How to Make the Very Best Jam

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Nothing off the shelf beats the taste of home-made preserve. And decorated with a pretty label and lid, a pot makes a lovely gift, too

Timing, sterilising, specialist equipment… Yes, there's quite a bit to making fruity jams, but there's no need to be intimidated, says Sarah Banbery

Making jam can seem like a daunting task – all that boiling sugar and precision timing, sterilising and specialist equipment. But fear not – as long as you are well prepared and have a little patience, it can be a very satisfying pastime. Home-made jam is so much better than the shop-bought stuff and elevates a Victoria sponge to greatness. Like most things worth having, you have to invest a little time and effort. Ask your friends – you may well be able to borrow equipment.

You will need

  • Large preserving pan or big, wide saucepan
  • Jam/sugar/digital thermometer (you really can’t manage without this)
  • Sterilised jam jars  
  • Good-sized ladle
  • Jam funnel or narrow-spout jug
  • Wax discs, jam covers or lids – these can be bought very easily and cheaply on line. Try Hobby Craft and Lakeland


  • Adding lemon juice, which is high in pectin, helps to turn jam from runny to thick – add cautiously if you’re worried about the jam not setting properly.
  • You must use the right sugar for the right jam, so stick to the instructions in your recipe. Jam sugar and preserving sugar are not the same – jam sugar has added pectin, so is best used with lower-pectin fruit like strawberries and raspberries; preserving sugar is best used with high-pectin fruits like pears, apples, plums and oranges.
  • The fruit must be completely dry before using – freshly washed fruit can have water clinging to it which will can dilute the pectin.
  • If you have lots of freshly picked fruit and little time, freeze the excess. You should only use the best fruit for jam – avoid any damaged fruits – you can make some more at a later date.
  • To get rid of scum at the end of cooking, stir in the same direction until reduced or add a knob of butter.
  • Setting point is 104.5°C – your jam is reaching setting point when the fast boil reduces to a slower, more relaxed boil. Air bubbles should disappear and the surface will look glossy, the mixture will feel thicker.
  • Better to undercook rather than overcook – runny jam can be boiled again.
  • Be vigilant – don’t leave the jam when it’s boiling – you need to stand over the pan.
  • Sealing the jars while the jam is still warm limits the chance of bacteria contaminating the mixture and ensures a good seal.
  • To sterilise your jars, there are various options. The following websites offer good advice: Kilner, BBC and Jamie Oliver.


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