A few years ago, a friend of mine made jam for the first time. I was shocked that it was so ridiculously easy to make. Shocked, I tell you. I immediately went out and bought the supplies. I have never looked back.
Blueberries are in season here. Peaches are just about there. Strawberries are almost done. It's a good time to make jam in North Carolina, folks. I was at the farmer's market a couple weeks ago and found some amazing peaches from South Carolina. I love peaches and blueberries together so I bought a little of both.
I have found that you probably have tools around the house that will work for making jam, but they might not make your life easier. I recommend getting the right tools as much for convenience as safety. You are going to be working with some hot stuff here, a lot of boiling water and boiling fruit pulp and sugar. It splatters. It hurts. Buy the right tools. Before you do, ask a friend. Know anyone who makes jam? Perhaps they can help you with your first batch. Get a feel for it and buy the right tools. It'll cost you about $30 and here's what you need.
a canning funnel.
the bottom is very wide and fits snugly into jam jars.
they fit the top and around the side of canning jars of all sizes.
the canning pot. it's the black one. you can see how much larger it is than my largest stock pot.
be careful! there's a lot of water in here and it needs to come to a vigorous boil.
You also need jars and lids. Use the half pint jars. The jars can be reused as long as they are not chipped, cracked or broken in any way. I don't reuse lids. Lids rust very easily and a box of new lids is just a few bucks. The final ingredient you need is pectin, but we'll get to that later.
When you get ready to make jam, the first thing you want to do is get you water going in the canning pot. You need a lot of water and it will take a while to get boiling. The next thing you want to do is prepare your jars. When making jam, remember the immortal words of Buster Poindexter. "HOT! HOT! HOT!" Everything you are working with needs to be hot. For this reason, it might be best to banish the small people from your kitchen. Perhaps a middle schooler could help once you get the hang of this, but for anyone younger, they will be in the way. Best to do this during school or nap time. So, your mantra...HOT HOT HOT. Say it with me.
HOT HOT HOT
HOT HOT HOT
HOT HOT HOT
You're putting boiling hot jam into glass that's going to go into boiling water. Your jars need to be hot. If not, they will crack when submerged into the boiling water. Trust me on this. Now, how to achieve this if your kitchen isn't as well equipped as Martha Stewart's? Here's my trick. Turn your oven on 250. Line a sheet pan/cookie sheet WITH SIDES with a kitchen towel. Line up the jars on the pan and fill to the top with boiling water. Put the lids on the pan and place in the oven until you need them. Works every time!
Here is where I reach an impasse with the rest of The Canning World. They will tell you to "sterilize" the jars. I clean my jars then do what I just said. I pour hot water in them and keep them warm in the oven. My jars are clean. Period. The extra step to sterilize them seems extraneous to me. You are putting boiling fruit pulp and sugar into warm jars then submersing them into boiling water for 10 minutes. The boiling process is going to create a seal in the jar. If you're the germaphobe type, knock yourself out. Sterilize away. Me? I've never had a problem. Moving on.
At this point we have our supplies in place. We're ready to make jam which we will continue tomorrow. I will leave you with this bit of light reading from the USDA. Good stuff here, folks.
USDA Guide for Making Jams and Jellies