27 July 2012

It's jam time!

All foods that are grown have a particular season when they're naturally at their best. The seasons in the southern hemisphere are the opposite to those in the northern. The closer you live to the equator, the less the seasons play a role in what can be grown. Food grown in season will be fresher and cheaper, and it will probably have been grown in more natural conditions - not in a glasshouse or hydroponically. The problem we have today is that unless you grow your own, you don't know what is in season. We've forgotten our seasons, and in general, all thoughts of how the seasons work to produce food has been lost to many of us.

This is one of the areas we need to reskill ourselves. Homemakers in the past would have commonly known this information, we should all learn it as part of our move towards being more self-reliant and aware.

Seasonal food chart USA - fruit and vegetables

I think the question most often asked while Hanno and I were on our book tour was "Is this only for retired people? Surely you couldn't do what you do if you worked for a living." I'm sure all of you living a more simple life will know that organisation is a big part of making it work. With menu planning, stockpiling, routines, lists and working with the seasons, you can do most of what you want to do, even if you're working outside the home as well.

Part of my yearly organisation is to make jam. We have jam on toast and scones andI use it in cooking sometimes. If I want good quality jam, made with no artificial additives, I have to make it myself. I know I can make enough jam for almost a year in half a day but because we like two jams - peach and strawberry, and both those fruits are available in abundance and cheaply in different seasons, I have to organise myself to make two separate batches, usually six months apart. Those two half day jam sessions give us good quality jam for the entire year, with enough to give as gifts as well.

In Australia and New Zealand too probably, it's now strawberry season. It's time to make jam! Strawberry jam is one of the easiest jams to make and the taste is much more intense than any commercial jam you will buy.  There is a recipe here. I would add pectin to it. Here is an American recipe for strawberry jam.

You need to understand the role of pectin in jam making too. There is a good explanation here. Pectin is the natural fibre that helps jams set and become spreadable but not too runny. Often jams made without added pectin will be too runny to stay on your toast. You can buy pectin to add to jam, and there is no reason why you shouldn't use it. Fowlers Vacola have a pectin pouch you can buy at the supermarket in Australia. I have no doubt powdered pectin available in other countries too. Jam sugar is available too, this is sugar with pectin added to it. I prefer not to use jam sugar because I like to regulate the amount of pectin I use. I like jam that isn't solid but isn't runny either. When you buy pectin, check that it doesn't contain dextrose or any other additive you don't want.

In Australia we use the English method of jam making and preserving. Those of you in the USA and probably Canada too, use a different method. Please be guided by what you think it the correct way. 

Here, we use recycled jars and most of us don't process our jams in a water bath. We believe that hot jam going into sterilised jars that are sealed immediately and properly, is enough to keep the jam well in the cupboard. It has been done this way for hundreds of years. Jam has a high sugar content - sugar is a preservative. If you follow the guidelines and sterilise your jars and lids properly,  that delicious jam you make can be stored in the cupboard for months.

If you've never made jam before, try it. Start with a simple jam like strawberry, and I'm sure you'll be convinced by the taste alone, that it's something you should do in strawberry season every year.



  1. Gosh, we get out big strawberry season in December and my dear husband hung up about 80 baskets around our home for us to grow strawberries in. We so enjoy them and turning some into jam. We also do not water bath jams here in South Africa. We enjoy apricot and fig jam too and make those in season. So true about knowing what fruit/veg is in season when you start growing your own food, it s wonderful way to shop - knowing the season, thus lowering the price and getting the right nutrients.

  2. I made strawberry jam for the first time two years ago. I couldn't believe the aroma in the kitchen! It was the yummiest smell I have ever smelt. As a beginner jam maker, I never know how my jam will turn out. I usually over-cook it and end up with quite a solid jam. That's because I'm never confident that it has reached the setting point so I just keep on cooking! I suppose I will become good at it over time?

  3. Hi Rhonda, that is funny, I just made peach jam this afternoon.
    I had never done it before. I have a picture of the jam on my blog. I made 4 jars in total.
    Have a wonderful day.

  4. Wow. Strawberries already! It is still way too cold for a big harvest of strawberries here in Melbourne. Perhaps you could send some warmth down?

