How to Can Some Jam: A Simple Method Without Pectin or (Refined) Sugar

Jam Recipe from 100 Days of Real FoodI hope this will be my first of several posts about how to “can” and preserve fresh foods when they are in season. I am a beginner canner myself, but have always been intrigued by and interested in the whole process. So I recently took a “Canning Class” (led by Ashley Eller at Poplar Ridge Farm) and have also been reading through some other resources including the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. Prior to my class I knew absolutely nothing about canning except that I thought it sounded confusing, complicated, and like something that would take an entire day to do (not true!).

From one beginner to another, a few key points:

  • In simple terms, canning food is cooking recipes (which most of us already know how to do) and then “processing” the results by putting them in sterilized canning jars and boiling or pressure “cooking” them for a designated amount of time. It really isn’t as complicated as I originally thought. :)
  • It is important to use canning recipes from reliable sources. Especially as a beginner these are not recipes you want to modify or adapt in any way because each ingredient as well as both the length of time and temperature at which the jars are processed can be key components to ensuring food safety.
  • You must use jars that are in fact suitable for “canning” with two-piece metal lids, which does not include old washed out Ragu spaghetti sauce jars. The most widely used brands of jars for canning are Ball and Kerr, and while the jars and bands (that go around the lid) are reusable you must always use brand new lids to properly can foods. Now I know why I see those packs of lids for sale.
  • It is necessary to sterilize the jars and lids before pouring in your jam (or other recipe). You can do this in hot water (180 degrees F), or if you can time things right run the jars and lids/bands through the dishwasher so they are hot and ready right when your recipes are done.
  • According to the Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning to process high-acid foods like berries and tomatoes you simply boil them (in the jars), but you actually need to pressure can low-acid foods like asparagus, peas, and corn. So my personal plan is just to stick to the high-acid produce for a while until I really get the hang of things.
  • If you aren’t sure if your foods “canned” properly your nose and/or a quick taste test should confirm whether a jar spoiled or not when you open it.
  • You certainly can spend your entire day preparing big batches of recipes in order to preserve in-season produce when it’s fresh, but it does not have to be a huge production. In fact, I made a half recipe of the strawberry jam posted below in just over an hour…and I am a newbie.
  • Please share your canning tips in the comments below…I know some of you have been doing this for many years!

Some helpful tools to make the canning process easier:

The “need to have” canning tools…Jam Recipe from 100 Days of Real Food

  • Jars (of course!) – I personally like the versions without shoulders so they are freezer-safe as well. (Hint: if you use the jars for freezing instead of canning be sure to leave room at the top for the liquid to expand.)
  • Ball Utensil Set – This set includes a jar funnel, jar lifter, lid lifter, and bubble remover/headspace tool. I found the first three of these items to be invaluable, although I could probably live without the bubble remover/headspace tool (for now).
  • A large pot – You’ll need one big enough to hold several sealed jars that could be covered with 1 – 2 inches of water. This does not have to be a “canning” pot…any big old stockpot will do.
  • A ladle – This is necessary to get your jam (or whatever you are making) from the pot to the jar.
  • A digital or analog scale – Some recipes call for ingredients in weight measurements, but not all. I have an extremely basic analog scale and to be honest it totally does the trick.
  • Potato masher – This was a necessary tool in order to turn my cooked strawberries into yummy, mushy jam.

The “nice to have” tools…

  • Basic thermometer – To test the temperature of the water before sterilizing jars/lids.
  • Canning rack – This is to lower the jars into and out of the boiling water when you are processing them and to provide space between the bottom of the jars and the pot (you can use other things like jar bands, silverware or even a dish towel to create that space). I don’t personally have one and I survived, but I can see the value if you are going to be doing a lot of canning. Just make sure the size you buy fits your pot if you aren’t getting a set!
  • Dissolvable labels – I seriously love these things, but if you can’t justify the expense some regular old masking tape will definitely get the job done.
  • Pressure canner – As I mentioned above I don’t see myself “pressure canning” anytime soon, but if you want to preserve low-acid veggies then this is a necessary piece of equipment.

6 Easy Steps to Can Strawberry Jam

  1. Follow jam recipe (as stated below).
  2. While it’s cooking sterilize the jars and lids/bands in hot water.
  3. Ladle the completed jam into hot, freshly sterilized jars one-by-one.
  4. Add jar lid to the top while keeping the inside sterilized.
  5. Screw on the bands and add jars to boiling water for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove jars and listen for the “pop” sound to ensure jar lids have been properly sealed. It’s that simple! :)

Jam Recipe from 100 Days of Real Food


4.7 from 31 reviews
Strawberry Honey Jam (Canned)
Serves: 6 pints
Recipe from Ashley Eller with Sweetie Pie Bakery
  • 6 pounds strawberries and/or blueberries, local/organic recommended
  • 3 ¾ cup honey
  • 1 ½ unpeeled apples, grated
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Make Jam: Rinse the berries and remove any spoiled or severely blemished ones. Hull strawberries and slice in half.
  2. Add the berries, honey, grated apple, and lemon juice to a large pot over high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium and allow the mixture to continue to boil lightly for approximately 30 - 60 minutes. The berries will burst and thicken so be sure to scrape the sides of the pot and stir as you go. The longer the jam cooks the thicker the final product will be, although this recipe does not become quite as thick as typical store-bought jam.

