Why make jam at home when you can buy a jar?
Can you be sure about the quality of the ingredients? Do you like your jam gelled with only artificial essence, and commercial pectin? Are you comfortable reading a list of E-numbers in the ingredients?
E-Numbers indicate the number of additives added to a packaged food product, and every number describes a certain additive. If you have not noticed the effect of packaged food products before, read this article. It gives you a fair idea of the detriments. Next time you buy a bottle of jam or sauce read the ingredients. The name of ingredients used in the product are listed in descending order of their composition by weight or volume, at the time of the manufacture of the product. By reading the label you should get a rough idea of how much sugar goes into your jam (more than the fruit or less), the amount of additives and preservatives. The E-Nos. follow towards the end. From the information available on web I understand that Indian food labels can dust the E-No. information under a carpet called ‘permitted colours and preservatives’. That makes it even more dangerous as it does not give you the faintest idea of the preservatives and colours used. Simply knowing the ingredients can make a change in your decision – to buy or not to buy.
My choice has always been home made. It calls for a little effort on part of the home maker and chances are that one ends up spending more on the ingredients than on a whole bottle of packaged product yet I recommend homemade products. It is rewarding at the end of the day to taste fruit than ‘fruit essence’. Smell the fruit than its chemical counterpart. You can replace E-numbers with seasonal jams and preserves. Your family may not be grateful now. Whoever heard of kids being grateful for food! My mother made jams at home for as long as I can go back. Yet, till I started making preserves at home the thought of being grateful never occurred. I had taken it for granted as a child. But one day, like me, your kids (and your body) will thank you for taking the trouble. Besides, one can’t deny that real fruits are more flavourful and pack more natural sweetness than commercially available ‘off the shelf’ products. If you cannot make your own, for whatever reason, do make sure that the products you purchase are local, seasonal and made by a reliable source.
Is jam making difficult?
No, if you plan to make it for home use in limited quantity. Cumbersome, if made in large quantities. As with any other subject, knowledge of various aspects of jam making helps. Today we will look into the equipment and a few of the terminologies associated with jam making. The post is long as I have tried to include as much information as possible. If you have a query or feel I have left out an important part, leave a comment, and I will try to update this article suitably.
Choice of vessel:
I recommend and use, tri-ply stainless steel cook-pots (known was stock pots in the West) for heavy-duty cooking, similar to this;
Cuisinart stockpot available at amazon.com | Picture used for representational purpose
If you go to high end shops and buy branded ones you will end up spending anywhere between Rs.7,000/- to Rs.12,000/-. I purchased a local brand – Pradeep – with a capacity of 15L (diameter 32cm) at Crawford Market, Mumbai for only Rs.4,000/- (approximately) including home delivery. I use this cook pot for making large quantities of pickle, jams, sauces and I have never been let down. Burning, bits of food stuck to the bottom are now things of the past. That said, if you leave it unattended for ages, things will burn! This utensil is one of the best investments in my kitchen for many reasons.
Stainless steel is preferred for cooking anything that may contain high acidity levels as it is least reactive among metals. Vessels made of brass, bronze, or iron impart metallic (tinny) taste to the fruit, that may – over a period of time – result in early spoilage, discolouration or contamination of food due to chemical changes. Aluminium is best avoided as it is toxic.
Update: Copper is traditionally used in India but I do not have any copper vessel. Apparently, copper is one metal that does not leech metallic taste to fruits even if cooked. Copper is also a good conductor of heat so many people use it for jam making. I cannot comment on this as I have no experience. This site gives good advice regarding use of copper pans for jams.
The vessel should have a wide, heavy base and preferably have a cylindrical shape. In jam making, one should opt for a vessel that is cylindrical, rather than one with a curved bottom (like a wok or kadhai). A cylindrical vessel with a wide base ensures even heating. The curved (bowl-like) shape of a wok increases the danger of the fruit splashing onto your cooking surface and your hands, apart from heating unevenly. Since fruits are delicate and easily burn, it is best to use a heavy based vessel.
A wide based vessel with sloping sides is also considered good as the shape is said to offer better conduction of heat. However, I have no experience using it, and find my cylindrical pot ideal.
The vessel should be five times the capacity of the fruit as the fruit tends to froth and splash as it cooks. This phase lasts for a short while but to avoid injury see that the fruit occupies 1/5th the height of the vessel itself. That way you know that the fruit juices will not overflow. Else you will end up losing a lot of the fruit and the pectin, which is essential to set the jam.
Invest in a canning kit
Individually purchased these items are expensive, but the kit saves money. I use ‘Presto canning kit 7 – function’ shown below, purchased from ‘zansaar.com’. The kit comprises of a digital timer, canning funnel, bubble remover & lid lifter, jar lifter, kitchen tongs and a jar wrench. The jar lifter makes it easy to remove sterilised bottles from the oven or from the water bath, post vacuum sealing. The funnel has 1.5 inch nozzle and it is not useful as my jam bottles have a small mouth. However, if you are using wide mouthed mason jars it should serve its purpose. The lid lifter, though a simple instrument is very useful. The kitchen tongs are useful in expressing juice and pectin from hot muslin bags while making marmalades. The timer is dispensable but it makes sense to have it in a ‘canning kit’. I use the timer only to ensure that I do not forget the jam while doing other chores. I set an alarm every ten minutes in the beginning and for 15 minutes once the sugar has dissolved and I begin to rapidly boil the mixture. I haven’t had the need to use the jar wrench so far.
