Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What In The World Is A Soft Spread FAQ About Jam Jellies and More

Ever wanted to make your own jam or other soft spread such as jelly, preserves and more but just didn't know where to start?  Having questions about the process?  Knowing where to begin and getting your questions answered is half the battle so I've put together the most frequently asked questions I could think of for you.  To print this list just scroll to the end of the post and click on the green button labeled printer friendly.

Jam & Soft Spread FAQ's

Q.  What Utensils Do I Need To Make Cooked Jam and other Soft Spreads?
  1. A.  You will need a 6-8 quart heavy sauce pot to cook your fruit down.  Sauce pot must be wide in girth so it is deep enough that fruit mixture does not boil over.  Sauce pot needs to have a flat bottom for the best heat distribution.
  2. A 21 quart steel or enamel coated boiling water bath canner with rack.
  3. Mason canning jars , lids and bands.  There are great ones made by Ball, Kerr and even Better Homes and Gardens.
  4. Canning utensils such as a bubble remover & headspace tool, a wide mouth  jar funnel, a jar lifter and magnetic lid wand.  You can buy these individually or get them in a canning utensil set
  5. fruit pectin.  You can use brands such as Ball, Sure Jell or even your store brand.  Try them all and see which one you like to use the best.  We all have our preferences.
  6. Kitchen towels and pot holders
  7. Canning ladle.

Q.  What is pectin and what's it used for anyway?
A.  For starters pectin is a natural carbohydrate that is taken from the inside peel of many fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit and even apples.  The peels are washed and then ground in order to make pectin and is vacuum dried.  Pectin is used in "setting" or firming up your jam and jellies in a shorter amount of time and even with pectin some soft spreads can take up to 2 weeks to set.  You can make your soft spreads without pectin just be patient for the set times will be longer.

NOTE:  High pectin fruits include: apples and most citrus fruits, i.e. oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines and cumquats. Low pectin fruits include: strawberries, raspberries, plums, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, figs and rhubarb.

When making jams or other soft spreads pectin only works well when combined with exactly the right amount of sugar and fruit.  Sugar absorbs water from the fruit, which when combined with citric acid, stimulates the activity of the pectin.  This is how your "gel" or soft spread forms.

Q.  How do I select the best fresh fruit?
A.  Look for fruit that is ripe or even a bit before ripe.  Your fruit must be of even consistency and has no "spots" or bruising on them.  Avoid fruits that are going "mushy".  Think about it this way...if you would be hesitant in eating it, don't get it.  I find local grocers and farmers markets are very willing to show and teach you on the spot about how to select good fruit.  You just want to make sure the fruit is not over ripe because the natural fruit pectin lowers in over ripened fruit and may make it harder for your jam to set, especially with berries.

Q.  Can I use frozen fruit?
A.  Absolutely!  You just want to make sure the fruit is unsweetened and frozen in it's natural state.  Your frozen fruit measures equally to fresh.  Make sure your frozen fruit is completely thawed to room temp and do not drain off the excess juice.  Frozen fruit is snap frozen, meaning that all the fresh fruit color, taste, texture and vitamins are maintained. Using frozen fruit is fantastic because you can give a beautiful summery peach jam as a gift to someone during the cold dreary winter.  Talk about a winter pick me up!

Q.  I have family that is diabetic, or just want a lower sugar jam, can I use a sugar substitute instead of regular sugar?
A.  You bettcha!  I have friends and family who are diabetic as well as watching their sugar intake so I totally get it.  There are some catches however.  You will want to first choose a fruit pectin made specifically for low or no added sugar such as SURE JELL Low or No Added Sugar Pectin or Pomona's Fruit Pectin.

If using a sugar substitute you want to make sure you're using one that measures cup for cup like regular sugar.  The low (about 25% lower sugar) or no added sugar pectins will have wonderful recipes tucked away inside their boxes with the proper formulation and proportion of sugar, fruit and pectin to give you a proper "set".  Insufficient amounts of sugar may cause a no sugar jam to spoil faster so make these is smaller batches.  As with any jam recipe do not try to "save time" but doubling recipes because your jam will not set.