  3. Mash the fruit with a potato masher once the fruit begins to soften. If foam forms on top of the fruit you can skim and discard if desired.
  4. Prepare Jars: Meanwhile fill the canning pot ¾ full with water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. If you don’t have your jars sterilizing in a hot dishwasher you can use this pot of water to sterilize them. Also start a small pot of boiling water to sterilize the lids separately. Be sure to wash all jar pieces in hot soapy water first.
  5. Once the water is boiling turn off the heat. Test the temperature with your thermometer and when it reaches 180 degrees F put the jars and bands in the large pot and the lids in the small pot. Leave everything in the hot water until ready for use, removing one at a time as needed.
  6. When the jam is done cooking do a taste test to make sure the thickness and flavor is to your liking. Hint from Ashley: Drop dots of jam on a cold refrigerated plate, if it seems to set up, it is done. You can also see if it coats the back of a spoon.
  7. Remove the first jar from the hot water using your jar lifter tool and shake out excess water. Don’t touch inside of the jar in order to keep it sterilized. Insert clean canning funnel and ladle the jam into the jar leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top (this is where the headspace tool can come in handy - leaving more space at the top might not give as good of a seal). If there are any air bubbles you can slide a clean knife along the inside of the jar to remove them. Using a clean rag wipe excess off the outside of the jar and rim.

  8. Using a magnetic lid lifter pull the first lid out of the hot water and set on top of the jar without touching the bottom of it. Then while only touching the outside of the band screw it onto the jar just firmly enough so it doesn’t feel wobbly on the grooves. Repeat until all jars are filled.

  9. Note (If you don’t want to actually “can” the jam): You could stop here and refrigerate jam for 3 – 4 weeks. To freeze the jam make sure you used freezer-safe jars, allow it to cool, and put in freezer for up to one year.
  10. Process the Jars: Bring large pot of water back to a boil. Using your jar lifter (or canning rack) carefully lower as many jars that will fit without overcrowding into the boiling water so they are covered by at least 1 – 2 inches of water. It is recommended that the jars do not directly touch the bottom of the pot (so hot water can flow beneath them) and some even suggest putting a dish towel on the bottom to create space. From the moment the water is boiling and the entire first batch of jars are submerged set the timer and process them for 10 minutes.

  11. When 10 minutes is over use the jar lifter to carefully remove the jars from the water. Put them on the counter and don’t move them right away. You will hear your jar lids “popping” which means they have been sealed properly. If jars aren’t sealed within 12 hours then move them to the fridge and eat within 3 – 4 weeks.
  12. Remove bands from sealed jars and with a clean, wet cloth wipe off any jam that has congealed on the outside rim of the jar. This prevents mold from forming on the band. The band can be reapplied, but don’t screw them on too tightly.
  13. Label jar and store in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year.

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  • Comments

    1. Kristen |

      Well I’m new to this canning business myself but I have been doing quite a bit of research in preparation for my first batch.

      As to the comments regarding no sugar, no pectin jams/jellies – best I can tell, it is not possible. If you don’t want to use pectin, you definitely need sugar (even Lisa’s recipe uses quite a bit of sugar, 3 & 1/2 cups of honey is no small amount) and if you don’t want to use definitely need pectin. Probably a no-sugar pectin like Pamona’s (which is a citrus derived pectin with monocalcium phosphate, not very real food-wise) – these pectins react with the calcium phosphate instead of sugar to give you the nice jam “set.” Other pectins are fruit derived but the whole idea of pectin is that it reacts with the sugar and fruit acid to achieve the final set. Plus sugar in jam (like previously mentioned) is necessary to keep the nasty bacteria out. Jam is not a health food, it is a treat. But homemade jam is a way for us to control what is in it, make good use of an abundance of fresh berries and fruit and save money on store bought varieties. If you want a no sugar “jam”, just smash up some berries with a mortar and pestle and spread it on your sandwich (it is quite good, if a bit messy).

      But you can make your own pectin, easily! People have been making jams for a long time, long before powdered pectin. Some of our grandmas and great grandmas knew how to make their own pectin (and some just boiled the jam till it was thick and unfortunately devoid of most of its nutrition).

      So here is a great link to making your own, (great site too)
      All that is needed is some green apples (crab apples apparently work very well, so if you have one of those around – bango! Free pectin!), like Granny Smith and some water. I’ve seen some recipes that recommend adding 2 tablespoons of lemon juice too. The link above also gives a recommended amount to use and the way to test the pectin content in your homemade pectin (all you need is a bit of rubbing alcohol).

