Try this Sugar-Free Jams and Jellies Recipe to make naturally sweet jams and jellies.
We put up a lot of jams and jellies with honey this year and one of the first things we learned — the hard way is that small batches are easier to handle and really do make for better quality. The job goes faster that way, too. Honest.
We made peach-sumac jam with peaches from the fruit market trash bin (see MOTHER EARTH NEWS, NO. 6, "Easy Pickin's") and sumac extract from roadside staghom sumac (Rhus glabra see Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Wild Asparagus, "A Salute to the Elderberry: With a Nod to Scarlet Sumac," and James Churchill's "Food Without Farming NO. 4" in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, NO. 7). Our kitchen also turned out elderberry-sumac jelly from a friend's elderberries and more of the same "sumac extract"; grape jelly from sour wild grapes that grew around some in town tennis courts; grape jam from other wild pickings — sweet this time — which we gathered on an island in Lake Pymatuning; and spiced grape jam from more of the Pymatuning grapes plus some incredibly sour crab apples foraged in the same area plus spices to taste. For all these concoctions we used essentially the same recipe:
Prepare and measure the fruit or juice. We make batches about the size recommended by the Sure-Jell people (see the direction sheet inside the package) and have had good results with a pound-for-pound substitution of honey for the sugar the instructions call for. Then use the amount of juice specified per lot, less one-quarter cup of liquid for each pound of honey. With really strong wild fruit you may want more sweetening, in which case you should use proportionately less fluid. You needn't be exact, though; the process isn't all that scientific: For one thing, you don't know the natural pectin content of the juice.
Mix the honey, fruit and Sure-Jell in a deep pan. (The jelly mixture will bubble up to about double its original volume, so be forewarned.) Bring these ingredients to a full rolling boil and boil them hard until the combination passes the "jelly test," usually 15 minutes or so.
To be honest, that "jelly test" is a sore point with us. We have trouble with the old "sheets off a spoon" version, so we devised our own: Drip a few drops of "jelly to be" onto a cold saucer. If it sets to the proper consistency promptly (in one minute or so away from the steamy heat) the mixture is ready. This indicator works well for us and seems to agree both with the spoon business (at which my mother is proficient) and the verdict of a jelly thermometer.
When the stuff passes whatever test you use, ladle it into hot sterilized jars and seal them. (Be sure those containers are hot. It's heartbreaking, not to mention embarrassing, to have a glass shatter in your hand just when you're pouring it full of your beautiful creation.) If you're fussy about looks you can skim the liquid before jarring it. We can never be bothered.
Read more about how to cook with honey: Cooking With Honey: Recipes and Tips.
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