Cooking Tips
5 Ways to Level Up Your Homemade Jam This Summer
A jam-making expert shares her tips for success.
07-06-2021
Afton Cyrus

Here in New England, we’ve entered peak summer produce season. The fruit is local, the farmers’ markets are plenty, and my thoughts have turned to one of my favorite subjects: jam.

I’ve fallen in love with making my own jams and jellies, and—unsurprisingly, given my job—developing recipes for new jam flavors is one of my favorite pastimes. (In a past life, I even owned my own jam company!) I love taking whatever is growing in a given season and finding a way to make it into a delicious jam flavor with a twist.

Whether you’re new to jamming or are a seasoned pro, here are a few tips to take your jam recipes to the next level this summer.

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1. You can freeze your fruit for later.

Making jam is hot, steamy work, especially at the height of summer! If you’d rather save heating up your kitchen until the cooler months, you can freeze your berries or prepped fruit for later (here’s a helpful how-to). Freezing and thawing will rupture the cell walls of the fruit, but with jam, that’s actually a good thing. You want the fruit to break down and become soft as it cooks, so freezing ahead speeds this process along.

2. Get herbaceous.

Classic jams are made simply with fruit, sugar, lemon juice, and sometimes pectin, but there’s a lot of latitude to get creative with other flavors. I love pairing fruit with herbs such as rosemary, mint, thyme, basil, and lemongrass. You can bundle sprigs of the herbs in cheesecloth or a sachet bag to infuse into the jam as it cooks, or mince a little bit and stir it in directly. (Note that adding too much will change the pH of your jam, so be sparing with anything stirred in.)

3. Raid the spice cabinet.

Spices open up a world of new flavors for your jams. Whole spices such as cardamom pods, allspice berries, black peppercorns, whole cloves, or cinnamon sticks can be infused in a sachet while the jam cooks, or small amounts of ground spices can be added directly in. Warm spices pair especially well with fruit, and a little goes a long way, so taste as you go!

4. Use a trusted recipe.

Especially if you’re planning to can your jams, it’s essential to follow a recipe from a trusted resource that was written specifically for canning. Any jam can be made and stored in the refrigerator, but to be stored safely at room temperature after canning, acidity levels and processing times are crucial to follow. ATK’s Foolproof Preserving—one of the very first books I worked on as a test cook!—is a wonderful resource to walk you through the steps for making both refrigerator jams and canned jams. Some recipes from the book with creative flavors that will kick-start your inspiration include Blackberry–Lemon Verbena Jam, Nectarine-Cardamom Preserves, Strawberry-Basil Jam, and Blueberry–Earl Grey Jam

5. Whenever possible, start with fresh, local produce.

My last and perhaps most important tip: Whether you find it at a farmers’ market, go out for a day of berry picking, or grow it in your backyard, fresh fruit at the peak of ripeness makes a huge difference in the quality of your finished jam. Fruit that’s been shipped from far away just can’t hold a candle to the flavor of the fresh stuff, so seek it out if you can.


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