Monday, July 9, 2012

Canning without Sugar

no sugar added jam three ways: raspberry blueberry, apricot vanilla bean, strawberry

I've been having some difficulty getting into canning this season. Life is busy and, at times, stressful no doubt, but the main reason is that for the last 33 days, I haven't eaten any sugar. No sugar of any kind except whole fruit, nor any dairy, meat, gluten, soy or corn. I've been doing a modified allergy elimination diet, to kick start my health and help me see how certain foods affect my health and well-being. And wow! Seriously, I have been amazed at the results so far: more energy, sleeping better, fewer headaches or the ability to "cure" them quickly whereas before they'd last for hours and hours, clearer skin, healthier nails, and most of all a new connection to the foods I eat. I finally feel I've gotten a grasp on the foods I am choosing to put in my body and focusing all my positive energy on what I choose to eat versus what I choose not to. Because rather than say, "I can't have that, it has sugar" I have changed the way I think to "I choose not to have that, because I'll feel healthier if I do not".

I am adding foods back, one-at-a-time, to see how I do with them, and given that information I may or may not return to eating that particular food product with regularity. All of which to say that I haven't canned much because the task of making jam without sugar seemed daunting to me. Sugar is everything to canning! Many recipes call for cups and cups of sugar (usually refined white sugar at that). For the last 2 canning seasons, I have thought nothing of adding 4 cups of sugar to a typical fruit jam. 4 cups! My that is quite a lot of sugar. Luckily, there is a way to make tasty jam without any added sugar, something I never would have thought of prior to this experiment.

raspberry blueberry jam pre-processing

On a side note: did you realize that sugar is in *much* of what we eat? Even those of us who feel they eat healthy might not realize how sugar-laden our collective diet is. The most common thing I've heard when I tell friends and family I'm opting out of sugar (and maple syrup, brown rice syrup, honey, agave, etc.) is "Why worry about it if it's just a little bit, like in ketchup?" Well, for me it's because a little sugar in my ketchup (and that's the organic kind, not the HFCS kind!) plus all the other hidden sugars in "healthy" products like bread, cereal, condiments, sauces, nut butters, jams soups, etc. adds up to a lot more sugar than it seems and a lot more than is A) necessary and B) healthy, in my opinion. So for now, I am staying away completely, only allowing myself fruit. And even then, fruit has fructose and I watch how much I intake. It can be all too easy to realize I've had 5 servings of fruit and only 2 serving of veggies in a day if I'm not careful!

Anyhow, back to jam! Pomona's Universal Pectin is, of course, the answer! According to the product description, "Pomona's Universal Pectin is a sugar-free, low-methoxyl citrus pectin that is activated by calcium. Since it does not require sugar to jell, jams and jellies can be made with less, little, or no sugar." 

With the help of the recipe packet in the box and some inspiration from Hitchhiking to Heaven, I set about making my first batch of no-sugar-added Raspberry Blueberry Jam, using apple juice concentrate as my sweetener. I must say, it was delicious. At first the jam seemed too tart, as I'm used to conventional homemade jam (even my lower sugar recipes are still sweetened with at least a cup of sugar!), but as I let it set and especially the next day when I popped open my small test jar, I found it to be perfect. Definitely tart, but then the all the natural-sweet-goodness of the berries shined through. It was such a treat on my breakfast "cookies" (made vegan, gluten and sugar-free) along with some almond butter. 

such a treat!
Raspberry Blueberry Jam (no sugar added)
adapted from the recipe inside the Pomona's Universal Pectin box

~ 1 lb (2 pints) raspberries
~ 1 lb (1 pint) blueberries
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 c. apple or white grape juice concentrate (frozen, thawed)
4 tsp. Pomona's calcium water (comes with the pectin, follow box directions and keep extra in the fridge for next time)
3 tsp. Pomona's pectin powder

Add berries, lemon juice and calcium water to a large, nonreactive pot (I use my darling Le Creuset) and smoosh up a bit. I tend to heat the berries up at this point, to make the smooshing easier. Actually, this time, I took my hand blender to it, to create a slightly more uniform jam.

In a small saucepan, bring the juice concentrate to a boil. Very quickly add the pectin powder and either transfer to a blender or do what I did and pop your stick blender in it and whir until the mixture is thick and smooth, at least a few minutes.

Bring the fruit mixture to a boil and then add the juice-pectin mixture. Bring to a boil again and let your jam boil for a full minute before pulling the pan off the heat. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently. This is supposed to help your jam avoid "fruit float", where the fruit juices separate from the fruit pieces, which then rise to the top of the jar. I however, would not know, because I neglected to let my jam sit for long enough, eager to get on with the project. Wa-wa. My fruit floated. Oh well, I'll just have to remind the recipient of my jam to give it a sturdy stir when first delving into the jar. And that person will be me, because I doubt I'll be sharing this with anyone! Too good and such a treat for me right now.

After letting the jam rest, fill your jars as usual leaving 1/4'' headspace and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. I don't sterilize my jars first if I'll be processing them for more than 10 minutes, but I'm not an authority and you should do what you feel is best.

Let the jam sit overnight or for the day and be satisfied as you look at your glowing red-violet jars, knowing that you made a healthy, pure fruit spread, with no added sugars and the taste of summer. And if you want to try it the way I did this morning, add 1 T. to this (sans sugar, of course). Marvelous!

apricot vanilla bean in my beloved weck jars

I made Apricot Vanilla Bean (using a mix of white and yellow apricots) and Strawberry a few days later and both were excellent. Follow the proportions on the Pomona's Box for both. For the Apricot, I used 1 tsp. less pectin than on the box, as they tend to set up nicely on their own, white grape juice concentrate, and 1 scraped vanilla bean. For the Strawberry I used apple juice concentrate and no special add ins. For both I let the fruit macerate in the fridge with the lemon juice and 1/4 c. juice concentrate for a day or two. Voila! Now I have a pantry with 3 types of sugar-free, all-natural jam to enjoy!

no sugar added strawberry (notice the fruit float? just give it a stir when first opening)


  1. Oh, we definitely need to chat!! Our little Reilly family has been trying the grand no sugar experiment for awhile. It really is amazing how MUCH sugar we eat and how MUCH is screws us up. Yea for whole, yummy real foods and the awesome, awesome life benefits they give.


  2. I'll be sure to pass this on to my mother--we love homemade jam at my house and as you know, we're embarking on the no-sugar experiment!

  3. About how many jars of jam (what size are you using?) did this recipe make?

    1. Hmmm.... I wrote this awhile ago snd don't quite remember! My best guess is approximately 6-7 half pints.