Rarely will you find a “quick and easy” approach to cooking that produces better results than a slower, more complex method, but that’s just the case with freezer jam.
The conventional method of jam making requires cooking fresh fruits with sugar and often some pectin. The mixture is then placed into sterilized glass jars which are, in turn, placed into boiling water. After the jars have cooled, the jam can be stored in a cupboard for up to a year.
With freezer jam, cold air does the preservation. So there is no need to cook the fruit or sterilize any jars. This not only streamlines the entire process but also creates a superior product. Since the fruit is never cooked, freezer jam taste fresher and more natural. It even looks fresher too. Conventional strawberry jam, for example, has a deep red color that approaches burgundy. Strawberry freezer jam, on the other hand, has a much brighter hue, closer to that of a fresh strawberries.
The key to a successful freezer jam is the proper ratio of fruit, sugar, and, most importantly, pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring substance, known as a polysaccharide, that occurs naturally in the cell walls of fruits like apples and berries. When heated to a near boil, pectin dissolves and combines with sugar and acid to form a gel.
With some traditional jams, you can get by quite nicely without adding any pectin, but with freezer jam you pretty much have to add pectin. You can certainly cook fruit in order to release the natural pectin and then create freezer jam, but we feel this misses the entire point. The beauty of freezer preservation is that it sustains food in a nearly fresh state. So to get the most out of freezer jam, it is best not to heat the fruit in order to extract the pectin but add pectin to the mix instead.
There are several brands of commercial pectin available on the market, and most include instructions for making freezer jam. Several of these use sugar to activate the pectin. So pay close attention to amount of sugar called for and measure precisely to ensure a proper set.
We had great success with Sure-Jell For Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes pectin (pink box). It was easy to use, gave consistent results, yielded about 6 cups of jam and required 25-50% less sugar than Sure-Jell’s regular formula pectin (yellow box).
If you wish to reduce the sugar even further, Pomona Universal Pectin is a natural pectin that is activated with calcium not sugar. So you can create freezer jams with just a fraction of the sugar used with sugar-activated brands.
Nothing impacts your jam more than the quality of the fruit that goes into it. Taste the fruit before you use it. It should be perfectly ripe and have good flavor. Avoid under or over ripened fruit or fruit that is bruised or blemished. We can’t stress enough how much better your freezer jam will taste if you limit yourself to using in-season fruit, particularly local. After all, the entire purpose of jam making is to capture the peak of the season for enjoyment year-round.
Keep in mind that freezer jam sets up a little runnier than regular jams, and some fruits set firmer than others. We made freezer jams with strawberries, blueberries and peaches. The berry jams were looser than store-bought jams, but we liked that. It made for a true homemade quality. Our first batch of peach jam, on the other hand, was too runny for our tastes, but this was easily remedied.
It turns out that peaches and apricots are both high in pectinase, an enzyme that interferes with pectin’s jelling process. There are two ways to counter this. Adding some lemon juice to the pectin acts as a catalyst and boosts its jelling ability, while briefly boiling the fruit neutralizes the pectinase. Our peach jams set best when we did both.
The uses for freezer jam go far beyond butter and toast. Try mixing a spoonful into plain yogurt or pouring some on top of ice cream. A small amount of jam added to a vinaigrette can add a wonderful dimension of sweetness. Peach, apricot and blackberry jams all pair well with goat’s cheese and toasted walnuts. The next time your making blueberry muffins, stir a teaspoon of blueberry freezer jam into each to intensify the flavor.
If you want to capture that peak-of-the-season freshness and enjoy it year-round, there is no better method than freezer jams. Save yourself some of the fuss and muss of traditional jam making and freeze up a batch today.
- 4 pints fresh strawberries
- ⅓ cup (1.75 ounces) no-sugar-needed pectin
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- You will need several glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, enough to hold 6 cups of jam. We recommend 8-16 ounce containers. You’ll want to ensure that you can consume the thawed jam in three weeks. Wash, rinse and dry the containers and lids.
- Rinse the strawberries thoroughly and remove the stems and leaves. In a large bowl, mash the berries with a potato masher or crush with clean hands. Measure exactly 4 cups of the mashed berries and set aside.
- In a 3-4 quart sauce pan, add the sugar and pectin and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Stir in the water and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil. Continue to boil for one minute and remove from heat.
- Stir the mashed fruit into the hot sugar-pectin mixture until thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into the containers leaving a ½ inch of space to allow for expansion. Cover the containers with their lids and allow to set at room temperature for up to 24 hours until the jam sets.
- Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Otherwise, store the jam in the freezer for up to one year. Thaw in the refrigerator.
- 4 cups / 950ml finely chopped peaches (about 3 lbs/ 1.4kg whole peaches)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 scant teaspoon almond extract
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2½ cups / 500 grams granulated sugar
- 1.75 ounces (⅔ cups)/ 50g no-sugar-needed pectin
- 1 cup / 475ml water
- Wash and dry enough containers to hold 6 cups of jam. We recommend 8- to 16-ounce containers (240 to 480 ml).
- Use a dry measuring cup to measure the exact amount of peaches and our into a bowl. Mix in the lemon juice and almond extract. Cut the vanilla bean in half, and then split each half lengthwise. With the edge of a knife, scrape the vanilla beans from inside the pod pieces. Mix the vanilla beans into the peach and juice mixture. Reserve the bean pod pieces for later. Set the peaches aside.
- Into a large sauce pan (3-4 quarts), measure the exact amount of sugar. Add the pectin powder and whisk until well mixed. Add the water and mix until there are no dried clumps.
- Over a medium heat, bring the sugar-pectin mixture to a boil, [u]stirring constantly[/u]. Hold the mixture at a boil for 1 minute.
- Stir in the fruit mixture and continue to heat for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
- Fill the containers immediately, leaving ½ inch (25mm) space at the top of each to allow for expansion.
- Let the containers stand a room temperature for 24 hours or until the jam as set.
- Refrigerate for 3 weeks or freeze for up to a year. Thaw frozen jam in refrigerator.
David Ellis is the Founder and Editor of The Kitchen Journals. He is a food writer, an avid cooking enthusiast. In 2009, he started a food blog, David’s Table, and quickly learned that blogging was lonely work. He developed The Kitchen Journals to work with other food writers and bloggers. He lives in Washington, DC.