  5. Looks delicious! I love the idea that nothing goes to waste either. A bumper crop of anything is preserved in some way so the produce can be enjoyed all year round. I made jam often as a child but it's so easy to lose that skill as life gets in the way. I made my "first" batch of bread and butter cucumbers last week after finding copious cucumbers at the markets cheaply. My your recipe is delicious! I plan on giving a jar to my parents as a little gift when I visit them this weekend. All it really cost is some of my time and I'm more than happy to offer that to friends and family.

  6. I love making jam - although, unfortunately, we have the generically labled fruit and vege with no clue to where it came from any time of the year (and prices to match strawberries never get below $3 a punnet here, which is just terrible).
    I follow a seasonal guide too - which is difficult sometimes and I'm always tempted to buy tomatoes, even though they inevitably are not in season much down here!

  7. Thanks for your wonderful advice and guidance Rhonda, I am really learning so much from your book and this forum. I made strawberry jam last weekend for the first time and it turned out great. I didn't use pectin, just strawberries, lemon juice and caster sugar. I did put my bottles to store in the pantry in a water bath though which was such a lengthy process. So you don't think we need to do this process? I did it as it was my first time and was nervous about ruining it. It would be easier if I didn't have to!
    Thanks again Rhonda for waking us all up and getting us to smell the roses.

  8. For us in the UK, making strawberry jam happens in June/July during the early days of summer. I don't use pectin or jam sugar because I don't like the texture it imparts. This means strawberry jam is one of the most difficult jams to make because of the low pectin content. This year I've made raspberry and gooseberry jam, both of which set beautifully after only 5 mins rolling boil. A friend of mine who was born in Germany and was sent to the UK just before the second world war recommended adding a small amount of gooseberry jam to strawberry to help it set. I haven't tried this yet as I don't grow enough strawberries and we've lost our local pick your own farm. Last year I made a windfall jam of apples and plums, damson, and rhubarb and ginger as well as lots of quince jelly and cheese. Our difficult weather has adversely affected our tree fruit harvest, so there won't be anything like as much as we usually gather.

  9. anon, I forgot to add to the post that there is more natural pectin in unripe fruit. So adding unripe fruit (for the pectin) to the ripe fruit (for the flavour) can give you a good setting jam with adding pectin. Always add the lemon juice to jam because it helps draw the pectin from the fruit.

    Also, if you sterilise your jars and lids and pour the hot jam into hot sterilised jars, then no, you don't need to water bath them as well. It's good to know there are people making jam for the first time!

  10. Sarah, see my comment about adding unripe fruit in my comment above. We commented at the same time.

  11. Hi Rhonda,

    Your jam looks so rich and yum! I really would like to try this but am currently 'fructose free', meaning I don't eat sucrose, only dextrose. Do you think dextrose would work in place of caster sugar? Or maybe glucose syrup? I have no idea?!
    Thanks, Kylie

  12. Last month we received ten kilos of kiwi fruit picked from my in-laws' vine before they headed off overseas. They couldn't bear leaving the fruit for the birds to enjoy!
    I had no idea what to do with it all, but after a little internet searching, found a fantastic recipe for kiwi chutney and another for kiwi jam.
    I'd never made either before, but had plenty of jars and plenty of enthusiasm. The jam was very easy to make and delicious. And I am so pleased that none of this fresh, seasonal fruit went to waste!

  13. Sorry Kylie, I've only made jam using cane sugar. Maybe one of our other jam makers here can help. Can anyone help Kylie?

  14. Since moving last year I am still waiting to get enough home grown strawberries but you can buy a big batch from a farm and there is the odd organic grower.
    I have been making strawberry jam for years and experimented by throwing in some cape gooseberries (which I freeze whole whenever I get a crop) as I thought they were high in pectin and it saved me having to add any pectin bar what is is in lemon juice. I had made gooseberry jam as well and found until i got it right that it was just too thick which made me think it must have a high pectin content and the unripe ones more so. If you want to you can then just fish out the squished gooseberries just before bottling although I leave most of them in. Australia does have a long strawberry season - the southern states start picking just before ours in Queensland wind down as it gets too hot. I don't water bath either - just sterilise well before bottling and screw the lids on tight. If you haven't made strawberry jam before just make a small batch first - it is still very rewarding and the smell is wonderful. You can also make another batch with less sugar as a strawberry topping for ice cream or milk shakes - yum!

