A food processor can be used to chop the peppers and ginger. Just be certain to core and seed them first.
Start to finish: 45 minutes, plus cooling
- 785 g (1 lb 10 oz) red bell peppers, cored, seeded and finely chopped
- 100 g (3 1/2 oz) jalapenos or other chili peppers, cored, seeded and finely chopped
- 60 g (2 oz) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) cider vinegar
- 1.25 l (5 cups) sugar
- 50 ml (1/4 cup) lime juice
- 5 ml (1 tsp) salt
- 1 pkg (45 g/1.59 oz) freezer jam fruit pectin
- In a large saucepan over medium, combine bell peppers, jalapenos, ginger and vinegar. Bring to a simmer, then add sugar, lime juice and salt. Cook, stirring, until mixture reaches a boil. Boil for 4 to 6 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle fruit pectin over jam and stir in. Divide jam among freezer-safe jars with lids. Tightly seal jars, then let cool for 30 minutes. Jam that will be consumed within a week or so can be stored in the refrigerator. The remaining jam can be frozen. When needed, frozen jam can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator.
- Makes eight 250-ml (8-oz) jars.
Nutrition information per tablespoon (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 21 calories; 0 calories from fat (0 per cent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 0 g fibre; 20 mg sodium.
Source: Recipe adapted from "The River Cottage Preserves Handbook" by Pam Corbin (Ten Speed Press, 2010).