My sealed jam looks to thin. Should I just use it now?
I made a single pint of tri-star strawberry jam a few weeks ago. (My first foray into canning, incidentally.) I sterilized the jar in boiling water and processed it in a hot water bath. When I checked on the jar a few hours later, the lid had sunk in. (Never heard a distinct "pop," which was a tad disappointing, but no biggie.) I was also able to lift the jar by the lid–that thing is definitely stuck on there.
But my jam looks too thin. A lot of the berries are clumped near the top of the jar, with very little liquid enveloping them. Is this a problem? I know that the high sugar content in the syrup helps to preserve the fruit.
What should I do?
It's possible that you didn't let the jam cook long enough. The set point for jams and jellies is 220F, and a thermometer comes in handy for testing that. You can also look for gel by dipping a clean metal teaspoon in your cooking jam, tipping it, and looking for the syrup to run off in a "sheet". The drips will run together and fall off the spoon as one (takes practice). Another test is to chill a few saucers in the freezer. Pull out a cold saucer, drop a teaspoon full of hot jam on it, wait a minute and then run your finger through it. If it stays separate and/or wrinkles when you do this, set point has been reached. Always remember to pull your pot off the heat when testing for set. You don't want it to overcook.
Personally I have no problem using added pectin, although some folks do (I've never heard a convincing argument for not using it). I especially like Ball's low/no sugar pectin. It allows me to use a minimal amount of most any kind of sweetener, and the cooking time is much shorter, allowing for a brighter, more fruity tasting jam or jelly. It's also very flexible when experimenting with combinations and flavors.
Berries and soft fruits like peaches are notorious for floating. One way to avoid it is to macerate your fruit overnight at room temperature in a bit of the sugar the recipe calls for. Remove the fruit from the resultant juice, pour the juice into your pot along with the other ingredients in your recipe, and cook and reduce that a bit, then add your fruit in and finish. Another way is to skim your hot jam if necessary, and then *gently* stir it (you don't want to get air bubbles in it) for 5-10 minutes before putting it in the jars. I prefer macerating.
With the current batch you have, you can go through the procedure of opening the jars and cooking them a little longer to see if you can achieve a gel, then going back through the routine of filling clean jars and lids and waterbathing them. But I would at this point label them syrup and use it in all kinds of great ways. Sometimes jams and jellies can take up to 2 weeks after being canned to achieve a solid set so there's always the possibility your jam will solidify.
I didn't use artificial pectin, but I added 1/3 cup of grated Granny Smith apple to the other ingredients in the pan. It's a technique I borrowed from my coworker; he doesn't like to use store bought. (If anyone has any tips or observations on making jam this way, I'd like to hear them.)
Either way, I guess I didn't use enough to thicken the jam properly. Next time I'm probably just buy synthetic pectin. (Or maybe I'll make my own and go by the recent video that Chow just published.)
You can definitely make your own pectin, but purchased pectin is not synthetic or artificial, rather, it's a natually occurring substance made from citrus peel or apple remains after processing, which have a high pectin content. What the pectin is made from depends on what brand you buy, of course; the ingredient and formula will vary depending on the type of pectin, the usage and desired recipe results, high sugar, low sugar, frozen jams, etc.
Here's a chow thread discussing strawberry jam made without store bought pectin, which may be useful for you:
I don't know if you can just grate an apple into your berries and have it work to thicken the jam properly; you have to have a certain concentration of pectin, using a specific weight of underripe Granny Smith, green or crab apples, a specific measure of water and reduce the liquid down by at least 50%; use about 5 tablespoons of liquid pectin per cup of juice, IIRC. The book "Putting Food By" 4th edition c. 1988 by Janet C. Greene, et al, has a homemade apple-based pectin recipe in it that I've used in the past, as I had access to crab apples. It's a very simple formula and technique. Now that I live in a huge city, it's difficult to find boxes of pectin in stores, but I can always find green apples and water.
I'm sure there are other pectin formulas on the web, as well as the one here at chow, available for you. the chow video doesn't give specific measurements of apples to water, though.
Here's a link to the instructions for ascertaining and using the correct amount of pectin, along with a simple rubbing alcohol test to check the strength of your pectin, which the chow video uses as well:
Strawberry jam can be notorious for not setting up, but as Cheryl wrote, it'll be fine; just use it as a sauce. There's always next year for more jam.
I make all my jams this way, i.e. adding apple instead of store-bought pectin. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't. For the amount of jam you made, I suspect that the amount of apple was okay. What is missing though may be the necessary acid to work with the pectin. So my tip would be to add the juice from a couple of lemon wedges. On another jamming thread, someone said that the lemon should be added near the end. I tried doing that with a second batch of peach jam that I made this summer, instead of adding it at the beginning, and had much better results with the gel.