Presto canning kit – 7 function available at zansaar.com | Picture used for representational purpose
Use a wooden ladle with a long wooden handle
To avoid accidental burning of hands it is wiser to use a wooden ladle as metal conducts heat while wood does not. My wooden ladle with ‘short’ handle would slip often into the hot fruit and I had to lift it out with a pair of tongs a couple of times before I realised why I needed a ladle with long handle. I use a silicon spatula (the kind used for mixing cake batter) to push the fruit stuck to the sides of the vessel into the jam. It does a very clean and efficient job.
Line your working area with a double layer of paper
This is essential while bottling or transferring jam as even a drop fallen on the surface attracts an army of ants. It saves a lot of cleaning time when you finish jamming. There is another reason why I use paper. While transferring hot bottles from the oven to the platform for bottling the jam, it is safe to use a non-conducting surface as direct contact with the cold working surface, and a sudden change in temperature can crack the bottles. You can use thick towels or use one folded towel as an insulator but paper is a better option. I simply tear the soiled portion of the paper and throw it away. The rest of the paper can be used again.
Mittens / Gloves :
Always use silicon oven mitts or mitts with heavy padding while handling hot objects like the cook-pot, oven or the hot sterilised bottles of jam and your pouring jar. I can’t stress on this enough. You can just follow it or get wise after acquiring a few blisters! Good silicone gloves are available at Zansaar (online shop), Debenhams (in Kurla Phoenix Mall) and Foodhall (Palladium Mall, Parel).
Bottles with metal caps lined with enamel / plastic
I use glass bottles that come with twist off metal caps lined with enamel/plastic. I do not use pet jars for bottling as they are not environmental friendly. Bottles and metal caps can both be sterilised in oven or boiling water bath. Bottles with twist off metal caps are as good as kilner jars. I have used both and have found that both seal well. I purchase twice the number of lids than bottles so that I can recycle the bottles. If the enamel gets damaged, I use new lids.
Metal lug cap for glass bottles available at indiamart.com | Picture used for representational purpose
Sourcing: You can find bottles at wholesale rates in Chakla Street in Crawford Market. I buy mine from Sana Enterprises at Crawford Market.
Address – 143, Near Masjid Bander, Chakla Street, Masjid, Mumbai – 400003
Phone – (022) 23404340, 40223084, 23433084.
It is easier to select bottles if you carry a sample with you. This dealer has good sizes and shapes, and deals in wholesale. You will have to buy 50 or more at one go.
Jam bottles available at alpack.ie | Picture used for representational purpose
If you are persistent about using Kilner jars, try Zansaar. They stock many sizes from 250ml to 1l. Zansaar also has cellophane covers, and rubber bands for sealing.
An oven or a large water bath
I use the oven (OTG) for sterilising empty bottles and metal caps. One can sterilise in boiling water on stove top as well. I use the cook pot as a water bath for vacuum sealing.
A few saucers, a kitchen thermometer
Before starting on the jam, wash, dry and place a few saucers in the freezer section of your refrigerator. I use a kitchen thermometer (probe type) to keep an eye on the temperature, but prefer using the saucer method to test for the ‘setting point’ of the jam. There are many indications and changes that will tell you that the jam is close to getting done. We will see that in another post. I bought the thermometer shown below, but found that it is useful only while working with lot of fruit. After two uses the clamp (that adheres it to the cook pot) came off, and I got tired of fixing the clamp repeatedly thereafter. Since I recommend not working with more than 2 kgs of fruit at a time, I do not recommend purchasing this thermometer unless your vessel is diametrically smaller than mine, and taller. 2 kgs of fruit in my cook pot comes up to only an inch. This thermometer needs to be immersed at least 2-3 inches in the jam in order to give a proper indication of temperature. If the clamp does not come off, it is a very useful gadget.
Kitchen thermometer available at indiamart.com | Picture used for representational purpose
If you are making small quantity of jam or working with only 2 kgs like I do, I recommend using a digital probe thermometer. There are many varieties in the market and the prices range from Rs.55/- to Rs.1000/- (or more). I acquired a cheap one from Arif’s shop at Crawford Market. It is effective, and is similar to the picture that follows. I tie a thick cotton twine (nada) around the top and tie the other end of the twine to the cook-pot’s handle, and let the thermometer dangle into the vessel in such a way that an inch of the probe lies in the jam. This serves my purpose well.
Digital food thermometer available at amazon.in | Picture used for representational purpose
A funnel or pouring jar
A heat proof funnel works best for bottling. I recommend steel funnels but in Mumbai I have not been able to source an economically priced steel funnel with a ‘wide enough’ nozzle so far. The bottles I use have narrow necks (about 1 inch) so the funnel that came with the canning kit is not of use. I use a silicone funnel with a narrow nozzle, about 1cm in diameter, bought from ‘Shopper’s Stop’. Zansaar sells a stainless steel funnel but it is very expensive, and the nozzle is very narrow. The silicone funnel is easy to use, fits in the bottle snugly, and when the jam is hot, the stewed fruits pass through quickly though the nozzle is narrow. I use the narrow nozzle-d funnel for filling ketchup too.
If you do not have a funnel use an oven safe measuring and pouring jar made of glass. I had a borosil jar until recently that I could sterilise along with the bottles. Hence the emphasis on heavy duty mitts. The jar broke very recently. I am still upset as it had been with me for nearly 12 years.
Disclosure: I have not received any consideration, monetary or otherwise to mention or recommend the products above. I do so on my own accord. The pictures used in this post are not photographed by me and I do not hold copyright to the same. They have been used for representational purposes and are linked to the respective sources.