Trees have budded and buttercups are popping up everywhere, which means fruit- and berry-growing season are here. Strawberries are usually first, then blueberries, blackberries and so on. This year when you consider making jams and jellies think about using a low sugar alternative. Don’t you want to taste the fruit more than the sugar? Jams and jellies are one of the simplest and most rewarding ways to preserve summer fruits and berries. Even though most jams and jellies are very sweet, there are some excellent low- and no-sugar alternatives. "Regular" pectin recipes require the amount of sugar listed with them in order to obtain a satisfactory gel, but there are four methods to produce low- and no-sugar jams and jellies:
The first method is to use specially modified pectins. These pectins are labeled as "light," "less sugar needed" or "no sugar needed." The box of packaged pectins will come with recipes giving options for using no sugar, less sugar or sugar substitutes. Using these pectin-added methods allows you to store your reduced-sugar product at room temperature.
The second method is using regular pectin with special recipes. Some tested recipes are formulated so the gel forms with regular pectin without needing to add the usual amount of sugar. Keep in mind there is some sugar in the regular pectin. These recipes often use sugar substitutes for additional sweetening. Splenda doesn’t need to be used as a sweetener for jams and jellies because it does not have a good shelf life. To use it you would have to keep it in the refrigerator and usually it will only last about a month even under refrigeration.
The third method is a long-boil method. The fruit pulp is boiled until it thickens and resembles a jam, but these spreads will not be true jams with pectin gels. Sugar substitutes can be added to taste for sweetening these products.
The fourth method is to use gelatin as the thickening agent. This method allows you to control the amount of sugar added to the product. These spreads usually have the sugars from fruit juices used for the flavoring and sugar substitutes for sweetness. Jellied products thickened with gelatin will require refrigeration.
Jams and jellies made with traditional recipes using lots of sugar or by the first three methods listed for reduced sugar options will require a short process in a boiling water canner to be kept at room temperature in a sealed jar. Once opened, they all require refrigerated storage.
Additional recipes and canning information can be found at the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation hosted by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia (www.home foodpreservation.com.)
While there is an abundance of ways to make jams and jellies, keep in mind that following well-tested recipes is your best bet for getting a successful gel. Try making jams and jellies using various methods to determine which you like best.
For more information and recipes for jams and jellies, contact Angela Treadaway at 205-410-3696.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county extension office.