  15. Last year my husbands aunty brought us a couple big boxes of mandarines, and no matter how often we ate them there was no way we would finish them. Aso, they were small, had lots of seeds, and had a tight skin so i was getting tired of trying to peel them. I googled for recipes and came across a good one for jam but it suggested peeling and removing the seeds! No way! Instead, i just washed and chopped them up as is and used them that way. A number of pots later we had lots of mandarine jam. Its been a year and theres still some left! Making my own jam made me feel more motherly and like a better wife because i was being efficient and not wasting food- the way our mothers used to (i guess thats why i felt motherly haha). I didnt use pectin so mine was a bit runny. Will try that next time. Oh and i also found a fantastic mandarine cake recipe, too. I say give jam a try, you'll be glad you did.

  16. I am looking forward to making some more strwberry jam this year as the lot I made last year was cooked for too long and set solid. Not great for toast or scones but fine for other baking like jam drops. So this year I will be much more careful so that I have spreadable jam for the coming year.

  17. Funny - I was juct complaining to my husband this morning that I need to make some more jam but can't think of what fruit to use as Jam fruit (like strawberries etc) are not in season yet. It looks like I'll have to wait just a bit longer for them to come into the stores.
    And thanks for the note about not needing the water bath - I had wondered about that.

  18. We are starting to get cheap Qld strawberries here in the shops, but it won't be strawberry season here until Oct/Nov and then we can look forward to Vic strawberries in summer.
    I am also fructose free and imagine that you could probably make jam with dextrose but it would not keep for very long- except maybe in the freezer because the fructose is the preservative.

  19. This is on my list fo things to do since moving to the country, it's still too cold where I am at the moment to have fruit yet but I have started keeping jars in preperation.

  20. Kylie, I make jams without adding much sugar at all usually. It makes a runnier jam, as I believe the sugar also has a part to play in the setting process. I don't mind it that way, especially since I know it has little sugar compared to bought jams. Sometimes I make Strawberry jam with an apple added too, for help with pectin and sweetness. I guess technically that makes it apple and strawberry jam, but in reality, it is the strawberry flavour that dominates and you can't tell the apple is even in there. I don't make jams often, and am by no means an expert, but those are a couple of things that I do to try and avoid sugar while still enjoying my jam!

  21. Strawberry time here in SA is around January, we go picking ourselves up at Beerenberg and I make just enough to last the year too...I have made plum jam before, as we have a Satsuma plum tree but my all time favourite jam to eat , is fig jam...I love it...on soft bread with some cream....naughty and yummy.

  22. Good morning Rhonda, peach jam is one of my favorites too, although I find apricot jam has many uses in cooking. For about a month in Perth the cooking peaches are available at the Farmers market and they make the best peach jam. They are cheaper than other peaches as the grower tells me that there is little demand for them. Crazy! Also I have a recipe for home made pectin, made with just ripe apples when they are in season. I have not tried it yet but will post it in the forum. We love jam making days in this house. Hope everyone has a great new day today.

  23. No strawberries in Melbourne RHonda, I'm guessing thats a northern Australia gift, my plants are all still browned of and dormant! xxBrenda

  24. Hi Rhonda,
    Thanks for the seasonal guide links - I love the one for Australia as on the page you can further divide into states in the country! I grew up on one side and now live on the other and although I know they are basically the same, I was used to seasonal markers like the first frost (etc) - which we just dont get where I am in WA :-)

    It will be a huge help and might be the kick i need to get past my current hurdle (i.e. excuse) of "I don't know what to plant/harvest when".

  25. I love this post! I woke to find my husband eating blueberry jam on homemade toast and i thought to myself "i should learn to make jam", and then i read this! Strawberries in season announce that the warmer months are fast approaching! I have been saving all my jars and think I have almost enough to make a batch of strawberry jam. Sam xox

  26. Oh to live in Queensland. In Victoria we don't get our strawberries till Christmas.
    I know what you mean about seasons, the poor tomatoes in supermarket looked so hard, that if you dropped them wouldn't squash a bit. Bring on the spring weather so we can plant and eat out of our gardens to our hearts content.

