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To make jam, you will need lots of fruit. Try to choose fruit that is in season, as you will get better flavors. For spring jams, try early-ripening apricots or strawberries. As you head into the heady days of summer, try your hand at raspberries, blueberries or peaches. Fall and winter may seem like the end of fruit fun, but despair not; spicy pear or apple jellies and even marmalade will get you through the chillier months.
Although fruit may taste sweet to you, it can lose some of its natural sweetness as you make jam and become overly tart. Unless you test every piece of fruit you put into your jam, which is certainly tempting, you won't be sure of the final sweetness until the jam is done. Most jam recipes call for the addition of sugar, usually granulated or baker's sugar. Typically, you should use 3/4 of a cup of sugar (170 grams) for every 8 oz (about 225 grams) of fruit.
Some recipes call for the addition of a gelling agent such as pectin. While this will give you a consistent firmness in your completed jam or jelly, it takes away the old-fashioned texture of homemade jam. It is not a necessary ingredient, but you may prefer to use it if you like smooth-textured jellies as opposed to thicker, chunkier jam.
To make jam, peel fruit if necessary, then mash with a potato masher or similar instrument. If you are using a particularly seedy fruit, you may want to strain it through a sieve, but you will lose some of the texture in the process. After mashing, place your fruit and sugar into a large pot and bring to a rolling boil, stirring consistently, adding a little lemon or lime juice as an acidic agent. The mixture will eventually thicken after about 15 minutes. Take it off the heat and skim off any foam that remains on top.
You will need to purchase glass jam jars if you plan to make jam in big batches. These can be found at home supply and some grocery stores. Before using, you must sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water and allow to cool before filling. Seal the jam into the jars tightly, and store in a cool place.
You can make jam in any of your favorite flavors, but some are simply divine compared to store-bought versions. A simple blackberry jam made with perfectly ripe berries will have you searching for anything and everything you can serve it on, from ice cream to French toast. Plum jam with cloves and cinnamon may cause you to eat it directly out of the jar. A spicy apple-pear jelly makes a wonderful seasonal gift, and would be a lovely holiday or hostess gift. If you can get your hands on a recipe for coconut bread, pineapple jam served on top will give you a deliciously quick trip to the tropics.
There is no reason to let your over-abundance of fruit rot on the ground. Start taking all offers of excess fruit from your friends, and reward them with a jar or two of your delicious results. Make jam with kids, who will probably enjoy the mess and the mashing, but take care to keep them away from the boiling mixture. So get out there and start hunting for good fruit; your days as a jam genius are just around the corner.