I have fond memories of helping my mom make freezer jam from berries we grew or bought, including strawberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries.
My MIL makes lovely cooked jams/jellies/preserves, but I wanted to carry on my family’s tradition, so a few years ago, with a bumper crop of red raspberries, I bought some Sure Jell (fruit pectin) and started jamming.
Rewind! Did that recipe call for three cups of crushed raspberries and over FIVE cups of sugar?!? I wasn’t making berry jam, I was making berry-flavored sugar goo. Okay in small quantities, I guess, but not something I really want to consume frequently.
Unfortunately, traditional fruit pectin, like Sure Jell, relies on the sugar to work. If you reduce the sugar when using Sure Jell, you’ll get a runny, improperly jelled jam or jelly, also no good.
A little hunting led me to Pomona’s Universal Pectin. This pectin is activated by calcium, so you can use much less sugar, but still have well-jelled jam.
We have lots of strawberries coming in now, so I took advantage of the opportunity to try my first batch of freezer jam with Pomona’s pectin.
Here’s a comparison of fruit and sugar need to make five cups of jam with the two types of pectin*:
That means that the fruit:sugar ratio is 4:1, or four times as much fruit as sugar, using Pomona’s Pectin, but a frightening 1:2, or twice as much sugar as fruit, when using Sure Jell.
I carefully followed the package instructions for freezer jam that came with the Pomona’s pectin, and I’m happy to report that I have almost six cups of lovely strawberry freezer jam, with 1/4 the sugar (compared to making jam with Sure Jell).
Pomona’s Pectin is noticeably more expensive than other fruit pectins (and less widely available — check with your local health food store or WF; I’m pretty sure Local Harvest Grocery carries it, for StL folks), but it’s worth it to have a final product that is healthier and filled mostly with fruit rather than mostly with sugar! I’m looking forward to testing it with raspberries in a few more weeks.
UPDATE (5/29/14): I went back and sampled some jam after twelve hours in the freezer. Compared to the Sure Jell recipe, the jam made with Pomona’s froze a lot harder (i.e., more difficult to get out of the jar). Scientifically, this makes sense: sugar lowers the freezing point, so the higher sugar Sure Jell jam freezes less hard than the lower sugar Pomona’s jam. I think it’s worth the trade-off for a healthier jam, but I wanted to give a heads-up.
* The instructions with the Pomona pectin gave a range of sugar, from 3/4 c. to 2 c. to use for this amount of fruit. I stuck to the lower end of that range, using perhaps a slightly generous cup of sugar.