Apples, pears, plums and figs make very tasty preserves to keep throughout the year or to share with friends. Whether you have fruit-laden trees in your backyard or you like to take the kids out to the U-pick orchard, you might find that you have more fall fruit than you can eat or store. Turn perfect fall fruits into delicious freezer jams and fruit butters with these simple tips and favorite recipes.
Freezer and refrigerator jams and butters are a quick and easy way to preserve fruits, without the laborious process of water-bath canning. They also have a fresher, brighter quality than canned jam, because of minimal cooking and processing. Most recipes only require a bit of sugar, which helps preserve your fruit and add flavor. Some recipes add pectin, to thicken your preserves, along with a simple cooking process. Freezer jams can be cooked in small batches, so you can use the fruit you have on hand and the storage space available (some days our freezers are fuller than others).
Picking the right fruit
For the best-quality jam, start with the best-quality produce. Perfectly ripe fruit will give you the best flavor and texture. Fruit naturally has pectin and sugar, which helps give jam its texture and great flavor. However, both the natural pectin and sugar get lost as the fruit ripens, which is why you don’t want to use over-ripe fruit. Give your produce a good rinse before you start to process it and remove any small blemishes. Though freezer jam is more forgiving than water-bath canning jam (which needs a precise balance of acid and sugar), it’s best to find and follow a recipe so you get the perfect set or “wiggle” in the final product. Keep in mind that freezer jam tends to be a little looser than processed jam, making freezer jam super easy to spread.
Off to a clean start
Even though you won’t be canning your jam to be shelf-stable, it is still of the utmost importance to start with clean jars and equipment. You can store freezer jams and butters in canning jars, plastic containers or even new plastic storage bags. If you are using jars or containers, wash them in hot, soapy water and let them air dry before using. Or, run all of your jars and equipment through the dishwasher right before you are ready to cook. You want to eliminate any chance of bacteria getting into your jam and ruining all of your hard work (and potentially making you sick).
Mix and match
The fun thing about freezer jam is that it is so versatile. You can mix and match different types of fruits, use fresh or frozen fruit, and even incorporate fun flavors. Get creative by adding a splash of liqueur (I like port, whiskey and rum), ground spices (like ginger, cinnamon or cardamom), or lemon juice for a bright pop of flavor. You can play around with the amount and type of sugar (try white, brown or even coconut sugar), making the jam a little more or less sweet, to your preference. Do keep in mind that a little bit of sugar actually helps intensify the flavor of your preserves and allows it to get the correct “set,” so don’t take it out entirely. If you do prefer a low-sugar jam, adding pectin is another way to get the perfect texture. Make sure to follow your recipe precisely when using pectin, and don’t substitute dry pectin for liquid (or vice versa).
How to store
Unlike water-bath canning, freezer jams are not shelf-stable and must be stored in, you guessed it, the freezer! Because liquids and gels tend to expand when frozen, always make sure to leave a half-inch headspace when filling your jars. Allow your jam to cool completely before placing the lid on top and transferring it to the freezer. You can keep your jam in the freezer for up to one year. When you’re ready to have some of your delicious preserves, simply place a jar in the refrigerator to thaw. The jam will be good for up to three weeks once thawed.
Tried and true recipes
Start with easy-to-follow, basic freezer jam recipes to kick off your fall preserving, then add different flavors as you progress. I like Frugal Family Home’s pear freezer jam, Food Viva’s plum freezer jam and Wicked Spatula’s cardamom fig jam.
Homemade apple butter: You can cook homemade apple butter — a spreadable version of applesauce — in the slow cooker, as the Brown Eyed Baker does, or make it on the stovetop like Life As a Strawberry prefers.
Adults-only freezer jam: Add a little boozy kick to your freezer jam with Modern Wifestyle’s fig jam with rum, Love and Oil’s plum and gin jam, or add a little brandy to Serious Eats pear and ginger preserves.
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