This is not the case for jam. Our grandmothers made it using stuff from the back yard. To make my own better-than-store-bought berry jam at home, all I use are berries, half an apple, a lemon (or lime), and some sugar.
|The lemon did not show up to have its picture taken - pretend it's there|
These berries are from the local farmer's market. I like to keep things cheap, healthy, and environmentally sustainable. There are quite a few ways I try to do that.
I don't buy special jars
I've never actually bought preserve jars. People never return them once they've eaten the jam anyway, and if I did this I'd find myself having to buy new ones every year. There are many types of glass jars that you can reuse.
Mason jars are the classic choice for pickling and preserving at home. They've been around forever, so they're easy to get ahold of, their quality is assured, and most grocery stores carry replacement lids and rims. Often if I buy preserves at a local market or specialty store, they'll come in Mason jars. I keep the jar and metal ring. Voilà, a reusable jar. I always replace the round sealing part of the lid (single use only, they rust!), but everything else can be reused hundreds of times as long as the glass doesn't get chipped. Other good sources for Mason jars are garage sales, estate sales, and the dusty sections at the back of mom's cupboards.
Specialty stores will often sell products from small producers who buy jars in bulk (you can tell this because the lid doesn't have anything printed on it). They're probably buying decent jars. If they are made from thick glass and have sturdy metal lids with an unstained plasticized interior, I keep them. On the other hand, I stay away from brand name manufacturers' jars. They're custom made for one time use.
I toss any jar that has small cracks or chips. If the rim is chipped, chances are the jar will not seal and what you put inside will be wasted. If the jar itself is cracked or chipped, the pressure from high heat might cause it to explode. Bad news! I also toss lids with any remote sign of rust. After all that, I'm usually left with enough glass jars accumulated over the year to make a couple of batches of home made yummyness.
I don't buy pectin
Pectin is naturally found in fruit and it's what allows preserves to gel. Raspberries and many other berries already contain some. Apples and citrus fruits contain a bunch. You can use this naturally occurring pecting to thicken your jam by making your own pectin from apples. (No fancy apples needed, you can use crab apples - raid a tree in your neighbourhood!) Or you can do it in one step and just cook down the jam until the naturally occurring pectin kicks in. This is why I add some apple and lemon juice and/or zest.
Before it reaches its boiling point, I squish my berries into a bright red fruit & sugar mush. When it starts to boil, the volume increases and it becomes frothy. I used to fill my pot up to the top to make as much jam at once as possible, but it tended to bubble over and make a mess at this point. I've learned to make more batches of jam, using less fruit at a time.
Once all of the pink froth is reabsorbed, the jam turns a deep dark red. At this point I let it boil for 20-30 minutes, checking to see how thick it has gotten every 5 minutes or so.
|Kitty can't resist a photo opportunity|