Home Canning Basics 102: The Cooked Jam Method

Hello, Friends! Thank you for hanging tight during my impromptu dalliances of the vacation variety last week.  Is it me, or does summer seem to linger on until the month of August, at which point a cosmic switch is flipped so that summer flies by like a passing commuter train during rush hour? Who’s with me?

Seems like just yesterday that our (somewhat) chilly entrance into the summer months began, and just like that–poof! Labor Day is upon us. Time literally flies when you’re having fun.

I’ve been having a great time canning all sorts of food this summer.  I get such a kick out of looking at the pantry shelves and seeing rows upon rows of jars chock full of the (literal) fruits of my labors. Jam, jam, and more jam! Seems only natural then, that I follow up a Home Canning Basics post with one outlining how to can probably the easiest thing there is to can–cooked jam.

Why make and can homemade jam when you can find it in abundant supply in any supermarket, you ask? Simple! Homemade jam tastes infinitely better than any store bought variety. And the canning process isn’t all that difficult. True story.

I’ll be honest here–I wanted to learn how to can for ages before I actually took the initiative. I bought a good instruction book, read it, and became instantly overwhelmed. I filed the book on a shelf while mentally cataloging the whole institution under Not Happening.

Thankfully, my Bonus Mom decided that I was being ridiculous, and insisted on teaching me how to make and can jam. “It’s so easy!” she said. “Like falling off a log!”  And you know what? She was right. Making and canning your own jam is quite easy–especially with someone to show you how it is done.

The majority of my home canning involves high acid foods, such as fruits, and soft spreads. High acid foods can be safely preserved at home with a Boiling Water Canner because most of the yucky stuff can be eliminated by surrounding (a.k.a. processing) the jars in boiling (212° F) water for a sustained period of time–as detailed by the recipe instructions, and adjusting for altitude (if necessary.) Most high-acid fruit jams, such as strawberry, raspberry, cherry, etc. need only be processed for about 5 minutes in a boiling water canner.

I know it sounds scary. I know is sounds crazy. You may not think that you can do it, but I know that you can! You can make and can your own jam. Really!  Here’s how:

First and foremost–get a good home canning instruction book and read the canning instructions. Books should be published after 1990 to ensure that they contain the latest Modern Canning Rules in accordance with FDA guidelines.

Once you’ve read the instructions and verified publishing dates, read the instructions again.

Then read my post on Home Canning Basics 101. And don’t freak out–you can do this!

Take a deep breath, and get a little Stuart Smalley on yourself. Repeat after Stuart: “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” Feel better instantly.

Daily affirmations can move mountains, man!

Then choose a recipe and create a “plan.” Gather all ingredients and equipment required by the recipe. The jam recipes in the Ball book do not call for pectin, but rather only use granulated sugar.  Granulated sugar, combined with the fruit and heated for a sustained period of time, will eventually form a gel.  Pectin can be mixed with the sugar and heated when making jams in order to get the jam to gel more quickly than when using granulated sugar alone.  Pectin is a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in plants, and produced by the ripening of fruit. Pectin is the stuff in fruit that helps it remain firm when ripe.

I’ve made jam both with and without pectin, and let me tell you–the added pectin makes the whole process much faster. Many brands of  pectin are readily available in the canning section of the grocery store.  I like to buy the “low-sugar” varieties, but you don’t have to.  That said, once you buy a brand of pectin, follow the jam recipe formula included in that particular brand’s instructions.  One brand of commercial pectin cannot be equally substituted for another brand in a recipe, so it important to follow the formula provided by the brand that you purchased.

I’ll also tell you how to make jam without pectin, so if you’re pectin averse, or just can’t find it, you are still covered. 

Take a deep breath. You can totally do this! Starting is half the battle.

The most important thing to remember about home canning is that you’ll need hot jars, hot seals, and hot jam to put in the jars. Hot, hot, hot! First things first: get the canning gear ready before beginning the jam recipe.

I wash and sterilize my jars on the top rack of the dishwasher. Regular wash with a sani/heat dry. I get the jars going right before starting the water in the canner, so that they will be hot & ready when I need them. And I always add a few more jars than I think I need–just in case. (Clean jars can also be sterilized by boiling them in water for 5 minutes, and drying with a lint free cloth.)

