This is our third year of making freezer jam. I've always been interested in learning how to can things for real... but since I like to involve my kids (and they like to be involved!) I'm pretty sure we'll be avoiding activities that involve words like "meticulously sterilized jars and lids" (or meticulously sterilized anything for that matter) and "boiling hot water bath" for quite some time.
So freezer jam it is. And oh! how we love it! Every year we make more than the year before because no one can bear to think of running out before next year's berry season. Last year, even though the strawberry jam was a flop (used the wrong pectin and it didn't set... we used it as an oatmeal sweetener instead of on sandwiches) we still had almost enough jam to last us through the year. (In fact, the above photo was taken on Monday - the day we used the last of the 2012 blueberry raspberry jam!)
Freezer jam is so simple to make. In my mind, it's the obvious choice for busy modern-day moms who like to play a little "Little House on the Prairie" on the side. It makes me feel thrifty, industrious, and healthy. And - super sappy mom alert - it's such a joy to see the kids "love" the jam that they made from the berries they picked!
I use Ball Instant Pectin. This year before jam making I did some pectin-related research. It's safe (don't eat it out of the jar, though. Ugh, I just gagged.) It's natural (most commercial pectin is extracted from apples.) The instant pectin I use contains dextrose (obviously it's wise to limit added sugar in our diets, however one of the great things about freezer jam is that it requires very little sugar, period!). The rest of the ingredients on the bottle are all on the "safe" list of food additives published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I checked several other websites and received similar information elsewhere. Soooooo... after all that I decided to stick with the instant pectin again this year.
Since you do not cook the fruit used for freezer jam, it retains its true flavor and sweetness. For a traditional batch of cooked jam, recipes typically call for 4 CUPS OF SUGAR for ever 2 cups of fruit. Insanity! (Though I'm sure some of it is cooked out? But I couldn't find that info.) 2 cups of fruit for freezer jam takes about 2/3 cups of sugar. Big difference, right? Freezer jam also retains all the flavor of the fresh fruit as well as all the nutrients that would be cooked out of the fruit while making traditional jam.
Again, it's a kid friendly process. Lots of measuring, chopping, and stirring. Kids can touch (or sneeze on) the jars and you don't have to hyperventilate about sterilization issues, because the jars for freezer jam have to be clean, but not sterile. No fancy equipment needed... no giant pots, no foot-long tongs. No sealing required. Just fill those non-sterile jars, twist those lids on, and your done!
You can freeze it for up to a year. (Remember just this week we finished the last of last-year's August jam, so I know it's ok!) Once opened it will last in the fridge about 7-10 days, but honestly, it won't last that long.
Finally, the cost. My thriftier-than-me husband did some figuring for me the other day. At a local organic farm, we picked 10 quarts of strawberries for $25. From those strawberries, plus the sugar and pectin, each half pint jar of jam cost a little over $1. We did not add in the cost of the jars because we reuse them from year to year.
So, those are my reasons to love and promote freezer jam. And did I mention how delicious it is?? I'll probably go on and on about it again when blueberry-raspberry jam season rolls around. Only a few short weeks to go!
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This year, I made several batches of plain traditional strawberry, but I also started to wonder if the freezer-jam method meant you had to forgo creativity. Could I make specialty jams using the instant pectin?? I began some experimenting and will soon post my three new "artisan" freezer jam recipes. I can't wait to share them!
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PS - BONUS tip of the year: I've always used a manual food processor to prepare our fruit (as opposed to a potato masher). And every year it's been a super awful mess. Until this year. I used my new Pampered Chef manual food processor and those strawberries were jam-ready lickity split, with no mess. I filled the canister about 3/4 full of berries and then pumped the chopper "handle" for 20 counts and the berries were the perfect consistency - chunky, but not whole. I'm so happy to have a new perfect chopper! Use yours if you have one! If you don't, you can order one on their website, but it's so much nicer to support your local P.C. rep! Call her (or him!) today!