Have you ever wondered, how long does homemade jam last? In the summer during rhubarb season when there are copious amounts of blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries growing in my part of the Adirondacks, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen making homemade jam to last us through the winter. We use a couple of different cooking techniques for making our homemade jam, and each one has a different shelf life, depending on how we process and store our homemade jam.
When answering the question of how long does homemade jam last, it’s also important to understand the difference between jelly and jam. My husband knows how to make jelly and jelly is made from the juice of the fruit, so we can make strawberry jelly with just the juice of the strawberries after we’ve run them through a food mill. But a homemade jam is made with the fruit pulp or the whole crushed fruit. We prefer to make our homemade jam with the whole crushed fruit and have had great success in creating different kinds of homemade jam from whatever fruits are growing near our home.
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How Long Does Homemade Jam Last? Basic Jam Making Recipe
I learned how to make peach jam from my grandmother when I was growing up. She had one peach tree in her backyard that gave her enough peaches every year to make exactly one quart of homemade jam. This is the recipe that she used and it yields one ½ pint jar of homemade jam.
- 2 ½ cups of fresh fruit, cut into chunks, pits removed
- 1 lemon
- ¼ cup of sugar, or as desired for taste
- Pinch of salt
- Mix together fruit and sugar in a large pot, and squeeze in the juice from the lemon wedge. (You can even drop in the rest of the lemon wedge after you’ve squeezed the juice out, but remember to remove it later.) Add the salt and mix well.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and gently mashing the fruit as you go.
- Bring to a boil and continue to cook at a low boil for about five to eight minutes.
- To test the jam for consistency, place a few drops on a frozen spoon and let it sit for a few minutes. Swipe your finger through the jam to test for thickness. If the jam isn’t done to your liking, you can boil it for a few more minutes, adjusting the sweetness by adding sugar if necessary. If the jam is too sweet, add a bit more lemon juice and cook for one to two minutes before testing for taste again.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool. Spoon into glass jars and cap tightly, labeled with the date.
You can store this basic homemade jam recipe in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or freeze it with no further processing for up to six months.
How Long Does Homemade Jam Last? Canning Homemade Jam
If you want to extend the shelf life of your homemade jam, you can process it in a hot water bath (canning). We do this for our low-sugar jams like blackberries and blueberries and anything with rhubarb in it. It takes a little longer, but when someone asks me, how long does homemade jam last, I can tell them that this will make the jam last for at least 18 months when stored in a cool, dry place.
To can your homemade jam in a hot water bath:
- Clean the glass jars and lids to remove all traces of dirt, and rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of soap.
- While the jam is cooling, boil the jars in a hot water bath for a few minutes to sterilize. Remove each jar, fill with jam to about ¼ inch from the top, and cap with a lid. Place a band around the mouth of the jar and tighten before placing the jar back in the hot water bath.
- Keep all the jars in the hot water bath, covered with about two inches of water. Depending on your altitude, you can process the canned jam for at least five minutes, anywhere up to 15 minutes. (Higher altitudes over 6,000 feet above sea level should process for the full 15 minutes.)
- Remove the jars from the boiling water and place them on a wooden cutting board or other heatproof surface to cool overnight. At this point, you can also loosen the bands a bit around the mouths of the jars so that they don’t rust in place.
As the jars cool, you’ll probably hear that distinct pop as the lids are sucked down and the heat seal is created. Check to make sure each jar is sealed by testing the lids. If the lids (not the bands) are concave, they’ve formed a seal. Every once in a while, you’ll get a jar that doesn’t seal properly, but don’t worry about it – just let it cool, write the date on it, and pop it in the fridge so you can eat it first.
How Long Does Homemade Jam Last? Why Use Sugar?
Sugar has an important part to play in food preservation methods and in answering the question, how long does homemade jam last. When used in making homemade jam, sugar not only adds a little bit of sweetness to otherwise tart fruit but also acts as a preservative. When you make homemade jam with sugar, the sugar helps to thicken the jam by drawing the water out of the fruit during the cooking process. After the jam is finished cooking, the sugar acts as a barrier against any harmful bacteria that may want to grow.
You can most definitely use other sweeteners as alternatives to sugar when making homemade jam, or you can leave it out altogether and use unsweetened pectin for thickening your jam. But take note that even when processing your homemade jam, anything made with less sugar won’t last as long on the shelf or in the refrigerator.
For homemade jams made using sugar and processed by canning in a hot water bath, you can expect to get about two years of shelf life when stored in a cool, dry place. Once opened, keep your homemade jam in the refrigerator for up to three months.
Homemade jams made without sugar and processed by canning in a hot water bath will last about half that long – about one year – when stored in cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Once opened, use those jams pretty quickly, in about six weeks, to guarantee freshness.
Regardless of how much sugar you put in your jam or whether or not you process your jam in a hot water canning bath, you should always store open jars of jam in the refrigerator. Toss any questionable-looking fruit jam after three months maximum to prevent illness.
What do you say when someone asks, how long does homemade jam last? Do you have any experiences storing homemade jam successfully for long periods of time? Leave a comment and share your stories with us here.