Amy Keyishian

Jam: Buy It vs. Make It

make jamI recently moved out of the city to the ‘burbs, and while a lot of stereotypes about California are true, some are super-true. Yes: fruit trees grow abundantly, and a stroll through a verdant neighborhood will leave your little yellow basket overflowing. When I put out the word on the neighborhood email list that I was in search of backyard fruit to make into jam, I was deluged with responses. But a trip to my new neighbors’ down the hill rendered my own jam-making repetitive: they had set up shop in their kitchen to make compote, jam and dried apricots, all at the same time as their cats cowered and glared at the disruption.


Dan and Maria are about ten years ahead of me in terms of the creative accoutrements they’ve added to their garden (strawberries, bees, bricks and solar-powered lights that look like gumdrops), so they’re pretty much going to be my collective Yoda, though they don’t know it yet. As for jam-making, they were also ahead of me there, because they had conquered the fear of botulism that leads me to freeze, rather than can, my small batches.


They directed me to the FDA’s Food Safety website, which assures me that the botulism thing is way more of an issue with low-acid vegetables, like corn or beans, or with meat (oh my gross, who would can meat?). When canning fruit or tomatoes, it’s okay to boil the cans as long as you use fresh lids each time. As they plopped batches of jam into jars, they waited for it to cool, and then — pop! Each lid was sucked into place by the sealing process. I don’t know. It was kind of magic. I’m going to try it, but I haven’t yet.


Anywho, all we’re talking about now is making jam, which is remarkably similar to making applesauce: you cut up fruit, you add 1/2 to 3/4 its weight in sugar, you simmer it until it looks like jam, and it’s jam. I added pectin (1 1/2 tablespoons per 1 1/3 cups of fruit, according to this groovy pectin calculator) so it’d really gel, and it really did. Were the results worth the trouble? I’d say they were. But let’s do the math!




The cost depends entirely on your fruit. When I did pick-your-own berries two summers ago, they charged us $4 a pound, which was fun, but it wasn’t a bargain. A friend of mine buys berries in bulk when they’re in season and cans them for when they’re not, which does bring it in a bit cheaper. But as I said, I was working with free: the bounty of (my neighbors’) back yard, though I freely recognize not everybody lives in an earthquake-prone paradise.


This recipe says that 2 1/2 pounds of stone fruit yields 1 1/2 pints (24 oz) of jam, which sounds about right to me. If fruit is $4 a pound, that makes it 41 cents an ounce. Smuckers runs about 24 cents an ounce; Safeway’s house-brand organic is about 40 cents an ounce. The fancy favorite Bonne Maman brand is 45 cents an ounce. So if your fruit is reasonably priced (or free), your yield is the fanciest jam around. Not a bargain, but not a loss, either.




The effort is underwhelming. If you’re hanging out in the kitchen anyway, or having an afternoon at home, there are worse ways to spend it. A small batch (which is what we’re talking about here) really only takes about 45 minutes, maybe an hour and a half if you drag it out. The bottom line is: it’s easier than you think.




HOLY MASTICATED FRUIT, BATMAN. First of all, you can experiment with flavors, adding spices to your taste, which you’re not going to get from a big-batch company worried about people avoiding its fare because it tastes weird. To whit: I added cinnamon to my jam and it’s awesome, and when I make blueberry jam I will add ginger, and when I make strawberry jam I will add balsamic vinegar because the internet is full of this stuff. Second of all, the freshness adds an unbeatable brightness to the whole process. Third, it has the undeniable flavor of showing off.



The Verdict:

Make it!




What’s the verdict? Check out all Amy’s Buy It vs. Make It comparisons!

9 Responses to “Jam: Buy It vs. Make It”

  • Jimmy says:

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  • maryann says:

    Some reasons to can meat. Some wild meat (venison for example) can only be kept in a freezer for so many days by law. Canning them allows a person to have it longer. I can chicken broth with meat as I am allergic to onions. This makes it fast for me to make a soup from scratch as most time consuming part is already done. If you are in an area that experience power failures you wont lose the meat like you do if you only freeze.

  • Diana Knapp says:

    Love your style. I make jam out of fruit that I’ve bought, but cannot eat fresh before it goes bad. As I’m diabetic, I have to restrict the sugar content and quite often, I do not have any pectin, so I simmer the fruit for as long as it takes to reduce to a consistency that will stay on toast and make it to the mouth! Much better than anything store-bought.

  • Gary says:

    Just so you Know
    Many people can meat, it a very good way to preserve meats like Beef, pork, venison and chicken. This allows you some short cuts if you have unexpected Guests!! The meat is already cooked and ready to use!!!!

  • virginia says:

    I am 72 years old and the jam making in the family has been passed down to me from my Mom who got it from my Grandmother. My family does not eat commercial jam!! I use only cane sugar and plenty of it. Sugar is not an issue with homemade jam as the intense flavor of the jam allows a person to use just a small dollop on toast or biscuits for powerful flavor. I also find that artificial sweeteners and honey tend to dull the fruit flavor and intensity.

    • Pam says:

      It’s good to hear the family tradition has survived multiple generations. Hopefully, you can keep the tradition going within your family. I have quite a few recipes that were passed on to me from my Mom, but I suspect they will die with me as none of the younger family members have any interest in the recipes. Other than eating them that is.

    • Peggy says:

      Any suggestions to make sure that my sour cherry jam sets properly? I’ve been using the
      Sure-jel recipe and sometimes its sets and sometimes it doesn’t. This year I’m going to try
      increasing the boiling time but have no idea how

  • Deb says:

    I agree..great article… I make it a lot and free fruit is the way to go if you can get it.. I had the pleasure of receiving TWO cases of Pomegranate last season and I made Jam and Jelly, it took forever to beat all those little seeds out but it is mmm good, now it is Strawberry Rhubarb season :) ..BALL makes a jam/jelly maker that stirs it for you and a lot of the newer bread machines have a jam setting. it can be frozen instead of canned :) .. the kids love it and if it does not set. we use it as syrup :) so easy and no preservatives.

  • linda smith says:

    Hi….Love your article. When you talk about blueberry with ginger the lights went on. I had, many years ago, a ginger-peach jam. Now I’ve been on a search for some kind of recipe to make my own. I have had some with a hint of ginger but I want to use fresh ginger to have it have some zing. That would be the problem. I can’t find a recipe for it. I guess what I really want is ‘how much fresh would I use ?’ I would appreciate any help you can give me. Thank you !!

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