  27. I like to make freezer jam from strawberries and/or raspberries. Very little cooking involved ... imparting a fresher taste to boiled jam. The recipe is usually included in the boxed pectin in the U.S. For cooked recipes I use our sour cherries to make preserves. Then there is the wild rose jelly to make in the spring time. Oh .. so much more flavor in the homemade variety than any mass produced store bought stuff.

  28. Hi Rhonda! I really love this post. The strawberries in your photos look delicious! Just wondering when you recycle jars do you re-use the lids as well (you can tell I'm a novice! hehe) and do you have a blog post somewhere on sterilising jars for jam? Thank you.

    And Madge which Farmer's Markets do you go to in Perth? I've been trying to find a good one.

  29. mysimplelife, here is an old post: http://down---to---earth.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/thrifty-way-to-preserve-your-jams-and.html

  30. I learn so much from you and relate to you so thoroughly, that it is always a bit startling to remember you are on the other side of the world! (California)


  31. I love making jam. I find it so satifying to be using fruit I have grown and the taste is wonderful. I also love the thought that I have not added any horrid additives or chemicals...Jam on homemade bread...sheer bliss!

  32. Great reminder about eating what's in season. I'm hoping to spend more time at my local farmer's market this school year when I'm away from home and get into the mode of thinking seasonally. Great photos and information about your "jam sessions"!

  33. It's the supermarket mentality isn't it? 'In season' has really only come to mean 'cheaper' to a lot of people these days.

    We've had fairly miserable weather this summer so everything is ripening a bit late. So though we're in opposite seasons I'll be making my own strawberry jam next week too :)

  34. It's jam time here in the UK too. Sadly my garden hasn't produced much this summer due to the dreadful weather. But I've been picking up reduced fruit in the supermarket just before closing time to make jam. I made pineapple and cardomom jam recently. I wouldn't have thought to make it but picking up reduced fruit then looking in my trusty jam and chutney book for ideas has been huge fun!!

    Also did you know you can easily make your own pectin from lemon shells? After I've squeezed the juice from a lemon I save it and freeze them until I have enough

  35. For those on low fructose: check if the fruit you want to make jam of is not one of the high-fructose fruits. Also don't use apples for added pectin as (I seem to remember) they are high in fructose. Purified pectin powder might be a better option.

    You can make 'jam' from just fruit and powdered pectin. I have a friend who always does this. But the shelf-life will be much shorter. You can make smaller batches and keep some pots in the fridge, or make freezer jam als mentioned in an earlier comment.
    Just experiment: you can make a couple of jars and see if you like how it turned out. There is very little to lose :-)

  36. I also love to make jam. Next week I'll do marmalade and orange halves (whole pieces). This time. weather permitting, I'll do it on an eco stove outside as specially the halves, need to boil away for quite a while. Easy to spot when your jam is cooked, is to put a little bit on an icecold saucer and let it cool. If it ripples when pushed by your finger, it is right.

  37. Might have to go strawberry picking soon! Homemade strawberry jam is the best and to get a good yield of jam must be very satisfying! Strawberries appear in NZ at Christmas time and was always something to really enjoy on Christmas Day but now that I live in QLD I can't believe that I can already buy and enjoy them now!!! So blessed :)

  38. i just made 15 jar's of Marmalade this morning from the Orange tree in my back yard,so delicious!

  39. I have been reading about making pectin stock out of cooking apple windfalls recently and wondered if you would like the recipe. I hope this is okay.

    1kg sour cooking apples, chopped up (windfalls fine with bruised bits cut out)

    1 Place apples in preserving pan and just cover the fruit with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until soft.
    2 Strain the pulp through a large sieve lined with muslin cloth, and allow to drip though into a bowl positioned below.
    3 Pur the strained juice into a clean pan and simmer gently until thick and reduced by half. Then test pectin strength.
    4 Allow to cool and store in containers to freeze - approx. 150ml of strong pectin stock should set 2kg of medium or low-pectin fruit as jam.

