You can make luscious jam from almost any fruit variety – but how do you choose fruit quality? Follow these simple tips to make delicious and cost-effective jam.
There are two schools of thought when choosing fruit for homemade jam and jelly. The first, mostly favored by our grandmothers, is to eat the perfect berries, and turn the mushy ones into jam.
The second approach, mostly favored by Master Food Preservers, is to turn the perfect berries into jam and toss the mushy ones in the garbage.
Which approach is best? Is it dangerous to make jam out of old, mushy fruit? How can I afford to turn the rare sun-kissed apricot or sweet strawberry into jam?
Best Jam Fruit Quality
There are a few things to watch out for, but here’s the reasoning behind the two above approaches.
- Most of us prefer to eat fresh, ripe fruit while it’s fresh and ripe. But fresh fruit has a short life span, and pretty soon it wilts. Even wilted fruit is too precious to throw away, so our grandmothers turned this older fruit into jam. Problem solved.
- But like most foods, the best tasting jam is made from the highest quality ingredients – in this case, the same fresh, ripe fruit that we want to eat out of hand!
Most of us will make jam from fruit that falls somewhere in between these options. For example, I grow peaches in my backyard, so even the juicy, dripping peaches get turned into Peach Butter or Peach Preserves. I have many peaches, so it costs me little to use the best ones for jam.
However, I don’t have many blackberries in the backyard. Blackberries don’t grow well in my area and they are expensive to purchase. So, if I snag a container of sweet blackberries, I most likely will not make jam. I will sit down and eat until my fingers and teeth are purple with juice!
It comes down to a choice; you can make jam from older fruit recognizing that while it will be good jam, it might not be great jam. Or you can spend the money to turn the best fruit into a jam that will be full of fresh fruit flavor. It’s up to you.
Damaged Fruit – Or Not?
BUT – there are certain fruit conditions to be aware of:
Never use moldy fruit to make any type of soft spread. Cooking moldy fruit does not change the fact that the fruit is inedible and potentially dangerous. There is no way to salvage moldy fruit. Berries tend to mold quickly, so be especially diligent when using berries. You usually cannot just cut out the moldy part, as mold penetrates deep into the fruit.
Delicate fruits like apricots and peaches often suffer from sun scald. Sun scald can leave dry scar-like patches on the fruit. The fruit is still good to eat or turn into jam, but do cut out the sun scalded spots first.
Tree fruits like apples, pears, peaches, and others may become scarred from wind. The action of the wind, rubbing the developing fruit against the tree branch, causes a scar similar to sun scald. Again, the fruit is good to eat, but cut out the scars first. You may be able to purchase sun or wind damaged fruit from your local farmer for a drastically reduced price, as most fruit distributors only accept perfect looking fruit.
Most people will automatically toss any piece of fruit that show even the slightest amount of insect damage. But I am a thrifty Yankee, and usually try to salvage what I can. Cut out any insect holes or insect damaged fruit skin. If you safely remove the damaged parts, the rest of the fruit is usually still good to use. Some fruit is more susceptible to insect damage than others. Sweet cherries for example, are very susceptible to cherry fruit fly. If the fruit fly lays eggs in the developing cherry, there is no good way to salvage the cherries – they will be full of worms. A similar situation occurs in abandoned apple orchards. If the trees have not had care, the apples will be full of worms and a total loss – either for eating or making jam.
Spoiled fruit needs to go in the garbage or compost pile. Even the fruit that looks perfectly fine on the outside, but is spoiled when you cut it open. This happens sometimes to stone fruits like peaches and plums, when insects get inside the fruit. The outside still looks beautiful, but the core is spoiled. Do not try to make jam or anything else from spoiled fruit!
Have you ever purchased a container of beautiful, red strawberries, only to bite into something sour? Sometimes, we end up with sour or tasteless under-ripe fruit. But all is not lost! You can still make jam with this fruit; the key is to combine it with ripe fruit. Traditional long-cooking jams set up best when some under-ripe fruit is added to ripe fruit. Fruit that is tasteless can be enhanced with a complementary flavor, so add sweet mango or ripe blueberries to your under-ripe strawberries.
Fruit that has seen better days can also be turned into jam; as long as it’s not moldy or spoiled. It works best if you add some under-ripe fruit to the mix, or a complementary fruit. Over-ripe fruit has less pectin, so jam made with only over-ripe fruit may not set up.
Basically, when making jam:
Use the best quality fruit you have available for jam making. This may be perfect apricots or slightly dried up berries. Whichever is best for you at that time.
Recognize that while you don’t always have to use perfect fruit for jam, you don’t ever want to use spoiled or moldy fruit. It’s not tasty. It’s not cost effective. It’s not time effective. And most importantly, it’s not safe!