More than ever before, customers have been in the shop asking about low and no sugar jams. I’m glad they’re doing their research, because jumping into low-sugar jams involves a little more than simply cutting out sweetener. Sugar isn’t just in jam for the flavor, it serves a very real role as a preserving and thickening agent. When heated, the sugar actually binds with water and pectin, thickening the texture. If you’ve ever tried converting your favorite old-timey recipe by skipping the sugar, you know that the result is anything but gelled.
The classic product that we carry for low and no sugar jams is Pomona’s Universal Pectin. This company has been around for over 30 years, and creates a great product with no preservatives that is certified GMO free.
Though I’ve made classic jams, I hadn’t dabbled in low-sugar recipes before. I needed to give this stuff a try. I had heard there was an extra step of mixing up “calcium water” (provided with the pectin) to provide gelling assistance. Would be complicated to work with two ingredients? I whipped up a quick batch of strawberry jam at the shop to find out, and I’m glad to say that I’m completely happy with the results.
Each pack of Pomona’s comes with directions inside. These directions are also available to download for free on their website. The recipes aren’t fancy, but they allow you to make jam with the bare minimum ingredients. I chose strawberries, as we’re nearing the end of the first flush here in the Portland area. The directions give clear ingredient lists for whichever type of fruit you choose. I followed the following recipe, but skipped the water bath at the end. This test batch will be gone soon!
Ingredients (for a 4 cup yield):
4 cups of strawberries, hulled and mashed
1/2 to 1 cup of honey OR 3/4 to 2 cups sugar
2 tsp pectin
2 tsp calcium water*
*From the Pomona’s packet, put 1/2 tsp. white calcium powder and 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with lid. Shake well. Lasts many months in refrigerator. Freeze for long-term storage. Do not discard unless settled white powder discolors or you see mold. Shake well before using.
1) Wash and rinse jars (4 oz up to 16 oz); let stand in hot water. Bring lids to boil; turn off heat; let stand in hot water. Wash screw bands; set aside.
2) Prepare fruit or juice. Measure fruit or juice into pan with lemon or lime juice (if called for in recipe).
3) Add proper amount of calcium water from jar into pan; stir well.
4) Measure sugar or room temperature honey into separate bowl. Thoroughly mix proper amount of pectin powder into honey or sugar.
5) Bring fruit or juice to a full boil. Add pectin-sweetener. Stir vigorously 1-2 min. to dissolve pectin while mixture returns to full boil. Remove from heat. For Jello: pour into bowl(s); cool; refrigerate until jelled. [Note: I wasn’t making jello, but I did refrigerate my jam to cool it quickly to a spreadable consistency].
6) Fill jars to 1/4” of top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil 10 min. (add 1 min. more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level). Remove from water. Let jars cool. Check seals; lids should be sucked down. Eat within 1 year. Lasts 3 weeks once opened.
If you’ve got the basics down and want to try a more involved recipe, Pomona’s has many delicious versions on their website (Sweet Cherry-Rhubarb Jam is next on my list). If you’re more interested in a book on the subject, we carry Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin, filled with additional recipes and tips for working with low sugar recipes, or using honey, fruit juice, or other alternatives to sugar.