Fill a Boiling Water Canner with water and set it over high heat on the stove-top.  In my experience, it takes 30 minutes or more for my canner to come to a boil, so I start the water early in the jam making process.

Place a bunch of lids/seals into a shallow pan of water, seal side up. I usually take the number of seals that I think I will need for the recipe, than add 3 or 4 more just in case I drop one or something. It happens. Set the pan over low heat to simmer (not boil) on the stove. Simmering warms the seals without melting them. At a simmer, the water will start to steam and tiny-little bubbles will appear in the water.


Once the jars and seals are going, start preparing the fruit.  In this case, we made cherry jam by using tart, pitted cherries. Thankfully, we have several farms nearby that will run the cherries through a pitter for me if I arrange to pick them up on harvest day. Or, because day of harvest doesn’t often ever neatly factor into my schedule, the farm pits the cherries before flash freezing them on harvest day, enabling me to pick them up from their farm stand anytime.

Moral of the story: You can use frozen, pitted, unsweetened tart cherries to make jam.  Just let the fruit thaw completely before using it.

The easiest way to chop the cherries for jam is in a food processor. I spent a few years chopping fruit by hand before I got a food processor, so I can say that it can easily be done without one.  Fill the bowl of the processor half full, then pulse the fruit 4 or 5 times, or until the fruit is chopped but still very chunky.

Cherries have a high liquid content, so some of the juice needs to be removed–especially if the fruit was previously frozen. Do this by placing the chopped cherries into a fine mesh strainer (or a colander lined with cheesecloth,) set it over a bowl to drain.  Continue chopping the cherries and adding them to the strainer until you think you have enough for the recipe.

Gently push the fruit against the strainer to release more juices. You don’t have to get crazy and squeeze the fruit until no it runs dry, just get a little of the extra liquid out.  All that extra cherry juice will equate to runny jam. So drain the fruit, but for all that is good and right with the world–save the juice! We’re going to use it in another recipe, and/or it is also great in smoothies.

Repeat these processes until you have enough fruit for the recipe.

Once you have enough fruit, dump it into a large pot.  We use an extra canning pot because the larger surface area cooks the jam faster, but any large pot or stock pot would do.

In a large bowl, measure the amount of sugar needed for the recipe. Don’t freak out about the amount of sugar! It’ll be fine!

In a small bowl, mix the pectin with the amount of sugar indicated by the pectin manufacturer’s instructions. (Take that small amount of sugar out of the large bowl. (If you are not using pectin, skip this step.)

Pour the pectin/sugar mixture over the chopped cherries, and stir to combine. (If you are not using pectin, skip this step.)

Add about a teaspoon or so of real butter to keep the jam-foamies away. Jam-foamies happen as the jam cooks, and will need to be skimmed off. Adding a little butter keeps the foamies to a minimum, thus eliminating the skim step later. Win!  Heat the fruit mixture over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a rolling boil.

A rolling boil is one in which the mixture continues to vigorously bubble while you are stirring. If you can stir the pot and the bubbles stop, you aren’t there yet so keep going.

The whole stirring/rolling boil part of making jam is hot, steamy business. Think of it as getting a bonus facial.

Once the fruit/pectin mixture comes to a rolling boil, add the rest of the sugar and stir well.  OR if you are not using pectin, add all of the sugar required by the recipe, along with a teaspoon of butter, now. Continue heating and stirring until the fruit mixture returns to a rolling boil, again. At the point of returning to a rolling boil, set a timer and continue to boil the jam for the amount of time indicated by the pectin manufacturer. (Usually 1 minute.) Jam made with pectin will have thickened slightly while remaining pour-able.

OR if you are not using pectin, continue to cook and stir the jam at a rolling boil until the jam gels. Test this by checking to see if the jam “sheets” off of a spoon when scooped from the pot and held at an angle. Sheeting is when the jam gels and will come off a spoon in a definitive mass, leaving the spoon clean. (Think of the consistency of soft gelatin. Thus, the name.) In my experience, cooking jam to the gelling point with sugar takes about 15 to 20 minutes (or more) at a rolling boil.

