Which style of jam should you make – long cooking jam or quick cooking jam?
Earlier Jam Making Basics posts discussed how to make successful jam and other soft spreads by exploring the roles of sugar, acid, and pectin. Today we look at different cooking styles. Do you prefer long cooking jams or quick cooking jams? What are the advantages – and disadvantages – of each? Do particular types of fruit set up better when using one method over the other? Let’s see!
What is Long Cooking Jam?
You may know the long cooking method by another name; traditional. Long cooked jams are how our grandmothers and great-grandmothers prepared soft spreads many years ago. They combined fruit, sugar, and sometimes lemon juice, brought the mixture to a slow boil, heated it up and cooked rapidly until it reached the gelling point.
Sometimes, according to location, fruit acidity, and fruit pectin level, this process took 15 minutes. Sometimes it took an hour. Usually it fell (falls) around 30-40 minutes. This is still my preferred method for making jams. Why?
Advantages of Long Cooking Jams
Flavor: Cooking the fruit/sugar/acid mixture for a long time leads to a more caramelized fruit flavor. I prefer this in-depth flavor.
Sugar: Less sugar is needed for long cooked jams. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to use plenty of sugar (check out the Role of Sugar article below), but less than you use for other methods.
Texture: Long cooked jams set with a softer texture than quick cooking jams.
Disadvantages of Long Cooking Jams
Time Consuming: Long cooking jams can be time consuming. Naturally, long cooking jams made with high pectin fruits like cranberries or quince will set up in a matter of minutes. But long cooking jams made with lower pectin fruits, like most berries, could take up to an hour to gel. This is especially true if you live in a humid area or are trying to make jam on a humid day.
Gelling Point: Finding the gelling point for long cooking jams sometimes seems like an art form. For most fruit, I have resorted to using the thermometer method. I can successfully use the cold plate method with peach or apricot jams, but struggle with this method when making berry jams. See how to determine the gelling point in this older post; How to Check for the Jam Setting Point.
Long Cooking Jam Considerations
Many publications claim that you cannot make long cooking jam using low pectin fruits like raspberries or pears. That these low pectin fruits require adding commercial pectin (or your own homemade pectin) to gel.
If we stop to think about this for a moment though, we realize it can’t be true – at least not all the time. Our grandmothers made perfectly fine raspberry or blueberry jam without added pectin, and we can too. There are several jam recipes on this site that use low pectin fruit, but make wonderful jam. But since there is less pectin involved the following become even more important:
- Use a combination of ripe fruit and slightly under-ripe fruit. It’s a good idea to add some sour blueberries along with your luscious, ripe blueberries. Or chop up a green pear to go along with your soft, sweet pears. A ratio of ¾ ripe fruit to ¼ under-ripe fruit should be fine.
- Add acid. It’s always a good idea to add lemon juice, especially when making jam from low acid fruits like sweet cherries, peaches, and pears. Most recipes using these fruits will call for ¼ cup of lemon juice per 5 or 6 half-pint jars of jam.
What is Quick Cooking Jam?
Quick cooking jam came into vogue once commercially prepared pectin became readily available. We can purchase liquid pectin and powdered pectin in most grocery stores. Commercially prepared pectin is made from either apple peel or citrus peel.
Advantages of Quick Cooking Jams
Time-saving: Adding pectin reduces the time needed for gel to occur. Depending upon type used – liquid vs. powder – jam may set in as little as one minute.
Flavor: If you prefer a brighter fruit flavor, this is the method for you. Quick cooking jams, (since the fruit doesn’t cook nearly as long) have a flavor similar to fresh fruit. Instead of the rich, caramel flavor achieved with the long cooking method, the quick cooking method produces a bright, slightly tart flavor.
Eye-Catching: When browsing the jam aisle at a Specialty Foods store you can always pick out the products made by the quick cooking method. They are the jewel-toned jams, marmalades, and preserves. Added pectin, along with the short cooking time, allows the fruit to be quickly suspended in the clear pectin. The result is usually a sparkling soft spread.
Gelling Point: Usually, there is no “is it set, isn’t it set?” gelling point dilemma with the quick cooking method. Once the pectin is added, and the mixture is cooked following the recipe, the jam is set.
Disadvantages of Quick Cooking Jams
Alternative Sweeteners: While a long cooking jam adapts well to using honey or maple syrup along with sugar, a quick cooking jam doesn’t always behave as well with these alternative sweeteners. It’s best to use a recipe specifically designed for added pectin and honey if you want to use an alternative sweetener.
Texture: Quick cooking jams set up sturdier than long cooking jams. To me, that is a disadvantage since I prefer a softer set. You may feel the exact opposite though, and consider this an advantage!
Sugar: Quick cooking jams require adding more sugar than long cooking jams. However, there are special types of powdered pectin available that are made especially for quick cooking, low sugar jams.
Recipes: Quick cooking jams must be made following the recipes enclosed with the particular type of pectin you purchase. For example, you cannot substitute liquid pectin for powdered pectin in a powdered pectin recipe – and vice versa.
Quick Cooking Jam Considerations
Although we have been using added pectin products to make jam and other soft spreads for decades, there are still a few things you should consider before choosing this method.
- Added pectin causes stomach upset for many people. If your child will not eat jam with their peanut butter, or you feel queasy after eating toast and jam, it may be the added pectin. Pectin is a type of fiber, and is difficult for some people to digest. You may also suffer this effect from eating gummy candy or even gummy vitamins.
- There have been many concerns about commercially prepared pectin containing GMO products. Usually this is from the dextrose added to the pectin powder. Dextrose is most often made from corn, and most of our corn is genetically modified.
- Commercially prepared pectin for jam is not organic. Therefore, if making organic jam is important to you, the long cooking method is best.
Whether you choose the long cooking method of making jam, or the quick cooking method, your end result will be fantastic! The method you choose is personal preference, there is no right or wrong method. I make all my soft spreads using the long cooking method, because I prefer the more caramelized flavor and softer texture. Also, added pectin bothers my stomach.
But you may prefer the bright flavor and time saving benefits of the quick cooking method. Many people like quick cooked Strawberry Jam, but want their Peach Jam prepared using the long cooking method. Either way, it’s fresh fruit season – get out there and make jam!
Jam Making Basics Series
Check out the other posts in this series