    Pectin test.
    Put 1 tsp of stock into a small container when cold, and add 1tbsp of methylated spirit, swirl together, leave for 1 minutes and then check for a set
    High Pectin - the mixture forms a jelly-like clot
    Medium Pectin - 2-3 soft clots form - return stock to the heat and reduce a little further and test again.
    Low Pectin - many small globules form - return stock to the heat and reduce the volume of the stock and test again.
    DISCARD THE TESTED STOCK - Methylated spirit is poisonous!!

  40. I may have been living in a cave for the past several years, because somehow--I am just now finding your lovely blog! We grow our own strawberries to ensure they're free of chemicals, but my great regret this year is that I didn't make jam. Usually, my husband is the jam-maker, but life happened, and suddenly our strawberry season was over. Still--we're in the throes of peach season in SC, and while we don't grow our own peaches, I do believe there's a peach jam session in store for us this weekend. Look forward to visiting Down to Earth again soon--and I'm very much looking forward to reading your book! Congrats to you!

  41. How funny that even though our seasons are flipped we're just ending strawberry season right now! I've been busy with peaches we bought by the crate, frozen halves and cubes of puree for the baby, plain peach jam, earl grey peach jam, diced in a fragrant honeyed syrup for topping pancakes, and today I'll make a vanilla bourbon peach jam and perhaps a peach cake which should do it for peaches I hope! Then it's off to the wild blackberries, pickles, tomatoes, and then grapes! Hooray for canning season!
    I love the whole process of canning and use the water bath method but often have problems with runny jam even with pectin. It's a mystery to me, I start with the amount in the recipe and when nothing happens I end up adding more and more till it starts to look right. I just think it makes it soak in the toast better or pour it over vanilla ice cream.
    In addition to being a great gift jams and jellies are a value added product and are a good bartering tool to trade for what you may need from others who don't make them.

  42. I made jam for the first time this summer (US) and I enjoyed it greatly. I kept looking at all those jars of jam, admiring and feeling wonderful about my small accomplishment.

    Being new to jamming, and preserving, I find I am afraid of "doing it wrong". But your post has given me some thoughts and confidence. There is no one "right way", as people have been preserving their food for generations in different manners. Thank you!

  43. I made sooooo much jam last year and the year before (and it's all kept perfectly well using the methods you describe) that I don't have to make any this year. So I'll be making chutneys instead I think.

    I couldn't let a year go by and NOT make some preserves.

    Sue xx

  44. Just thought I would let you all know I made some strawberry jam following the first recipe link posted, but used dextrose instead of caster sugar and it is lovely!! I did't use pectin, because I don't have any and wasn't going to the shop but the consistency is great, not runny at all. I only made half a jar from one punnet of strawberries, but the kids are devouring it and it is likely to be gone by the end of the day! I feel so proud of myself, I didn't realise it was so easy.. We have a mandarin tree out the back, filled with juicy mandys... might go searching for a marmalade recipe!

  45. OMG! It's the middle of winter with seriously subzero nights and deep crackly frost and certainly NOT strawberry season here in NSW! They are in all the shops ('imported' from Queensland) and I gave in and bought a punnet last week. Sooooo disappointing. They look beautiful but CRISP is not a word I associate with good strawberries.
    I make all our jam and plenty to barter with whatever fruit I can get. We'll have gooseberries, blackcurrants and raspberries before Xmas and stone fruit in March. I'll wait until strawberries are in season here (late spring and through summer)before I think of making my jam.

