As cabin fever sets in, a lot of people are finding comfort in cooking elaborate dinners, baking the perfect cookie, or even tending to a sourdough starter. Making jam is a similarly meditative hobby that also lets you add to your shelf-stable food supply. And if you don’t have a lot of fresh fruit on hand (or want to avoid an unnecessary trip to the grocery store), worry not — Dafna Kory, founder of INNA, a California-based jam company, told us that frozen fruit works just as well. We asked her and five experts, including cookbook authors, recipe testers, and jam-company founders, about the tools they recommend for an at-home canning operation. Read on for the jars, thermometers, and pots they swear by.
Best digital scale
Candace Ross, founder of Brins jam, says that a general ratio for jam-making is one part fruit, one part sugar, and one tablespoon of lemon juice for each pound of fruit. “If you don’t have a lemon, you can substitute with apple cider vinegar,” she says. If you prefer less sugar, you could also do a ratio of two parts fruit to one part sugar. Since most jam recipes are by weight, you’ll want to have a digital kitchen scale on hand to measure your ingredients. “Soehnle is the brand we use at home,” says Eric Haeberli, co-owner of Bay Area–based small-batch jam company We Love Jam. “Our 20-year-old scale is still accurate to 1/10 of a gram.”
Best stainless-steel saucepan
According to the experts we spoke to, there are a few different types of pots and pans you can use when you begin to cook down the fruit and sugar for your jam — and stainless steel is among the best. Haeberli has this rule of thumb: “Any saucepan will do as long as it isn’t too thin because anything less than an eighth of an inch thick on the bottom will scorch or burn.” Alessandra Gordon, owner of Seattle-based jam company Ayako & Family, loves this “versatile” All-Clad saucier that’s great for cooking any sauces or jam at home, because the “curved shallow sides and wide mouth allow for easier reduction and minimizes scorching.” All-Clad is also the saucepan her mother — Ayako herself — used to make jams when she first started the company in 2009. Haeberli does all of his product development in a 22-year-old, 1.5-quart All-Clad pan. When it comes to choosing a size, he says the three-quart version, which he also has, will make approximately four to six jars. “Remember the smaller the batch, and the bigger the width of the pan, the thicker the jam will be due to the speed of evaporation of the water in the fruit,” he says, adding that he prefers doing multiple small batches, rather than one big batch.
Best enamelware Dutch oven
If you don’t have stainless steel, our experts say that enameled cast iron is another good option. Joyce Goldstein, author of Jam Session: A Fruit-Preserving Handbook, relies on a nine-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, because it “maintains even heat,” throughout the cooking process.
Best copper pot
While Le Creuset may feel fancy already, the true sign of status in the jam-making world is a Mauviel copper jam pan. Crafted in France, Mauviel is a family-owned copper kitchenware company that has been in business since 1830, and it has a wide, shallow bowl and heat-conductive copper, which will ensure your jams cook evenly. “Mauviel’s copper pot is the best,” explains Ross. But she notes that if you’re on a budget or just dipping your toe into a new hobby, stainless steel will work just fine.
After you combine your fruit and sugar in your pan, turn the heat to medium-high, and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to help the sugar dissolve. Then bring the fruit and sugar mixture to a boil, stirring often. “Don’t turn your back on this since sugar loves to boil over,” warns Ross. Let the mixture cook on a hard simmer, stirring often to make sure the jam isn’t sticking to your pan or burning. You’ll want to keep a thermometer on hand because once the mixture reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re ready to start jarring. Depending on the water content of the fruit, this can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Both Kory and Haeberli recommended a Thermapen MK4, which Strategist writer Maxine Builder loves for its speed and accuracy. But if you don’t want to spend 99 bucks on a thermometer, Ross loves this inexpensive candy thermometer from Taylor, which she says can be clipped to the side of your pan so that you can keep your eye on the temperature during the entire jam-making process.
And if you don’t have a thermometer at all, two of our experts said you could use the “freeze plate test” to know when your jam is done cooking. Freeze a plate and when you think the jam is ready, add a small amount to it, says Ross. Run your finger through the jam; if it wrinkles and feels gelled to the touch, it’s ready. “If not, just keep cooking the jam until it’s gelled.”
Best silicone spatulas
“A silicone spatula is best for stirring and scraping hot jam out of the pan, and they are also safe when using tin-plated copper pots and pans,” says Haeberli. He prefers either Williams Sonoma or Le Creuset because “the handles never crack like the bamboo used in other brands.”