This post is by Marisa McClellan, creator of the popular blog Food in Jars. Marisa is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated farmers market shopper who lives in Center City Philadelphia. She is the author of Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round and Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. Find more of her jams, pickles, and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) on her website, Food in Jars.
I am so delighted to be here sharing my small batch recipe for Honey Sweetened Blueberry Jam. Most people think that making jam has to be a giant process that takes all day, uses multiple pounds of sugar, and dirties every utensil in the kitchen. But there’s another faster way that it can be done with honey in place of sugar, and it’s endlessly delicious.
The secret is in the small batch, cooked in a low, wide pan like a frying pan or a high sided skillet. The pan creates a lot of surface area, which means that you can cook the moisture out of the fruit more quickly and create a nice, solid set rapidly and without the amounts of sweetener that are typically called for in jam making.
You start with a quart of blueberries. If you’re going by weight, it’s an even 1 1/2 pounds. Wash them well and then tumble them into a low, wide pan. You want to pick one made from a non-reactive metal like stainless steel, enameled cast iron, or anodized aluminum. Use a potato masher (or employ a small child to help!) and mash the berries.
Add 2/3 cup of honey (if you have a kitchen scale, plunk the pan right on top of it, zero out the weight, and pour in 8 ounces of honey). Stir in the juice from half a lemon, put the pan on the stove and bring it to a boil.
Once it boils, you cook the fruit for about ten minutes until it thickens. You can tell that it’s done when you can draw a line through the jam with your spatula and the space stays open for a moment.
Once it’s done, you have two choices. You can funnel it right into a jar, let it cool, and then stash it in the fridge for immediate consumption. It will keep there for three to four weeks. Or, you can divide it between a couple clean, hot jars, apply new lids and rings, and process them in a boiling water bath canner to make the jars shelf stable.
If you do go through this extra step, know that the jars don’t have to be sterilized before filling. They just need to be clean and hot. The boiling water bath will serve as the sterilization step just fine.
I like to use an asparagus steamer as a tiny batch canning pot because you can stack a couple wide mouth half pints right inside the wire cage and it doesn’t take much time or energy to bring to a boil. However, any stock pot will do, as long as you slip a rack under the jars (like a round cake cooling rack or even a dish towel or layer of mason jar rings will do) to keep them from rattling against the bottom of the pot. A pasta pot with straining insert makes a really good canning pot.
If you’re looking for more detail about setting up your own canning post, I have a post on my site that details the process.
This same technique will work with nearly all fruit (except apples don’t do well when treated like this), but do give it a try with strawberries, or later in the summer with apricots, nectarines, or plums. You can also vary the flavorings. As you’ll see, the batch I made was quite basic, but you can add a little spice, a bit of vanilla bean, or even a sprig of fresh mint or basil (just pull it out at the end of cooking).
Q: Can I make this recipe with fruits other than blueberries?
A: Yes! However, blueberries have a good deal of pectin naturally, so you may have to cook other fruits a bit longer in order to get a satisfyingly thick consistency.
Q: Can I make this jam with frozen fruit?
A: Yes! Defrost the fruit fully before combining it with the honey. Take note that it may need an additional minute or two of cooking, because frozen fruit will release more liquid than fresh.
Q: Can I skip the boiling water bath process and just freeze this jam?
A: Yes! Funnel it into freezer containers and leave about an inch of space up at the top to allow for expansion. Let the jam cool to room temperature before placing the containers in the freezer. If you choose to freeze in glass jars, make sure that you use jars that have straight sides, as there’s less risk of breakage that way.
Q: Can I double or triple this recipe?
A: I don’t recommend it. The reason this jam works so well without any additional pectin has everything to do with the small batch size. If you increase the volume in the pan, that makes it harder for the fruit to cook down efficiently. If you have a very, very large, wide pan, you can try a double batch.
If you want to make much larger batches of honey sweetened jam, I recommend looking into Pomona’s Pectin. It’s a natural product that allows you to get a really satisfying set with any sweetener. There’s a really terrific cookbook called Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin that will give you all the detail you need.
Q: Can I use something other than lemon juice?
A: For those of you who can’t have citrus, try using a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in place of the lemon. It will balance the flavor in the same way.
Q: How much does this recipe yield?
A: You should get between 2 and 3 half pints from a batch this size. The yield will vary a bit depending on how much water is in the fruit and how long you cook it.
Q: Can I reduce the amount of honey?
A: Yes. However, know that the honey isn’t just a sweetener when you make jam. It also plays a role in helping the jam set up. So if you reduce the honey, you may have to cook it a bit longer to get it to be truly jammy. And of course, the yield will be less because you’ve reduced the total starting volume.
Q: Can I use agave instead of honey?
A: Yes! Agave will work just as well.