  46. Another jam maker here.Have been for over 20 years.
    My strawberry version is apple and strawberry. We prefer it to plain strawberry and I think the apple helps with the pectin level. I buy my strawberries from the farmers market, 2.5kg box for $8. That's the equivilent to .80c a punnet. And I also make enough for the year.
    I'll make jam out of whatever fruit I'm given or whatever I can buy really cheap. Satsuma is a favourite. Apple and rhubarb proved to be a big hit with my husband despite for years telling me that he didn't like rhubarb. We have jars of quince jelly and jam too. I'm still working my way through the cumquat marmalade I made almost 2 years ago. And pear and ginger marmalade. Hubby won't go near marmalade.
    I also have homemade tomato sauce in the pantry. Two versions, spicy and kid friendly. And chilli plum sauce, onion marmalade, and fiery tomato chilli chutney. I didn't think the kids would take to the homemade tomato sauce, but they all have with 12yo stepson declaring that it's so good I should sell it!
    And a few months ago finally tried preserving/bottling fruit. And have done quinces and pears.
    And last night pickled my second batch of beetroot.

  47. Margaret in TasmaniaJuly 28, 2012 5:52 pm

    We grow ,strawberries,raspberries,gooseberries,blackcurrants,
    redcurrants and crab apples so consequently I make a lot of jam, there is nothing to beat home made preserves. I also make chutney and sauce.Not much going on at this time of year ,middle of winter in Tasmania.There is silverbeet and cabbages at the moment but my leeks were a great dissapointment.Roll on spring and summer.

  48. Hi

    I have a receipe for strawberry and peach jam that I love to make but it is quite involved. It used cooking apples to make a juice to increase the pectin content as in the comment above. I've just been out and bought some strawberries so hopefully will make this tomorrow afternoon.

    Pat in the UK who is celebrating her Ruby Wedding tonight.

  49. Happy anniversary Pat. Congratulations to you and your husband on such a wonderful milestone.

  50. Oh how I wish it WAS strawberry season in New Zealand! Not until summer here unfortunately. I can almost taste the strawberries in your photos!

  51. I haven't made jam for quite a few years as I haven't had the fruit trees to gather the fruit. I had a great old apricot tree; apricots are so great either fresh, easy to bottle (just cut in half & remove the stone), an& makes great jam. My favourite jam though has to be fig jam. I'll have to wait a while as I'm planting the fig tree next week. The other fruit trees I've planted won't bear enough for jam this year but maybe next year -- apricot, plums, nectarine, peach, quince........ Enjoy your strawberry jam.

  52. My husband recently battled the ticks and the thorns to pick me wild blackberries...nearly 2 gallons! We had plenty for jam and cobbler. We also do not use a hot bath either when canning.

  53. Anyone know where I can get strawberries at jam-making price around Dalby / Toowoomba?

  54. We've only made one batch of am so far this year, we made strawberry from a load I got cheap from our local supermarket, hoping that next year once the strawberry plants in the garden and at the allotment recover we'll be able to use those instead of shop bought, I also made a small batch of strawberry wine, which should be interesting.

    Still waiting for the blackberries to ripen up, seems most of the plants are no where near ripe yet, so looking at some late bb picking this year.

    Can't beat homemade jam (or homemade anything for that matter)

  55. Thanks for the reminder! Plus, am almost out of summer's blackberry jam. Lots of love to you Rhonda xx

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  57. Hi Rhonda. I recently discovered your blog via a friend who shared your laundry detergent recipe with me. I have so enjoyed reading through your articles.

    Speaking of strawberries... my parents have neighbours who grow strawberries commercially so I have access to boxes and boxes of them. I give a lot away to neighbours but I also make jam. I recently experimented with a very basic strawberry sauce which I preserved in bottles. Although the sauce colour fades somewhat over time, it is still delicious many months later with plain yoghurt, ice-cream or whatever.

    All I do is cut the strawberries into fairly small pieces, put them in a very large saucepan, heat them slowly, add only one cup of sugar and bring them to a boil for a few minutes. They don't even have to be sweetened, or stevia could be used if you can't eat sugar. The fruit makes its own juice - no need to add any water. I simply pour this into ordinary warm/hot glass bottles that I have saved throughout the year. I wipe the rim, put on the lid (I usually use new lids that I purchase from a local company in Brisbane) and water bath them for some time.

    I have done a lot of research with preserving fruit and prefer to waterbath all my jams and fruit sauces. If you waterbath for at least 10mins, you don't need to sterilise the jars in ovens, just wash them in hot soapy water.

    The results are so delicious and as I usually make far more than I need, my neighbours/family are very appreciative too - it's a great gift idea.



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