Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jam without (much) guilt

Blackberries from my garden
I am probably one of the foremost toast eaters in the world, and as such, I like jam, especially homemade jam. But there's always been the problem of All That Sugar. It just can't be that good for you. After years of testing every low or no-sugar pectin that came along, I have finally found one that works great, apparently every time, at least in my experience.

 MCP, which I have used for years, includes in each box a list of jam recipes requiring squinting or a magnifying glass in order to read the EXACT amounts of fruit and sugar needed, different for each kind of fruit. The amount of sugar called for equals or exceeds the amount of fruit. If you can't find a recipe for your specific fruit, pomegranate, for example, you have to go online and find one.

The fruit I use never needs as much sweetness as regular pectin apparently needs in order to set properly, but when I tested it using less sugar, the jam did not set at all. I also tried Sure-Jell low sugar, but was not pleased with the results. Even when I followed the recipe exactly, I had setting failure at least half the time, meaning I had a lot of jars of fruit syrup, nice for waffles, but not what I had in mind.

Enter Ball Low or No-Sugar Pectin (see jar in third photo below). This pectin has only one recipe! No more reading a list of recipes in very small print. It's all on the label; you can't lose it. Another thing I like is that I can make a large batch all at once; no more having to do just four cups of fruit at a time, and I've used it for over a year now, since before it was sold in its current packaging, have made dozens of jars of jam, with no setting failures.

As per instructions on the label, for each 2 cups of fruit, add 1/3 c unsweetened fruit juice and 1 1/2 tablespoons pectin. Blueberries, peaches, and sweet cherries require 3 tsp lemon juice. After bringing this mixture to a boil, you add up to 1/2 c sugar per 2 c fruit, if you wish -- less than 1/4 the amount of sugar needed for regular pectin.

How I made my berry jam:

  1. I picked my berries using latex gloves, since my skin hates those little hairy stickers on the vines.
  2. I rinsed the berries by pouring them into a bowl full of water, sloshing them gently, then pouring off the water. The few ladybugs inhabiting my picking floated to the top, and I took them out to the garden. Ladybugs a wonderful, but not for eating.
  3. I used my trusty Victorio strainer to strain out the seeds, then ran the seed pulp through four times in order to get most of the fruit off the seeds, giving me an extra 2 cups of thick juice. I tried to run the seeds through a fifth time, but they jammed in the spiral. This caused a momentary panic during cleanup when I couldn't get the plastic spiral out of the screen, solved by my putting the screen on the floor, holding its lip with my feet, and pulling up steadily on the spiral. It worked. Whew!
  4. The strained berries amounted to 11 cups, but I did all my figuring based on 10 cups. This meant I would need to multiply the recipe ingredients by 5, since the recipe is given per 2 cups fruit.  5 x 1/3 c = 2 2/3 c unsweetened juice, 5 x 1 1/2 tablespoon = 7 1/2 tablespoons pectin. According to my Android app, 7 1/2 tablespoons = 1/2 cup, so that is the measurement I used. Since my berries were somewhat tart due to this year's cool weather, I chose to add the full 1/2 c sugar per 2 c juice.
  5. I chose white grape juice as my non-sweetened liquid, which adds natural sweetening without noticeably changing the flavor. I added my calculated 2 2/3 cups of juice.
  6. I whisked in the 1/2 cup pectin slowly. This pectin does not dissipate as easily as other powdered pectins. In my last batch I got lumps of pectin, even after processing (strange to come across while eating on toast), since I was not careful enough to stir in the pectin slowly.
  7. I brought the mixture to a boil.
  8. I added a dab of unsalted butter to reduce foam, though there was not much to start with.
  9. Added the sugar, brought back to a boil.
  10. Boiled 1 minute.

All the rest was as per usual - add jam to sterilized jars, put on sterilized lids, etc. The pectin sets slowly, takes up to even 2 weeks, according to the label. It's never taken that long for me.

My batch that started out with 11 cups of fruit made 16 cups of jam, but since I had only 12 8-oz jars on hand, I used a quart jar for the last 4 cups. I took that quart jar on a camping trip this last weekend, and most of it was consumed by 9 persons in one pancake breakfast. Yum!

The flavor of this jam is very good, undiluted by unnecessary sugar. You can pile it on your toast and waffles as thick as you want, and not feel guilty for consuming all the sugar you might normally eat. The set is slightly softer than high-sugar jam, but that just makes it easier to spread.

I hope every jam maker starts using Ball Low or No-Sugar Pectin, because I don't want it to disappear, like some of my other all-time favorites, off the market shelves for lack of sales. Ball has the same pectin in packets for small batches for those of you not inundated with seasonal fruit. They also have regular pectin in the same lovely green packaging, so be sure to read the label and get the kind you want.

I'd love to say I'm getting paid by Ball for this article, but I'm not. Maybe I can persuade them.