Making Jam From Frozen Fruit

Blackberry Plum Jam With Seville Orange Juice

Last year, two things came into my life that changed the way I preserve fruit. One was an upright storage freezer, which now lives in the basement. The other was a Food Saver, which allows me to freeze fruit in vacuum sealed packages at the height of just-picked excellence, without the danger of ruin from stale air and freezer burn. (Even before the Food Saver, I’d started freezing summer fruit in this way, using heavy-duty freezer bags and sucking out the excess air through a straw or with my mouth — all of which is easier than it might sound.)

The ability to freeze good fruit is important to me, in part, because we spend the peak preserving month of August far away from home, at our cabin in Alaska. Just before we leave, I am slammed with pounds and pounds of berries and plums — more than I could sanely process, given everything else that’s going on. It’s a huge relief to be able to flash freeze, package, and tuck away the harvest to make jam later.

Three Kinds of Plums for the Freezer

When I started to create jams with my frozen summer’s haul, I was of two minds: Mostly, I loved having the luxury of combining so many fruits. Opening the freezer to securely preserved strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, plums, and figs was like diving into a chest of colorful, edible art supplies. I had strawberries to blend with feijoas when the latter showed up in November. (I’ll be sure to post that recipe next fall when feijoas come in again. It was one of my favorite jams of the year.) I made a luscious plum, strawberry, and ground cherry jam that I never would have thought of if I’d used up all those strawberries in June. The frozen plums — at least three different varieties – found their way into almost everything, lending a tart complexity and pectin boost to jams from October until just last week, when they finally ran out.

Blackberries + Plums + Sugar + Time = Maceration

But I also felt guilty. Isn’t it cheating to make jam from frozen fruit? I let flavor decide that question. It’s all good jam. Because the fruit was frozen with care, at the very point where I would want it for jam making — some of it perfectly ripe and some of it just under — the difference in flavor was negligible to nonexistent. As Darina Allen says in her gorgeous book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking:

If you don’t want to spend your whole summer in the kitchen, the most practical approach is to freeze fruit in perfect condition in small, measured quantities, so that you can make jam as you need it throughout the year. Jam made from frozen fruit will taste infinitely fresher and more delicious than a six- or seven-month-old jam even if it is made in peak season.

So. Yes. You can make some damned fine jam from frozen fruit. Here, I thought I’d share a few tips and the method I like to use for jamming frozen fruit, along with a recipe for the last frozen-fruit jam of the winter: an earthy mix of blackberries, plums, and the juice of three Seville oranges sent to me by a dear friend for purposes of education and experimentation. (I squeezed them and then candied the peels.)

Seedy and Sour!

Tips for Making Jam With Frozen Fruit

Start with the best. What goes into your jars is what you get out of them, so use the best fruit you can find. Depending on the type of fruit, you’ll want to freeze it at the peak of flavor or when it’s just a tad underripe. Hitting that peak of ripeness is critical for fruits like strawberries or figs, where a little bit to one side or the other makes all the difference between the jam you want and the one you don’t. With fruits like plums, blackberries, or raspberries, however, I like a mix of perfectly ripe and just under, for both the extra pectin and the extra pucker that the less ripe fruits provide.

Don’t get it wet. I pick over berries. I gently spot clean plums. I remove any bad bits from strawberries. But I don’t wash fruit before I freeze it. It’s all organic or foraged from unsprayed places. I pick it myself, or I know the people who do. I’m also going to boil the bejeezus out of it, so I don’t worry about skipping the wash. (As an aside, some professional jam makers I know and respect don’t wash their organic fruit before jamming it. That’s how I learned to stop doing it, myself. So if a professional jam maker jumped off a bridge, would I jump off a bridge, too? I suppose I might.)

Slice, dice, and weigh. Before you freeze the fruit, cut it to the size you think you’ll want it to be when you use it later, because you probably don’t want to mess around with trying to chop up plum halves or whole, huge strawberries after they’ve been frozen. If you want different textures for different jams, freeze multiple bags, each containing the size you’ll want. You may want to plan for bags of various weights, too. I prepped a lot of two- and three-pound bags, but found that I also loved having single-pound bags to play with.

Flash freeze first. You already know about this, right? It’s where you put the individual pieces of fruit on trays and freeze them until they’re just solid. Then you put the flash frozen fruit into freezer bags. This is how you avoid things like whole bricks made of blackberries. Do note that some fruits have special needs when it comes to freezing. For example, I freeze figs in sugar syrup to retain color and texture. You can learn about that here. And you can find detailed information about freezing other types of fruit here. I have never, for example, frozen peaches, nectarines, or apricots because I haven’t had enough to warrant it. I’d want to check up on the particulars of freezing those or other fruits before attempting it for the first time.

