My sister (Carrie), my mother, and my grandmother have all made jam and jelly before. Carrie's specialty is strawberry jam. My grandmother made this yummy grape jelly (different from Concord grape jelly) when I was growing up. My mom makes my dad's family's famous jalapeno jelly (they're from Texas after all; you only get the secret recipe after entering the family via birth or marriage). Well, I decided to join the long jelly- and jam-making tradition and make blackberry jam.
I picked a whopping 7 1/2 pounds of blackberries at a local farm in about 30 minutes. I really, really, really like blackberry products--jam, cobbler, etc. I made 2 batches of jam (18 half-pint jars) and still had plenty to freeze for a couple of cobblers.
In this process, I learned a few things about homemade jellies/jams that I thought I'd pass on to other novices.
1. Have EVERYTHING ready to go when you start. This is especially important if you have young children at home--you won't be able to stop for a few minutes, so choose your timing carefully. This includes having jars sterilized and ready to go, sugar measured and ready to go, fruit crushed and ready to go, etc.
2. It's easy!
3. You'll need sugar, pectin, and fruit for most jams. Jelly can be made with fruit juice--either store bought or from fruit you've got on hand.
4. It's yummy!
5. Follow directions exactly! Canning is more science than art; you want to avoid any potential harm from not canning correctly. You also need to make sure you use the right amounts of sugar, fruit, and pectin (if needed) or the jelly/jam won't "set." Canning isn't hard--it's just important not to skimp on timing and such.
In case you're headed off to a big sale at the grocery or a pick-your-own farm and are wondering how much fruit you'll need for jam or jelly, here's a list of suggested amounts (these are from the instructions in the sure-jell (pectin) and seem to be similar to most recipes I've looked at--they're all for 1 pkg pectin):
Blackberries: 8 cups (2 quarts)
Blueberries: 1-1 1/2 quarts
Strawberries: 2-2 1/2 quarts
Raspberries: 2 quarts (for jam)
Apple jelly: 5 pounds or 7 cups juice
Peaches: 3 pounds
Pears: 3 pounds
Apricots: 3 1/2 pounds