Once the jam is ready, keep it over low heat to keep it hot, and prepare your work surface. Lay out a bunch of towels on the counter or work surface. Things are about to get messy! Have a clean, damp towel or cloth handy. Having a few extra towels handy wouldn’t hurt either. Extra towels are always a good idea when canning.  As is a rubber grip or rubber gloves to handle all of the hot stuff.

Turn off the heat under simmering pan of lids. Set the pan of lids on a trivet near your work surface so that they are ready to go.  Put the bands for the jars near the work surface.

Now, if at all possible, enlist the help of another willing and able-bodied adult.  You’ll have to work quickly, so having a little help is a good thing. When Bonus Mom and I make jam, one of us pours the jam, while the other wipes the jars and affixes the lids and bands.

OK, she just-about-always pours because I’m a slob when it comes to filling the jars–I get stuff everywhere!

Remove the hot jars from the dishwasher and place them on the prepared work surface. (If you don’t have a dishwasher, remove jars from boiling water and towel dry with a lint-free cloth before setting on work surface.) Ladle or pour the hot jam into the jars, leaving 1/8-inch of head space.

If the jar is too full, spoon a little off the top, and plop it in another jar.

If you’re like me, you’ll slop a little (or a lot) of jam on the jar.

The top of the jar must be clean in order for the lids to seal properly, so inspect the top of the jar, and wipe off any slop with a damp towel.

Grab a hot lid out of the simmer pan with a magnetic lid lifter or a pair of kitchen tongs.

Be careful not to touch the orangey-rubbery-gluey seal on the lid. The oil on your hands could transfer to the gluey stuff and keep the lid from sealing.

Place the seal-side of the lid on the jar, and thread the band around the rim.

Just a reminder: the jar, jam, and lids are all very hot! So, it’s at this point that I grab a clean towel to hold the jar, and use a rubber grip to screw the band on tight. I really should wear rubber gloves for this part, but I never do. Consequently, I don’t have many fingerprints left when I’m done making jam because they’ve been singed off in the process.

Fair warning: The work surface is likely to be a giant mess after all of the jars are filled.

Modern Day Canning Rules dictate that once the lids and bands have been secured to the jars, you should process them in the boiling water canner for the time specified in the recipe instructions. (Usually 5 minutes for high-acid foods, because the vast majority of yucky stuff is killed after being sustained at a heat of 212º F for five minutes.)

After processing, remove the jars with a jar lifter or tongs, and set them right-side up on a clean towel to cool.  The jars will be a tad sticky, but resist the urge to wipe them down until after they have cooled/sealed. You’ll hear the glorious sounds of ping! or pop! of the jars sealing as they cool.  If you are like me, you’ll feel increasingly smug with each ping! or pop! that you hear because you’ll know that you’ve  successfully made your own jam.

Once the jars are completely cool, run a finger over the top of the lids. The lid should be slightly depressed, and not move much at all when pushed. If the seal is not depressed, or moves/pops/indents when you press it, the jar didn’t seal, and must be processed again.

After the jars have cooled and seals have been checked, wipe down the jars with a clean, damp towel to remove any residual stickies. Store the jars in a cool place for up to a year.

Pat yourself on the back because you just made your own jam! Woo-hoo! Go You!


THAT SAID–I’m going to get a little controversial here when I tell you how my grandmothers did things when it came to jam.  Back in the Day, Grandma(s) did what was called Cold Storage Canning, meaning they didn’t use a boiling water canner to process their jam. Gasp! I know! Grandma made jam with straight sugar (e.g.; without pectin,) therefore the jam had to be heated at a rolling boil for well over the requisite 5 minutes needed to kill all of the yucky stuff,  just to bring it to the gelling point. So after cooking the jam at a rolling boil for 20 minutes or more, then filling the hot jars, with hot jam, and putting on the hot lids, Grandma(s) did this:

She inverted the hot jars for five minutes. See the airspace at the bottom (now top) of the jar? That air has a job to do.

