How to make homemade jam with your kids

Summer berries are ripe for canning

Homemade jam with kids

Picking season is in full swing — and it can be hard to keep up with the bounty. With prices at their cheapest, and local fruits and vegetables in abundance, it’s a great time of year to be making and storing jam.

For the canning novice, the easiest place is start is with homemade jam. It’s not very expensive, it’s simple, and once you’ve made one kind of jam, you know how to make all the different flavor combinations.

Making homemade jam may sound daunting, but anyone can do it using basic kitchen skills. And children can take part in the process, too. Try these steps with your family to enjoy your own homemade jam (works for blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and boysenberries):

Supplies you’ll need:

  • 3 pint or 6 half-pint glass canning jars
  • 1 two-piece cap for each jar (with a new lids)
  • Sugar
  • Pectin (a thickening agent; found in the baking aisle of your local supermarket)
  • Potato masher for crushing the berries
  • Metal spoon
  • Rubber scraper
  • Large bowl
  • 6- to 8-quart saucepot
  • Ladle
  • Lid wand (for removing lids from hot water. Tongs will also work)  
  • Jar lifter
  • Wide mouth funnel
  • Large canning pot with rack (stockpot and rack insert)

6 ways to involve your kids in making jam

  1. Picking fruit, even small hands can help.
  2. Counting out jars, rims, and lids.
  3. Smashing the berries.
  4. Watching the timer during jam cooking.
  5. Handing rims to an adult as jars are filled.
  6. Eating the jam!

Buy or pick your fruit
A visit to a pick-your-own farm brings you directly to the source. It also ensures the freshest produce for canning. Most farms are kid-friendly so everyone can take part in picking. Click here for a county-by-county list of the region’s best berry farms.

For those short on time or who live too far from berry farms, take a quick trip to a nearby farmer's market or the local supermarket. You'll need about 2 ¼ to 4 ½ pounds of berries per batch of jam. 

Read more: Try this allergy-free berry muffin recipe

Reserve two to three hours
Plan your jam making adventure for an uninterrupted block of time. For more fun, invite some friends to join you. Our family often holds jam-making sessions with friends to share the work and to pass along the skills to others.

Set up your work area
Clear your kitchen table or counter to make space for your supplies and for working. Make room on the stove for three pots (one for cooking the jam, one for heating jar lids and the third for the boiling canner).

Gather your supplies
One of the drawbacks to trying out home preserving has typically been the expense of investing in supplies. Hot water bath processing (recommended by the USDA) requires a large canning pot with a rack and accessories, which can cost up to $50. However, Jarden Home Brands offers an inexpensive starter kit, perfect for small canning projects such as this one, that includes a rack and lifter designed to fit a regular stockpot (for under $15).

Read more: Local attractions combine fun and learning

Prepare the fruit
Rinse berries quickly under cool water in a colander. Drain briefly. Next, in a large bowl, mash the fruit, a small amount at a time using a potato masher. Children particularly enjoy this part of the process so assign them the role of smashing the berries.

Prepare Containers
Wash jars, rims, and lids in hot soapy water. To prevent jars from breaking, bring water in your canning pot to a low boil. Turn off heat. Then submerge clean jars for 10 minutes.

Cook jam
Transfer mashed berries to the saucepot in quantity indicated in pectin instructions. Add pectin. Heat to boiling, then add sugar according to pectin manufacturer's recommendations. Stir until dissolved and return to rolling boil. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Be careful to follow times exactly, as the jelling process requires precision. In our house, the kids like counting down the seconds and announcing when time is up.

Skim off foam
Once the jam has cooked, remove from heat and skim foam from surface of cooked jam with metal spoon and transfer to a separate bowl. Set aside.

Jar the jam
Pour water out of each heated jar just prior to using. Then, using the funnel and ladle, scoop jam into jars, leaving a ¼" gap between the top of the jar and the jam. Carefully wipe lip of the jar clean, then put on the lid and rim, closing fingertip tight.

Process in Hot Water Bath
Place jars on raised rack in canning pot as soon as they are filled and capped. When rack is full, slowly lower rack with jars into heated water, until jars are submerged. Return to boiling and boil for 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Carefully remove jars from pot using jar lifter and set on wood cutting board, trivets, or thick towel to cool.

While you clean up, listen for the sound of jar lids popping as the seals set. Cheer with each pop. You did it! Your jam is made. Spread it on bread and enjoy!

Parenting journalist Lara Krupicka enjoys making jam every summer with her daughters after they go blueberry picking.