Q.  Can I make double batches of jam and soft spreads?
A.  No.  if you do this, 99.9% of the time your jam or other soft spread will not set.   ( Example Strawberry Jam Batch:  5 cups mashed fruit to 7 cups sugar...this is 1 batch and will make up to 5 pint jars, that's a lot of jam) doubling this will cause you to have to cook it longer and will kill off the pectin and you will not have a set jam.  I will say out of all the pectin's out there to attempt this with is Pomona's Pectin and call their jam line they can walk you through it.  I still recommend regular batches at at time.

Q.  My jam hasn't set what do I do?
A.  I always refer people to the instructions that came in their box of pectin. Each pectin works a bit differently.

Q.  What does it mean when I hear the term "soft spreads"?
A.  Soft spreads are jam, jelly, preserves, marmalades, fruit butters and conserves.  Not only are they easy to make but the hardest for me to resist.  I love making them as much as eating them on freshly baked biscuits, toast and I even use them in making tarts and use as toppings on desserts.

Q.  What's the difference between jam, jelly, preserves, marmalade, fruit butters and conserves?
  1. AJam is made by crushing or chopping fruit and cooking with sugar until the mixture will gel up on a spoon.  You can make jam with just one fruit or a combo of fruit like a triple berry jam.  Jam should be firm and still spreadable.  It doesn't hold the shape of the jar like a jelly does.
  2.  Jelly is made from strained juice from the fruit, frozen concentrate or unsweetened bottled juices.  Jelly holds a great gel and is much firmer yet spreads beautifully.  Jelly holds the shape of the jar.
  3. Preserves is fruit that is preserved with sugar so it holds its shape, it is transparent, shiny, tender and plump with pieces of fruit.  A true preserve will not hold its shape when you spoon it out of a jar and the syrup varies from thick honey to a soft jelly.
  4. Marmalade a lovely favorite soft spread of many.  It is a soft jelly that holds small pieces of fruit and fruit peels (like orange marmalade) that suspends in the jelly.  Marmalade is cooked in small batches and brought quickly to or close to the gelling point.  Very similar to jam.
  5. Fruit Butter isn't a butter at all.  It is made by cooking fruit down to pulp with sugar into a thick consistency that will spread easily.  Spices such as cinnamon,  nutmeg and others may be added.  Butters are to be cooked very slow until thick enough to round up on a spoon.
  6. Conserves is jam like and made with a combination of two or more fruits along with nuts or raisins.  They are cooked until the round up on a spoon.  If you use nuts those are added in the last 5 minutes of cooking time.  
Q.  How do I store my soft spreads, jam, jelly etc.?
A.  Store your freshly made soft spreads (after over night cooling) in a cool, dry place like your pantry after of course you've dated, sealed and labeled them.  If you left a jar unsealed (using your water bath canner) this must be stored in the fridge once cooled. 

Q.  How long does my jam, soft spread last?
A.  Unopened jams etc. will keep up to 1 year from the day you made it.  After opened your soft spread must be stored in the fridge after opening and keeps about 3 months.  Once opened it has been exposed to air and are subject to mold, change of color.  If you see mold toss it, no it cannot be saved.  Honestly, homemade soft spreads are so good they will never even make it in your pantry or fridge long before they are gobbled up!

Q.   My garden is over grown and I have some over ripe fruit can I make jam with it?
A.  No.  I'm sorry, really I am but over ripe fruit has lost most if not all of it's natural grown pectin found in just before ripe to ripe fruit.  Using over ripe fruit may result in a very soft set to no set at all.

Do you have a question about soft spreads not listed here?  Please contact Mrs. V and she'll get right on your question, post it and answer it for you.  You can also leave your question in comment form below this post.

Until next time, see you in the kitchen,

Remember you can print this list out just click on the green printer friendly button below.  You can even get rid of the graphics!

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