Get the air out. Suck it out with a straw, give your freezer bags mouth to mouth, or get a Food Saver — just extract as much air as you can before you seal the bags. Then double check the seals.

Label it now or regret it later. On the outside of the freezer bag, jot down not just the fruit it contains, but the weight and the date you froze it, along with anything else you might want to remember, like where you picked it or who gave it to you. You’ll be glad you did. (For those of you who are ahead of me in the labeling game, would you please tell me your favorite way to label freezer bags? I write on them with a sharpie, but that makes reuse challenging. I travel with my toiletries in a bag labeled “Blackberries 2010.”)

Plan before you jam. Before you start pulling summer out of the freezer, think about what you want to make. It’s not a big deal — just some recipe notes so you can get in and out of the freezer quickly and not grab or thaw a lot more than you need.

Mmm . . . macerate. This is the best part. I start almost all my frozen fruit jams by macerating the fruit in sugar while it thaws. Doing it this way means you won’t end up with sad, pulpy bits of skin floating in a mess of juice. As the fruit thaws, the sugar nestles it and absorbs the liquid, so you end up with a mixture that is thick, bright, pectin rich (provided you’ve chosen a blend of fruits that provides enough pectin to make a successful jam, which is actually kind of hard not to do) and ready to cook. I don’t add powdered or liquid pectin to my frozen fruit jams and I’ve not yet had a bad experience with one. In terms of how much sugar to use, that’s up to you and your fruit. I usually use 60%-75% of the weight of the fruit, depending on how much pectin it has (less pectin = more sugar) and how sweet it is to start.

Ready to Cook!

Anyway, go clean out your freezer and make some jam. Because it’s spring and rhubarb is already upon us!

Blackberry Plum Jam with Seville Orange Juice

1 pound frozen blackberries
2 pounds frozen plums
2 pounds sugar
1/2 cup sour (Seville) orange juice
juice of 1 Eureka lemon

Combine all ingredients in a large glass or ceramic bowl and gently stir to mix. Cover the bowl tightly and allow to macerate (at room temperature or in the fridge) until fruit has thawed. Sterilize your jars, and place 5 metal teaspoons on a plate in the freezer to test your jam for doneness later. Transfer the mixture to your jam pan, bring to a gentle boil, and cook to the setting point. (Plum jams need some tending as they cook so they don’t stick. Stir frequently toward the end of the cooking process and turn down the heat a bit if needed.) I’m sorry to say I didn’t make note of how long it took to cook this jam. I think it was 15 minutes or so in my 11-quart copper pan — or at least I’d say start looking for a set around that point. (It took me all year to learn to trust the power of the pectin in the wonderful Satsuma plums I got last year; they set quickly and with great enthusiasm. Your cooking time will vary, depending on your fruit, your stove, and your pan.)

To test your jam for doneness: Remove the mixture from the heat. Use one of your frozen spoons to scoop up a little bit of jam — not a whole spoonful. Return the spoon to the freezer and wait 3 minutes. Retrieve the spoon and hold it vertically. If the mixture runs very slowly and it has substantially thickened, it’s done. Alternately, give the mixture a little push with your finger. If you see creases or wrinkles, it’s ready. If the jam is still runny, cook it for 2-3 minutes more (gently stirring all the while) then test again.

Ladle or pour the finished jam into the hot, clean jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe rims clean, apply lids, and process 10 minutes in a water bath canner, adjusting the time for your altitude if necessary.

Makes about 5 half-pints.

Oh! The camellias are finally blooming. I guess they’re not so bad . . .

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37 comments to Making Jam From Frozen Fruit

  • I always feel a little guilty about freezing fruit for use later, but it works beautifully and allows me to enjoy making jam when I have more time, instead of just trying to get it into jars.

  • Loved the reference to Darina Allen. I don’t have fruit in the freezer (except store bought) but thanks for giving us all an excuse to hoard in the future ;-)

  • Jennifer

    My Daughter workes in produce at a local grocery and any fruit that is a bit over-ripe or brused and not sellable comes home (I hate seeing food thrown out) so I started making preserves and butters…. Bananas galore fill my freezer for breads and several jams I make…Strawberries,peaches,nectarines,plums,blueberries,blackberries,raspberries,cranberries from the fall…they are all in the freezer… I have just purchesed a dehydrator so some of the fruits are going dehydrated..even did a batch of peaches from last year,they were good from all the compliments I got… Some of the fruits get given to neighbors and friends I always try to help out others in that way…I do buy at least 1 special mix for a preserve I invented last summer, cant wait for the fiesta blend to come back to Aldi’s…..