      It doesn’t get any more real than that! Happy Canning!

      • Joy |

        From what I understand (canned growing up with my mom and for the past few years on my own as an adult,) that is the purpose of the apple and the longer cooking time in this recipe. Apple contains natural pectin and usually you just heat the berries until they simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. This recipe cooks them over double which also reduces/thickens the mix. Hope this helps! :)

    2. Claire |

      I started making strawberry jam a couple years ago when I bought a flat of strawberries during the Louisiana Strawberry Festival. It was easy to do and worked beautifully from the first try. This past week I completed 3 batches and we no now have 18 jars of yummy jam just waiting to be devoured! My recipe calls for 3 lbs of strawberries (I use 5 pint containers), 4 lbs of sugar, and 1/3 cup of lemon juice. (In my defense, I didn’t discover “real food” until this last year, so my sugar recipe was the one I used!) I only wanted to make one comment about your reusable labels. Since you have to throw away the lid each time anyway, I just write directly on the lid after the cans have cooled. ‘Strawberry 2012′ is turning out to be a good batch. :)

    3. |

      I tried this recipe with just 1 lb of strawberries and 5/8 cup of honey to see if we liked it before I invested the time for canning and buying organic strawberries. We loved the result, but it was a bit too sweet for us. Could you cut back on the honey without affecting the final result?

      • 100 Days of Real Food |

        You know I feel too new to canning to give you a definitive yes! I know every ingredient plays an important role and that the sweetener can act as a preservative.

    4. |

      I’m so happy to see this post! I’ve been doing a lot of research on canning over the past year, and it’s something I’m really excited to begin this summer.

    5. Sharon |

      Do you peel the apples or leave the peel on?

      • 100 Days of Real Food |

        Good question…leave the peel on.

        • Maryse |

          I think it would be helpful to revise the recipe and state unpeeled grate apples in the directions. I just finished making a batch and peeled my apples since I didn’t read all the comments first. I think it still might be successful though as I cooked the mixture for a little over an hour and it seemed nice and thick.

          • 100 Days of Real Food |

            I will revise it right now…thanks for the suggestion!

    6. Sarah |

      Please don’t hear this as a snarky comment because it is anything but! I am jut wondering why we need so much sugar or honey or whatever to sweeten ripe in-season fruit preserves? Does the sugar act as a preservative? I have tried to do a bit of research but I haven’t found a good explanation. Why not make some homemade green apple pectin and boil up some fresh strawberries, add a little honey to sweeten the pot and call it good? There much be a good reason…. I just haven’t found it.

      • 100 Days of Real Food |

        Sarah – I am so new to canning I am not ready to start modifying recipes quite yet especially since I’ve learned that each ingredient can play an important role…and yes, like you said the sweetener can act as a preservative.

    7. Casey |

      A jam recipe with no sugar and no pectin!! Yay! And found on one of my newest favorite websites. :) I just bought the box of pectin with the calcium water powder and I was going to try that to make freezer jam, I still will try it, then next I’m trying this!! Been looking for a while for a recipe like this and you post it here for me. thanks!

    8. Kristen |

      I just want to say, it is a bit misleading to call this “no sugar” jam since honey absolutely is sugar (it is made up of fructose and glucose just like table sugar), just a much less processed sugar. I know you know this, I’ve read your posts on sweeteners, I’m not trying to be snarky at all just felt it necessary to point this out since I’m reading a couple of comments (like the one above) extolling the virtues of this recipe having “no sugar.” Since most jam recipes I’ve seen call for 4 cups of sugar and this recipe calls for 3 & 1/2 cups of honey and given the fact that honey is 22 calories/tsp vs. 16 calories/tsp for table sugar (thus denser), I’d say this is neck in neck in sugar content with all the other sugared jam recipes out there. Maybe it should instead say, “without refined cane sugar or pectin”

      • 100 Days of Real Food |

        Kristen – You are right. And for exactly the reasons you stated I first only called this Jam “Without Pectin” and later added “Without Sugar” to the title mainly because so many people responded by saying they’d been looking for a jam recipes without (refined) sugar, and I wanted people to be able to easily find this post if that’s what they were searching for. Based on your feedback though I’ve added (refined) to the title just so we are all on the same page. Thanks for taking the time to share that suggestion with me!

    9. Holly |


      I’ve been boiling for an hour…still not nearly thickened. Any thoughts?


      • Emily |

        same issue…did you figure it out?

      • 100 Days of Real Food |

        Holly – I may be too late with this response…did it turn out okay? Did you chill a bite of the jam to see if it would thicken?

    10. Michele |

      Has anyone tried using Agave, if so, do the measurements change? We make freezer jam several times a year, i would love to try this using Agave Honey.

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