Essential Jam Making Equipment
Jam making is simple, but there are a few items that you need before embarking on your first jam or jelly making adventure. Jars, obviously, are needed to hold the jam, a jelly bag to strain juice from the fruit , and a good preserving pan is essential for every type of preserve.
Jars can be bought specifically for home preserving or you can re-use the jars left over from shop-bought jams.
Jars that used to contain shop-bought jam have two considerable advantages: they are effectively free since they were the packaging for the jam you bought, and they have screw-on lids that provide an air tight seal. If you prefer to buy jars specifically for home preserving you will pay more of course, but you also have a greater choice over the size, shape and type of lid.
However you source your jars, make sure that you have a sufficient number of them before you make your jam – jam needs to be bottled straight away and won’t keep well left in an open container.
Before use, jars should be checked for chipping, cracks, and damaged lids. Discard any that aren’t up to scratch.
Prior to use, the jars should be cleaned, warmed and sterilized. The easiest way to do this is to place the jars (without lids on) in a cold oven, and set it to about 140 to 160 degrees C. Once it reaches the right temperature, switch off the oven and allow the jars to stay in there so they remain heated until they are needed. Cold jars are less sterile and may also shatter when very hot jam is poured into them.
Once filled with jam, the jars should be sealed quickly. The cooling jam creates a slight vacuum in the jar thus protects it from oxidization and mold formation.
Jelly or Muslin Bags
A jelly is a clear form of jam containing the juice rather than the flesh from the cooked fruits. The juice and pulp are separated by straining through a very fine sieve called a jelly bag.
Jelly bags are also known as muslin bags as traditionally they are made from muslin. They usually look like an inverted wizard’s hat; conical with the point at the lower end.
Although a commercial jelly bag is convenient, a thick pillow case, tea towel or similar material can be used as a substitute. Always assume that the material will be stained by the jam mixture, so don’t use anything you want to keep in pristine condition.
Fill the jelly bag with the cooked fruit pulp and suspend it over a bowl of sufficient capacity to hold to the juice that drips out. Twelve hours is not an uncommon length of time to allow for the separation of juice and solid matter, so the process is often conducted over night.
Once the juice has stopped dripping, DO NOT squeeze the bag. This will force pulp through the bag and produce cloudy juice, and thus cloudy jelly.
Preserving pans are wide bottomed pans, often made of steel, copper or aluminium.
A good preserving pan is a necessity rather than a luxury. The shape, thickness and volume of a good pan make it easier for the jam to thicken, it helps reduce the risk of burning on the sides and bottom, and it allows a good quantity of jam to be made in one session.
Ideally the pan should be quite heavy, and made of stainless steel. If you choose a traditional copper pan, or a light weight aluminium version, a thick bottom is essential. The pan will be on the heat for a long time and, to avoid burning on the base and sides, a thick layer of metal is important. Using a thinner pan, such as a normal saucepan, often results in burnt jam (which tastes disgusting), lots of pan scrubbing and wasted ingredients.
A preserving pan with sloping sides promotes evaporation of liquid from the jam by offering a good surface area. This reduces simmering times and helps to ensure a good thick jam that sets well. Stirring the jam in a wide pan is also easier.
Finally, when buying a preserving pan, look for a strong handle and a good pouring lip. A preserving pan full of jam can be heavy, and boiling jam can cause server burns, so you need to be certain that the handle is up to the job, and the lip will direct the jam where it needs to go – not over you.
What’s Your Essential Kit?
If there’s another piece jam-making equipment you couldn’t do without, share your wisdom and tell us!