After 5 minutes, the hot jars were flipped right side up and allowed to cool. The air from the bottom of the jar pushed its way back to the top, creating a vacuum. In essence, the small amount of air works in conjunction with the heat and the lids to form a vacuum seal. The same pings! and pops! happen as the jars cool and seal.  Grandma stored the sealed jars in her root cellar (or a cold part of the basement) which was a cool 50 degrees all year long.  Thus the name, Cold Storage Canning.

Modern Day canning methods tell you not to can jam this way because the filled jars need to be processed in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes in order to kill the yucky stuff. However, and I speak based only on my own logic, I think that if the jam is being boiled upwards of 4 times longer than it would be if processed in a water bath, and all of the canning supplies are sterilized and hot when assembled, then the yucky stuff is already dead.

For what its worth, I’m just presenting another home canning method that used to be common practice. My official stance on the blog is to follow the safe canning instructions as outlined in the manufacturer’s and/or canning recipe, in accordance with food safety guidelines. Amen.





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  1. says

    It is official, I want to move to where you are so that I can live off of the land and eat cherries. It will be hard to forsake Peaches n’ Cream sweet corn from the farm down the road, but I think it’s the only way.

    p.s. After I saw the snap of the biscuit with the jam, I almost fell off of my chair. Hello, reality.

  2. says

    Wow, I almost feel like I had a science lesson in addition to a lesson on canning. It’s like a double bang for your buck, reading this post. Way to go!! Now, go do something completely mindless for a while to give yourself a rest.:)

  3. says

    Wow, what a fantastic tutorial!!! I noticed in your *Fair Warning* photo that your filled jam jars were flipped upside down and had the question *Why?* ready to type when I finished reading. You were so thorough in this post that you answered my question before I could even ask it.
    Should I ever get the nerve to make and preserve my own jam, I think this will be printed and on my counter as I make it!

  4. Amy says

    It’s so good to hear your voice! As much as I’ve always enjoyed your posts, this is the first one I’ve read since getting down here, and even though I know the whole process and have done it upteen times before – I loved reading it, just to listen to you. :) Miss you and your sweet, sweet boys…

    • says

      Oh, Amy! We miss you guys so much! Or should I say “all y’all” now that you are a Southerner? I did find it a teensy bit unnerving that seemingly the moment you moved, a hurricane headed your way. We’ll talk soon…

      • Amy says

        YOU were unnerved – imagine how we felt with an earthquake and a hurricane to “welcome” us…! We felt a bit put out, to say the least – and spent more than a little time wondering if we were being told to get the heck out of the state! We were told by some people that the quake was felt up here in Lake Norman (well, “down here” if your reference is MI, of course; but “up here” compared to Charlotte), though we were out running errands and didn’t notice. As for Irene – our only effects here were a nice, strong breeze. We’re far enough inland that we weren’t really worried (though it WAS out first, first-hand, local experience with a hurricane, so there was a little trepidation)… J is really missing Aaron and Mitchell, and I am really missing you and Julie and the rest of “the girls!” <3

  5. says

    Thanks a lot. I was trying to be good this week, after last weekend’s Wafflepalooza, but now I’m craving jam. I’m off to smother something doughy in something sweet and yummy. PS – Great tutorial! My grandmother used to have a root cellar, too. Oh, how I loved that smell of cold, damp earth.

  6. says

    The ENTIRE summer flies by for me! At least, when I’m living in Minnesota. I honestly have to make a point to remember what month it is in California. WTH? Unreal.
    I think I might be able to handle canning with both of these posts (combined with reassuring phone calls to my dad). Thanks! This will be my new life goal.

  7. says

    OK…I’m filing this away for when I’m ready…I am assuming the same process applies for all of my tropical fruits!? Mango jam? Pineapple? Any other suggestions?
    Thanks–you are GOOD.

    • says

      The process is the same, but the recipes change based on the type of fruit. Most tropical fruit that I can think of is high acid, so you should be able to use a boiling water canner. With all those great tropical fruits growing in your yard, I sincerely hope that you make some chutneys! :)

  8. says

    My grandma and my mom to this day flip over the hot jam jars after filling them just as you describe it…no hot canning bath. I guess I am too chicken to do it but they never had anything spoiled. Since I gift most of my jams I use the canning bath. Love the post!


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