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As cabin fever sets in, a lot of people are finding comfort in cooking elaborate dinners, baking the perfect cookie, or even tending to a sourdough starter. Making jam is a similarly meditative hobby that also lets you add to your shelf-stable food supply. And if you don’t have a lot of fresh fruit on hand (or want to avoid an unnecessary trip to the grocery store), worry not — Dafna Kory, founder of INNA, a California-based jam company, told us that frozen fruit works just as well. We asked her and five experts, including cookbook authors, recipe testers, and jam-company founders, about the tools they recommend for an at-home canning operation. Read on for the jars, thermometers, and pots they swear by.
Best digital scale
Candace Ross, founder of Brins jam, says that a general ratio for jam-making is one part fruit, one part sugar, and one tablespoon of lemon juice for each pound of fruit. “If you don’t have a lemon, you can substitute with apple cider vinegar,” she says. If you prefer less sugar, you could also do a ratio of two parts fruit to one part sugar. Since most jam recipes are by weight, you’ll want to have a digital kitchen scale on hand to measure your ingredients. “Soehnle is the brand we use at home,” says Eric Haeberli, co-owner of Bay Area–based small-batch jam company We Love Jam. “Our 20-year-old scale is still accurate to 1/10 of a gram.”
Best stainless-steel saucepan
According to the experts we spoke to, there are a few different types of pots and pans you can use when you begin to cook down the fruit and sugar for your jam — and stainless steel is among the best. Haeberli has this rule of thumb: “Any saucepan will do as long as it isn’t too thin because anything less than an eighth of an inch thick on the bottom will scorch or burn.” Alessandra Gordon, owner of Seattle-based jam company Ayako & Family, loves this “versatile” All-Clad saucier that’s great for cooking any sauces or jam at home, because the “curved shallow sides and wide mouth allow for easier reduction and minimizes scorching.” All-Clad is also the saucepan her mother — Ayako herself — used to make jams when she first started the company in 2009. Haeberli does all of his product development in a 22-year-old, 1.5-quart All-Clad pan. When it comes to choosing a size, he says the three-quart version, which he also has, will make approximately four to six jars. “Remember the smaller the batch, and the bigger the width of the pan, the thicker the jam will be due to the speed of evaporation of the water in the fruit,” he says, adding that he prefers doing multiple small batches, rather than one big batch.
Best enamelware Dutch oven
Best copper pot
While Le Creuset may feel fancy already, the true sign of status in the jam-making world is a Mauviel copper jam pan. Crafted in France, Mauviel is a family-owned copper kitchenware company that has been in business since 1830, and it has a wide, shallow bowl and heat-conductive copper, which will ensure your jams cook evenly. “Mauviel’s copper pot is the best,” explains Ross. But she notes that if you’re on a budget or just dipping your toe into a new hobby, stainless steel will work just fine.
After you combine your fruit and sugar in your pan, turn the heat to medium-high, and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to help the sugar dissolve. Then bring the fruit and sugar mixture to a boil, stirring often. “Don’t turn your back on this since sugar loves to boil over,” warns Ross. Let the mixture cook on a hard simmer, stirring often to make sure the jam isn’t sticking to your pan or burning. You’ll want to keep a thermometer on hand because once the mixture reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re ready to start jarring. Depending on the water content of the fruit, this can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Both Kory and Haeberli recommended a Thermapen MK4, which Strategist writer Maxine Builder loves for its speed and accuracy. But if you don’t want to spend 99 bucks on a thermometer, Ross loves this inexpensive candy thermometer from Taylor, which she says can be clipped to the side of your pan so that you can keep your eye on the temperature during the entire jam-making process.
And if you don’t have a thermometer at all, two of our experts said you could use the “freeze plate test” to know when your jam is done cooking. Freeze a plate and when you think the jam is ready, add a small amount to it, says Ross. Run your finger through the jam; if it wrinkles and feels gelled to the touch, it’s ready. “If not, just keep cooking the jam until it’s gelled.”
Best silicone spatulas
“A silicone spatula is best for stirring and scraping hot jam out of the pan, and they are also safe when using tin-plated copper pots and pans,” says Haeberli. He prefers either Williams Sonoma or Le Creuset because “the handles never crack like the bamboo used in other brands.”
Best stainless-steel ladle
You’ll also want a stainless steel ladle with a long handle, which will “allow you to both stir and scoop” your hot jam while keeping your hands a safe distance away while cooking, says Gordon.
