Sqirl is pretty much everyone’s jam these days, and if you’ve ever wanted to get a peek inside Jessica Koslow’s seasonal preserving process, today’s your lucky day. While it’s certainly easier to go pick up a wonderful jar at Sqirl (or order one online), it’s much more satisfying to make your own jams at home and, according to Koslow herself, it’s tremendously easy. Koslow was at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs over the weekend for the first Taste & Savor event and in a mid-morning canning and preserving workshop, the head jammer shared her top tips for bringing that Sqirl magic into your own home.
1. Use Natural Pectin
While most commercial jams and jellies use artificial pectin (the substance that’s used to bond the fruit and the sugar together), Koslow extracts her own natural pectin from lemon rinds. She says that this pectin helps keep the natural vibrancy of the fruit and it also allows her to use less sugar in her recipes. To extract natural pectin, just throw lemon rinds in a cheesecloth pouch (Koslow uses two lemons’ worth for roughly 24 ounces of fruit) and put the satchel into your pot. As it cooks, the pectin will release into the jam and start to gel it together. When the jam is almost ready, push the pectin pack against the side of your pot for a bonus oozing release of even more pectin.
2. Your Thermometer Is Your Best Friend
While expert preservers might be able to know when their jam is ready by sensing a tingling in their gut, mere mortals need thermometers. That’s because knowing the right temperature is the most important element of jam-making. The pectin sets at approximately 220 degrees, so you’re going to need to be constantly monitoring Ol’ Thermy to see when you’re getting close. “Stopping it too low, you’re going to have a great syrup for your ice cream or pancakes,” Koslow says. “Going too high, you create that like hard, sticky product.” Aim for just right at 220/221 degrees, so your jam will be the perfect consistency.
3. Copper > Stainless Steel
Jessica Koslow loves copper. Why does Jessica Koslow love copper? Because copper is a tiny miracle when it comes to conducting heat. While stainless steel does the job just fine for most things, it just doesn’t compare to copper when you’re dealing with jams. By conducting even, consistent heat throughout the entire batch, Koslow can be sure that all the jam will be equally delicious. How does she know when she has even, consistent heat? Her thermometer, of course.
4. Stir from the Bottom
This tip is so simple you’ll wonder why you ever stirred any other way. Even though copper conducts heat better than other metals, the material at the bottom of your pot is still going to be the hottest and most likely to scorch (this is also the reason why you want to take the temperature from the bottom of the pot). By stirring from the bottom, you take away the chance of scorching while also moving the hottest parts around to increase the temperature of the rest of the jam. When you stir from the bottom, everybody wins.
5. Testing Testing, One Two Three (Four Five)
Koslow uses the so-called “Frozen Plate Test” to gauge when her jam is the right consistency. It’s super simple. Just put five small plates into your freezer. At various points in the cooking process, take out a plate and put a dollop of jam on it. The way the dollop reacts will show you how close you are to being done. Run a finger through the jam to see where you’re at. If it’s still a little soupy, you’ve got a little more cooking time ahead. If it seizes up and congeals, you’re close to done. “It should part like the Red Sea,” Koslow says.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Forget to Label
Once your jam is done, make sure to put a label on it with the name of what’s inside and the date you sealed the jar. That way you’ll keep track of the awesome flavors you create and know when it’s time to eat your jam before it goes bad. According to the head Sqirl, jams stay good for 15 months in the pantry and another year in the refrigerator once opened.