This post includes everything you need to know about making freezer jam, start to finish! It's such an easy technique with spectacular, fresh, delicious results!
I started making freezer jam over 40 years ago shortly after Scott and I were married. To be honest, it was mostly because this type of jam was so darn easy. Also, I was intimidated by the whole "canning/water bath" thing that was (is) necessary for traditional jams and jellies. As a new cook, I was scared that I'd mess up, not get the "seal" correct and end up poisoning someone. Now I know that canning really isn't that difficult but it's still more work than I want to go through, especially when I can make freezer jam so easily!
All these years later, I still (pretty much exclusively) make freezer jam. And these days, in addition to being super easy, I also make it because it's outrageously delicious! Over the years I've learned a few tricks while making untold jars of jam, so I thought I'd share them all with you in one post so you don't have to wait 40 years (and a zillion jars of jam later) as I did.
I'll start by answering some of the most frequent questions about freezer jam and then finish off with the problems that can occur with this type of jam and some tricks to combat those problems and ensure success. And last but not least, we'll share some of our favorite recipes for this wonderful variety of jam.
What's the difference between freezer jam and regular (traditional) jam?
- With freezer jam, the fruit is not cooked (or it's barely cooked), as it is with traditional jam where the fruit is simmered together with sugar, and sometimes, lemon juice and/or pectin. Because freezer jam is not cooked, it keeps its fresh taste and beautiful color. If you were to compare a jar of strawberry (or any other flavor) freezer jam and traditional strawberry jam, I think you'd be shocked at the difference. Traditional jam can become quite dull in color as it cooks, whereas freezer jam retains the same pretty color as the fresh berries you started with.
- With traditional jam recipes, sterilization of the jars is necessary, as is a stint in a water bath/canning kettle. This is done to properly seal the jars and prevent the growth of bacteria. Freezer jam goes into clean (but not sterile jars).
- Often the instructions for freezer jam include ladling the jam into clean, lidded jars and then allowing the jam to sit out for 24 hours before storing. This "sitting" time allows the pectin to fully set. Sometimes freezer jam will thicken right away and at other times it will be runny at first and then will thicken over 24 hours.
- Because freezer jam does not go through a water bath procedure, it is not shelf stable and should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Traditional jam can be stored at room temperature for one to two years.
How long does homemade freezer jam last in the refrigerator?
Freezer jam can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.
How long does homemade freezer jam last in the freezer?
Freezer jam is good for up to a year in the freezer. After a year, the quality of the jam will deteriorate; but you'll probably never have to worry about that problem!
What kind of containers should be used for freezer jam?
There are a variety of different options for freezer storage.
- Glass jars work great! Just be sure to leave a ½ inch at the top of each jar to allow for expansion. I've been using glass jars for freezer jam for the past 40 years and have never had one break in the freezer. Although I also use regular jam/jelly jars which are available at almost every grocery store (usually near the foils, plastic wraps, etc.), I also like to store my jam in unique, pretty jars as jam makes such a nice little gift. Here are some of my favorite jars for jam.
- Plastic storage containers also work well. Small ½ cup or 1 cup size containers with tight-fitting lids are perfect.
- Don't have a lot of room in your freezer? Store in quart-size zippered bags. Just add a cup of jam to each bag, seal them well, label them and store the bags flat on top of each other. When you need jam, pull one out, thaw and then transfer to a pretty glass jar.
What to do if your freezer jam doesn't set?
- To ensure a good set, it's important to follow the directions carefully when making jam and jelly. Don't skimp on or add extra sugar or fruit. Each variety of jam has a little different ratio of fruit, sugar and pectin. Measure accurately and follow the problem-solving tips below and you'll have success. That being said, occasionally there can be a batch of jam that just doesn't set. After 24 hours, it's still runny. This is disappointing but not a total disaster. You can either use the jam for a delicious ice cream/yogurt topping or go to the website of the particular pectin that you used to make your jam. They will have re-make directions on how to go about correcting the problem. The Sure-Jell remake directions can be found here and Certo here. For other pectins, go to the company website.
What to do if your freezer jam separates?
Sometimes as the jam is cooling, the fruit will rise to the top. This has an easy solution. As the jam begins to thicken, just give it a good stir and the fruit will stay suspended in the jam.
What's the difference between jam and jelly?
Good question! Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably but that's not correct. The difference is actually pretty simple. Jam is made with whole (or crushed) fruit and jelly is made with fruit juice. That's the plain, simple difference!
Can you make freezer jelly?
Yes! Just follow the directions on the pectin box. There's a whole separate section with jelly recipes inside the box.
Can you make a low-sugar or no-sugar freezer jam?
Yes, you definitely can make low sugar or no-sugar freezer jam. You will need a specific low-sugar or no-sugar pectin, however. Don't try to use a regular freezer jam recipe and reduce the sugar. Both Ball and Kraft make no-sugar and low-sugar pectins. I've also seen generic brands of reduced and no-sugar pectin.
Can any jam be frozen?
Yes! You can store cooked (traditional) and uncooked jams (freezer) in the freezer. On occasion, I do make a cooked jam like this Easy Strawberry Jalapeno Jam or this Pineapple Habanero Pepper Jelly. I still just pour the jam into jars and pop them in the freezer once the pectin has set. So easy!
Problems that can occur with freezer jam (and solutions!)
- One of the main drawbacks to this type of jam is that it can come out "grainy". Because it's not cooked, it can be difficult to completely dissolve the sugar, which gives the jam a sugary or grainy texture. With a bit of trial and error, I figured out that a short stint in the microwave will totally eliminate this problem. The flavor remains fresh and the jam is still beautifully hued. How does this work? Just stir together fruit and sugar as directed in the recipe in a microwave-safe bowl. Place the bowl in the microwave for 3 minutes and then remove and stir well. Sugar will be well on it's way to being dissolved. If needed, microwave for another minute or two then continue with the recipe as directed. Magic!
- The other potential problem that can occur with freezer jam is that it doesn't thicken and stays runny, even after the pectin is added and the jam has "rested". The solution to this problem is two-fold. First of all, measure the fruit and sugar very carefully and don't improvise. Jam and jelly making is an exact science and you can cause problems by adjusting either the fruit or sugar amounts. Secondly, follow the directions above regarding dissolving the sugar. I've found that pectin has issues with setting if the sugar has not been dissolved. So follow the microwave tip (above) to ensure that the sugar is thoroughly dissolved and your jam should not only be non-grainy, it will also set well.
Our favorites, sweet and spicy!
You can make freezer jam out of just about any kind of fruit. While we love our sweet jams for toast, bagels, muffins, scones and biscuits, we're also crazy about all varieties of pepper jams. These sweet-spicy condiments are wonderful as a dipping or grilling sauce, on a cheese board, as a pizza base or as a spread for a grilled sandwich. They're also delicious on ice cream!
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