According to Gordon, “Having a piston funnel for canning jams was a huge game-changer for our production.” She loves this stainless-steel funnel from De Buyer because it has a handle that “allows you to control how quickly and how much you dispense into a vessel.” They’re also dishwasher safe and make “jar-filling a breeze with less mess.”
Best stainless-steel stockpot
Home canning can be divided into two categories, explains Haeberli. For short-term preservation, you can pour the hot jam directly into any empty jar you have, close the lid, let cool to room temperature, and store in the fridge, says Kory. Jam that undergoes this process will generally be safe to eat for a few weeks. “Refrigerator jam is perfect for those who don’t want to bother with all the technical details and who don’t have any special equipment,” says Haeberli.
For long-term preservation, you would use the water-bath method, which requires you to process the jars both before and after they’ve been filled with jam, to sterilize and preserve them properly. For this, a stockpot is best, like this one from Webstaurant, says Liana Krisoff, author of Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry. It will hold three standard quart jars, four pint jars, six half-pint jars, or seven four-ounce jars at a time, she says. “It will also, incidentally, hold a good-sized batch of stock on non-canning days,” she adds.
To begin the process, you should simmer, not boil, your jars for five to ten minutes, while washing the lids with soapy, warm water, says Ross. Then bring the water in the stockpot to a boil, while you make your jam. When the jam is ready, pour it into the sterilized jars, screw on the lids, and place them in the boiling water. “You want to make sure the lids are secure, but not too tight, as you want air to be able to escape while you process.” The most important part is to make sure you place a round wire rack or trivet at the bottom of the stockpot to hold the jars in place, so they don’t break as they boil. And remember: “You need around one inch of boiling water above the lid of the jar,” to properly preserve your jam, says Ross. After boiling for five minutes, remove the jars, and leave to cool on a towel for 24 hours. You shouldn’t move them during this time, so make sure to leave them in a secure place. “The next day, check to make sure the lids are concave, and the buttons are down, which indicates that the jar sealed,” she says. If a jar didn’t seal, don’t worry, says Ross. “Put it in the fridge, and just make sure you eat it first.”
Best jar grip
To safely place and remove your jars from the water bath, you’ll want to use a jar grip. Ross’s favorite is this dishwasher-safe, BPA-free, spring-loaded option from Williams Sonoma, that can securely clamp onto a range of jar sizes.
Best rubber gloves
For another level of protection, you could invest in heat-resistant fingered gloves, which “offer a lot more control while you are picking up and lidding the jars than an oven mitt would,” explains Gordon. Or, you could use a pair of reusable rubber cleaning gloves that you probably already have lying around the kitchen, which Haeberli says offers a similar level of control. His brand of choice is Playtex Living.
Best standard-size canning jars
When it comes to the jars itself, Goldstein likes Kerr’s wide-mouthed jars, in either pint or half-pint sizes. “They are easy to fill and the smooth surface makes it easy to put on labels,” she says. When you fill your jars, Ross says you want to leave a quarter inch of space at the top, and make sure you clean off the rims of the jars with a damp towel before placing into the water bath.
Best short canning jars
Ross suggests low-profile jars because they can fit easily in home stockpots. She likes these eight-ounce ones because “they have a wide mouth for more forgiving pouring, and they stack well in your pantry.”
Best quilted canning jars
But if you have taller stock pots and a steady pouring hand, she also loves these 12-ounce “old-school” quilted jars, which will look quite lovely as a gift.
Best canning set
For less than the price of a sandwich, you could pick up a funnel and a jar grip with this set, suggested by Krisoff. “I’ve canned foods without these two somewhat specialized tools before and lived to can another day, but I have to say I wouldn’t recommend it.” The set also includes a third tool, called a bubble remover, which you can slide into the side of the filled jar to release air bubbles and measure the space at the top of the jar.
Another important kitchen tool — and something many people overlook — is a notebook, says Haeberli. “Taking notes of your recipes and measurements is critical to duplicating that accident that turns into a masterpiece,” he says. Rite in the Rain notebooks — which took the 31st spot in our 100 Best Notebooks list — are waterproof, making them “perfect for wet kitchen fingers and spills.”
Best books on jam making
If you’re looking for a trusted recipe source, Kristoff recommends The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, which she calls “a classic resource for beginning canners.” It includes essential boiling-water-bath recipes.
“If you’re looking for a serious but accessible guide to long-term food preservation, check out Stocking Up,” recommends Krisoff, which she says is more suited for intermediate to advanced home canners. “Harvesting, canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, cheesemaking, even underground cold storage — it’s all here in one clearly illustrated, chart-filled tome.”
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