Rarely will you find a “quick and easy” approach to cooking that produces better results than a slower, more complex method, but that’s just the case with freezer jam. The conventional method of jam making requires cooking fresh fruits with sugar and some pectin. The mixture is then placed into sterilized glass jars which are, in turn, placed into boiling water bath for several minutes. After the jars have cooled, the jam can be stored in a cupboard for up to a year.
With freezer jam, cold air does the preservation. So there is no need to cook the fruit or sterilize any jars. This not only streamlines the entire process but also creates a superior product. Since the fruit is never fully cooked, freezer jam taste fresher. It even looks fresher too. Conventional strawberry jam, for example, has a deep red color that approaches burgundy. Strawberry freezer jam, on the other hand, has a much brighter hue, closer to that of a fresh strawberries.
The key to a successful freezer jam is the proper ratio of fruit, sugar, and, most importantly, pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring substance, known as a polysaccharide, that occurs naturally in the cell walls of fruits like apples and berries. When heated to a near boil, pectin dissolves and combines with sugar and acid to form a gel.
With some traditional jams, you can get by quite nicely without adding any pectin, but with freezer jam you pretty much have to add pectin. You can certainly cook fruit in order to release the natural pectin and then create freezer jam, but I feel this misses the entire point. The beauty of freezer preservation is that it sustains food in a nearly fresh state. So to get the most out of freezer jam, it is best not to heat the fruit in order to extract the pectin but add pectin to the mix instead.
There are several brands of commercial pectin available on the market, and most include instructions for making freezer jam. Several of these use sugar to activate the pectin. So pay close attention to amount of sugar called for and measure precisely to ensure a proper set.
I’ve had good success over the years with Sure-Jell For Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes pectin (pink box). It’s easy to use, gives consistent results, yields about 6 cups of jam and requires 25-50% less sugar than Sure-Jell’s regular formula pectin (yellow box). If you wish to reduce the sugar even further, Pomona Universal Pectin is a natural pectin that is activated with calcium not sugar. So you can create freezer jams with just a fraction of the sugar used with sugar-activated brands.
Nothing affect the quality of your jam more than the quality of the fruit that goes into it. Taste the fruit before you use it. It should be have good flavor. Avoid under or over ripened fruit or fruit that is bruised or blemished. I can’t stress enough how much better your freezer jam will taste if you limit yourself to using in-season fruit, particularly local. After all, the entire purpose of jam making is to capture the peak of the season in order to enjoy it in the off season.
Keep in mind that freezer jam sets up a little runnier than regular jams, and some fruits set firmer than others. I’ve made freezer jams with strawberries, blueberries and peaches. The berry jams are looser than store-bought jams, but I like that. It makes for a true homemade quality. My first batch of peach jam, on the other hand, was too runny for my tastes, but this was easily remedied. It turns out that peaches and apricots are both high in pectinase, an enzyme that interferes with pectin’s jelling process. There are two ways to counter this. Adding some lemon juice to the pectin acts as a catalyst and boosts its jelling ability, while briefly boiling the fruit neutralizes the pectinase. My peach jams set best when I did a little of both.
The uses for freezer jam go far beyond your breakfast toast. Try mixing a spoonful or two into plain yogurt or on top of ice cream. A small amount added to a vinaigrette can add a wonderful dimension of sweetness. Peach, apricot and blackberry jams all pair well with goat’s cheese and toasted walnuts. The next time your making blueberry muffins, stir a teaspoon of blueberry freezer jam into each to intensify the flavor.
If you want to capture that peak-of-the-season freshness and enjoy it year-round, there is no better method than freezer jams. Save yourself some of the fuss and muss of traditional jam making and freeze up a batch today.
Strawberry Freezer Jam
- 4 quart sauce pan
- large bowl
- potato masher optional
- 4 pints fresh strawberries
- ⅓ cup (1.75 ounces) Sure-Jell For Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes pectin
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- Wash, rinse and dry the containers and lids.
- Rinse the strawberries thoroughly and remove the stems and leaves. In a large bowl, mash the berries with a potato masher or crush with clean hands. Measure exactly 4 cups of the mashed berries and set aside.
- In a 3-4 quart sauce pan, add the sugar and pectin and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Stir in the water and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil. Continue to boil for one minute and remove from heat.
- Stir the mashed fruit into the hot sugar-pectin mixture until thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into the containers leaving a ½ inch of space to allow for expansion. Cover the containers with their lids and allow to set at room temperature for up to 24 hours until the jam sets.
- Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Otherwise, store the jam in the freezer for up to one year. Thaw in the refrigerator.