Make small batches
With small batches, you have better control over heat levels, and if something goes wrong, you haven’t wasted too much time or fruit. Small batches also cook faster, so you’ll preserve the fresh flavor of the fruit better.
Many preserving recipes don’t call for commercial pectin, so find out the amount of natural pectin that the fruit you’re using contains. Pectin is a natural carbohydrate the causes liquids to jell, and levels vary greatly among different kinds of fruits, and also within a single type of fruit depending on ripeness. Adjust your expectations and cooking times accordingly.
Start with jam
For the novice preserver, jam is the place to begin: it requires little fruit preparation and is forgiving. Even if your jam doesn’t set firmly, it will still taste delicious.
Have special equipment handy
In addition to a boiling-water canner and canning jars, it’s useful to have two large nonreactive spoons (one slotted and one not) and a large ladle. A sturdy pair of clean rubber garden gloves lets you hold the filled, hot jars securely so you can give them a good, firm twist.
Choose the right pan
Cook jams and other fruit spreads in a wide, shallow nonreactive pan. The wider surface are ensures any liquid will evaporate quickly, so you won’t have to overcook the fruit, which can result in a caramel taste and runny consistency.
Taste and adjust
The balance of acid and sugar is important to the final flavor. Follow the recipes precisely, then taste as your fruit spread cooks and adjust as needed. Be careful not to add too much lemon juice; it can impart an overpowering flavor.
Most preserving recipes call for cooking over medium-high heat. Don’t boil your preserves too hard, as doing so can cause the sugar to crystallize and the natural pectin to evaporate.
Fruit needs to be cooked in order to exude pectin, but if you cook it for too long, you can cook the pectin right out of the fruit and end up with runny preserves. Overcooking can also result in a burnt flavor. Follow recipe instructions for the best results, watching and stirring to avoid scorching.
Use the correct headspace
If the top of your fruit spread darkens, it’s usually because you left too much space between the fruit and the lid, or headspace, when you filled the jar. The darkening does not indicate spoilage, however, so you can still eat the preserves; just skim off and discard the top layer.
Store jars carefully
Exposure to sunlight, or a storage area that is too warm, can cause fruit spreads to lose their color, flavor and texture. Store fruit spreads for no more than a year in a cool, dark place.
Try these preserving recipes from Williams-Sonoma: