Is it possible to create your own jam or soft spread recipe? Can it be done safely?
Apricot jam, strawberry jam, orange marmalade – all are wonderful. But maybe you want to experiment with a more exotic soft spread. How do you make apricot cardamom jam, or strawberry Champagne jelly, or cranberry orange marmalade? What if you can’t find a recipe for the unique concoction you have in mind? Can you just start throwing things together and make your own recipe? Will your own recipe be safe to eat?
The answer is …….maybe. If you adhere to safety guidelines you should be able to create a safe, one-of-a-kind soft spread.
Safe Jam Making Rules
Before jumping in and creating your own jam recipe, keep these rules in mind.
Do Not Use Low Acid Fruits or Vegetables
I cannot stress this enough – DO NOT use low acid fruits or vegetables when designing your own recipe. That means, DO NOT create a jam recipe using bananas, or coconut, or melons, or papaya, or peppers, or….. you get the idea. You can find a full pH list at the pickyourown website. DO NOT use any fruits/veggies with a pH higher than 4.5 to create your own recipe. There are two exceptions to this rule below. Otherwise, I repeat, DO NOT use low acid (high pH) fruits or veggies to make jam. It is not safe!
Use an Approved Recipe
We really aren’t creating a recipe from scratch. Instead, we are taking advantage of someone else’s hard work creating and testing a safe jam recipe. But we can alter an approved recipe to make it our own. That means we will use the amount of sugar, fruit, and acid that the approved recipe requires. This ratio ensures that the recipe will gel, and will be safely shelf stable.
Exceptions to the Safety Rules
There are two exceptions where you can make jam with low acid fruits:
- Freezing the End Product: If you are not going to process the jam, but plan to freeze it instead, you can make banana or coconut or another low acid jam. Keep in mind that when thawed, the jam must be kept in the refrigerator.
- Altering an Approved Recipe: Although I would never encourage a home cook to create a low acid jam recipe from scratch, there are some approved recipes for low acid fruits and vegetables out there. Perhaps you can follow the approved recipe and make one of the below alterations.
Where to find an approved recipe?
An approved recipe is one that has been tested for safety. You can find approved recipes:
- National Center for Home Food Preservation
- Ball Canning Books and Fresh Preserving Site
- National Canning Publications like Better Homes and Gardens
- Most nationally published canning recipe cookbooks. (Read the introduction to determine if the recipes have been tested or if the author is an expert.)
Canning experts are also able to provide safe recipes. Who are canning experts?
- Cooperative Extension Agents (Foods and Nutrition)
- Master Food Preservers
- Home Economists/Family and Consumer Scientists
These suggestions are specifically for long cooking jams, although most will work with quick cooking jams too.
How to Alter a Jam Recipe and Make It Your Own
Berry Jams and Soft Spreads
Berry jams are the easiest to alter. You can substitute one berries for another, or even combine them. For example, if your blackberry jam recipe calls for 9 cups of blackberries, you can use raspberries or blueberries instead. Or, you could use some of each, as I did with this Raspberry-Blueberry Jam recipe.
Stone Fruit Jams and Soft Spreads
Apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums can also be used interchangeably. You can follow an approved apricot jam recipe but use peaches instead. Or you could combine apricots and plums. Keep in mind that apricots are softer than other stone fruit, and thus cook down more. If you are using plums or another firm stone fruit instead, cut the pieces smaller before cooking.
Substitute honey or maple syrup for up to one half of the sugar in any soft spread recipe. Honey adds an almost caramel flavor to the recipe, and maple syrup adds a maple flavor. Use mild honey like wildflower or orange blossom with delicately flavored fruits like peaches or pears. More strongly flavored fruit like blackberries or cranberries are enhanced, without being overwhelmed, by maple syrup.
Adding Zest or Spices
Adding orange zest to blueberry jam or warm spices to apple preserves is one of the easiest ways to turn an everyday soft spread into something extra special. You can safely add up to 2-3 teaspoons of ground spices to an approved recipe that makes 8 or more half-pints of jam. Add ground spices along with all the other ingredients. You can also add whole spices in a spice bag. Be sure to remove the spice bag before spooning the jam into jars. Use your favorite, unexpected spices like I did with my grand-daughter’s favorite Spiced Peach Butter.
Citrus zest – orange, tangerine, lemon, or lime – brightens flavor and adds tanginess. Add up to 2 teaspoons of grated zest or peel to recipes that make enough for 8 half-pint jars or more. Add the zest after the mixture has gelled, but before spooning into jars. Zest added before the heating process tends to add a bitter flavor to the finished product. I added lime zest to Cherry-Lime Jam. The tart lime balances the sweet cherry, enhancing both flavors.
Wine and spirits give soft spreads an intense flavor. Better yet, the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, leaving only the flavor compounds. I usually add ¼ to ½ cup of alcohol to the cooking mixture. One recipe I make every year is my very favorite Spirited Apricot Cherry Butter, using luscious, ripe apricots, juicy, sweet cherries, and Grand Marnier. Other spirits that works well with soft spreads are Bourbon, Rum, Kirsch, Brandy, Cognac, Port wine, and Champagne or Prosecco.
See my book below for all of the unique soft spread recipes I have concocted over the years. Yes, I am a Home Economist/Family and Consumer Scientist. Yes, every recipe is adapted from an approved recipe. Yes, they are all delicious. Yes, it’s impossible to choose just one favorite – so make them all!
Jam Making Basics Series
Check out the other posts in this series
- Jam Making Basics – What is Pectin?
- Jam Making Basics – The Role of Sugar
- Jam Making Basics – High Acid vs. Low Acid Fruits
- Jam Making Basics – Long Cooking Jams vs. Quick Cooking Jams
Get Even More Unique Recipes You Can Make at Home!
42 Ways to Make Unique Jams, Jellies, Marmalade and more!
Creative Jams and Preserves – Easy Recipes Handcrafted by YOU! is now available.
You’ll find recipes for everything from old-fashioned Peach Preserves to Apricot Amaretto Jam. From Rose Hip Mango Butter to Boiled Apple-Pear Syrup.
Plus, all the basics; how-to water bath canning, how to fix jam-making mistakes, canning safely, labeling your creations and more.