Imagine enjoying the taste of summer berries all year round. It’s a luxury our mothers and grandmothers knew well, for there was a time when every house had a larder stocked with home-canned, home-grown produce. Canning the fruits of your garden labors is easy and safe, as long as you follow proper procedures. What follows is a basic recipe for berry jam and instructions on canning it in a hot water bath. Once you’ve mastered this basic technique, you can experiment with other fruits, fruit combinations, and recipes.
Equipment for canning
- Boiling water canner (aluminum or porcelain clad steel pot, large enough for at least one inch (2.5 centimeters) of water to boil above the jars used.
- Jar rack (often sold as a set with the canner), which sits on the bottom of the canner and holds the jars
- Jar lifter for pulling the jars out of hot water
- Wide-mouth funnel for filling jars
- Regular and wide mouthed mason jars, threaded, with self-sealing lids. For the following recipe, you need eight half-pint jars and matching lids.
Ingredients for basic berry jam
- 9 cups crushed berries (any sort or a mix)
- 6 cups white sugar
Prepare your jars and lids
1. Wash the jars and both parts of the lids in hot soapy water and rinse well (or run them through the dishwasher).
2. Place the jars without lids in the jar rack in the canner and fill with water to a level one inch (2.5 centimeters) above the top of the jars. Boil with the canner lid on for ten minutes. Keep the empty jars in the water and the water hot (but not boiling) until they are ready to pack with jam.
3. Meanwhile, place the lids in a small pot and cover with water. Heat the water and let these simmer but not boil until ready to use.
Making berry jam
1. Combine the berries and the sugar in a large pot and cook on the stove, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.
2. Bring the jam mixture to a rapid boil, stirring often to keep the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
3. Continue reducing the mixture until it reaches the jelly point, the point at which the berry jam no longer falls off a spoon in drips but instead oozes off in a sheet.
Note: Sugar in this amount is necessary to activate the natural pectin–gelling agent–in the berries. Using pectin, especially low or no sugar varieties, will allow you to cut down on the sugar involved. Pectin is available in most supermarkets and wherever canning supplies are sold. Follow the instructions in the pectin package for best results.
Pack and process the jars
1. Use the funnel to pour the berry jam into the hot jars from the canner, leaving ¼ to ½ inch (.65 to 1.3 centimeter) from the top of the jam to the rim of the jar (head space). Wipe any spillage on the jar rim with a clean cloth, place the self-sealing lid on top of the jar, and secure it loosely with the ring. Do not tighten the rings until the jars have been processed, the center lid has sealed, and the jam has cooled completely.
2. Place the jars back into the water, making sure there is still at least one inch (2.5 centimeters) of water above the top of the jars. Cover the canner and bring to a boil.
3. Let the jars remain at a full boil for ten minutes.
4. Turn off the heat and, after five minutes, remove the jars from the canner and set on a rack or dish towel to cool completely. When that’s done, and it can take several hours, check the seal on the lids by pushing on the center. A lid has failed to seal if you can feel it pop in and out. Any jars that do not seal should be refrigerated and consumed with a couple of weeks. The sealed jars of berry jam can last a year unrefrigerated and will maintain their flavor and color best if stored in a cool and dark place.
Note: Boiling times will increase at altitudes of about 1000 feet.
To keep your food safe, make sure you follow the instructions for sterilization and processing times exactly. Also, be aware that this canning procedure works for most fruits and pickle recipes, but low acid foods and combinations, such as meats and most un-pickled vegetables, require processing for longer times in a pressure cooker.
Nothing beats biting into the first strawberry of spring, but a close second is popping open a jar of homemade berry jam in the middle of winter and revisiting the fresh tastes of the summer garden. To learn about other ways to preserve your garden harvest see our article, Preserving Your Summer Harvest.