Freezer jam is canning anyone can handle

Canning food at home can be an intimidating process, what with that whole fear of death from a spoiled batch.

Luckily, the freezer offers a fast, easy and fear-free form of canning homemade jams that anyone can handle.

Unlike traditional canning (in which jars of food are submerged in boiling water to create a seal and kill off dangerous bacteria), freezer canning does not produce shelf-stable foods. In other words, they must be refrigerated or frozen.

But that's a small price for the pleasure of opening a jar of delicious, inexpensive and fresh-tasting jam in winter.

Here's how it works:

When making jams using traditional canning methods, fruit, sugar, acid (usually lemon juice) and pectin (a natural gelling agent) are cooked together, ladled into jars, then boiled for set times.

Freezer jam takes a shortcut. In its simplest form, fruit is chopped or crushed, then mixed with sugar and special freezer pectin (widely available at grocers).

The fruit then is jarred and frozen. As needed, the jars can be moved to the refrigerator, where they will thaw into a thick jam. In the freezer, the jams keep for a year. Once thawed, they last about three weeks in the refrigerator.

Because freezer jams don't rely on a careful balance of sugar and acidity to remain safe (as traditionally canned foods do), there is plenty of room for improvisation in terms of flavorings and blends.

Freezer jams can be either cooked or raw. Uncooked freezer jams taste strongly of fresh fruit. Cooked versions have a more traditional jam-like taste.

These recipes for blueberry-lemon and peach-mango cooked freezer jams are easy and incredibly flavorful. Strawberries, raspberries and kiwi also would work.

The only special equipment needed are containers to store your jam in. The containers must hold up well in the freezer. Canning supply companies sell special plastic freezer lids that fit traditional glass canning jars.

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