My husband has been harvesting beautiful and delicious fresh strawberries from his garden lately. Although they are great to just eat out of hand or make into some yummy dessert such as strawberry shortcake, we have more than enough to also make strawberry jam. I thought I would use this Cooking Tip to talk about the differences as well as the pros/cons between preserved and freezer jam.
Preserved jam is the type you see on store shelves. You cook your fruit mixture making it to your taste and preferred thickness level. It is then spooned into sterilized canning jars, sealed with lids and placed in a pot of boiling water for a specified amount of time. At the end of that time, the sealed jars are carefully removed from the water and set on a rack to cool. As they do, they seal, signified by a little popping sound.
Freezer jam on the other hand is either not cooked at all or only briefly. Generally, the fruit is mashed, sugar is added and left to macerate for a while before adding pectin. The jam mixture is once again placed into sterilized jars and sealed. However, rather than preserving it by placing it in the boiling water, it is cooled and stored in the freezer.
- It is shelf stable and does not need any refrigeration until it is opened.
- It is thicker and more jam-like as it sets up better than freezer jam.
- It has a smoother consistency than freezer jam.
- It is more labor-intensive to make.
- Because of the cooking process, the resulting jam is darker in color and has somewhat of a “cooked fruit” taste.
- It requires more sugar than freezer jam.
- You need to very careful to ensure the jars/lids seal properly.
- It is easier to make than preserved jam.
- It requires little or no cooking, depending on the recipe.
- Because it is not (or only slightly) cooked, it retains the bright color of the fruit.
- Because the sugar used is more for sweetness rather than preserving, you generally use less sugar.
- The jam may be put in any container that is meant for the freezer.
- Perhaps the biggest pro is that it has more of a natural fruit taste. Because it is not cooked, it just tastes “fruitier”.
- It can take up significant freezer space.
- It results in a thinner jam.
- If you are using a no cook recipe, the sugar and pectin might not fully dissolve causing a slightly gritty consistency.
- It is not as good for gift giving as it must remain frozen, or at least refrigerated.
No matter which type of jam you wish to make, this is not a product where you can just “wing it”. For proper consistency, taste and safety, you really need to follow a tested recipe. The recipes contain four critical ingredients – fruit, pectin, acid and sugar.
Fruit is obviously needed for color and flavor.
Pectin is necessary for gel formation. Some fruits may be naturally higher in pectin and thus, not require additional pectin. Other fruits, or if you are making freezer jam, will need to have pectin added to the mixture. There is a type of pectin called “low or no sugar” pectin. It is used when jam makers want to put less sugar into the jam. Rather than using sugar to gel, it uses calcium. It will give you a thinner, less sweet but fruitier result.
Acid assists with gel formation as well as flavor. The right amount is necessary to set the pectin. Again, follow the recommendation from the recipe.
Sugar is vital for gel formation and flavor. It also acts as a preservative as it inhibits the growth of bacteria.
I remember the first time I tasted freezer jam and could not believe how much brighter and more fruit-like it tasted. Although, as noted above, there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of jam. Which do you like?