  • This is great. I have bags of frozen fruit in the upright too. One thing I like is that the frozen fruit is so versatile – yes you can make jam but you can also make crisp or smoothies or just have a big bowl of half-thawed strawberries in February.

  • I like the flexibility of frozen fruit, too: I mean, jam is jam. But frozen fruit can be a jam, a pie, a dessert, breakfast, etc.

    What do you think of your FoodSaver? Worth the investment? I do the double-bag Ziplock thing, trying to get out as much air as possible (although I have not tried the suck-it-out-with-a-straw trick) and it works pretty well, but I do get freezer burn before a year is up.

    • Shae

      Oooh, Kaela, saying “jam is jam” to me is kinda like saying a Meyer lemon is a Meyer lemon — and you know what I’m talking about. I’ll tell you the truth about the Food Saver: If your folks buy it for you as a gift, it’s a great investment. It’s also super fun to work the vacuum doohickey. But if I hadn’t been given it as a gift, I would still be sucking air the old fashioned way. I say don’t even bother with the straw, just try it with your mouth. It makes a big difference!

      • Cats & yoga & jam: I’m pushing everybody’s buttons this week! :)

      • SUSAN WILLIAMS

        I just purchased a food saver. I LOVE it! The cheap one at Wal mart was a waste, so I returned it. After a lot of research, I got the “gamesaver” on ebay…new $125 free shipping. I has wider seal and is heavy duty. I’m a city girl with a country heart, and you can buy in bulk and package in smaller portions without the freezer burn. I also use on freshly wrapped meat or fish, again eliminating freezer burn. And of course on fruit, cheese, etc. I even vac sealed my fruitcake which needs to absorb its brandy for a month before serving. I only wish I had gotten one years ago.

  • This is a great post and I will be returning to it often during the summer months. I have long used the freezer to preserve what we grow in our garden but jamming is a relatively new venture. I wondered all last summer if there would be a way to avoid making the air conditioner work so hard and now you have confirmed that there surely is.

  • Danny

    I have always made freeze jam…the kind you don’t cook..But I have had problems with the pectin..Sometimes its gels..sometimes it doesn’t…Have thought that cooking takes some of the fresh flavor away..But your article says you use no pectin…that I like because it can be pricey if you are doing alot of jamming..I do have an incredible amount of plums..and this year looks very good (providing there is no late hard freezes)…And I think cooking the plums would make them tastier…Very good advice, thanks.

  • How timely, with our jam supply dwindling I just took stock of our frozen berries. Mixed berry jam is definitely on the agenda for next weekend. I love how freezing the berries takes the pressure off canning in the hot summer months.

  • I freeze gobs of summer fruit (and veggies) for use throughout the winter, including for making jam :) It is lovely, mid-March, to look down at our plates and realize six or seven items on them came from our garden. I don’t wash my berries before freezing, but I do wash them once I get them out of the freezer and before eating or making anything with them. I also use the Sharpie on the bag method for marking my frozen produce, but if the markings on the bag bother you, you can also cut out small circles or squares from plain paper (extra scrapbook paper works great for this, or the back of used computer paper). Write on the paper what you’re freezing and the date, and use clear packing tape (the 2″ wide stuff you’d use to tape up packages) to stick it on the bag. Comes right off later. This works great for jar lids, too. When I’m feeling especially creative (usually in the dead of winter) I’ll even spend an evening by the fire cutting out the little squares/circles and decorating them with various scrapbook stickers that have been languishing in my supply. Happy jam making! It sounds like yummy things are going on at your house.

  • I thought I left a comment already, but I guess I didn’t. You know what I said? I said: I need another, yes another!, freezer!!

  • I enjoyed your post!! I remember my granny making jam from frozen fruits & I’ve done the same in the past. It truly is a wonderful thing to have freshly made jam in the dead of winter. And just a note on labeling those bags: I use a sharpie, too, but a bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball will take most of it off. :)

  • Anduin

    In my opinion, the hardest thing about making jam with frozen fruit is deciding how to combine the fruits. I have blackberries, cranberries, and bananas in the freezer and apples, mangoes, and kiwi in the refrigerator. There must be some divine yet unholy combinations there, but I’m struggling to figure out what to do with them. I would welcome suggestions.

    I suppose that’s also a benefit to them being frozen–you have time to figure out how to use them.

    By the way, we bought our food saver at a garage sale for $10 and it’s the best $10 we ever spent. I’ve learned to label the bags at the top above the seal that way I just cut off the old information, wash the bag, and it’s ready for the next round.

    • Shae

      Yes, I think that’s a great thing about having frozen fruit — time to contemplate, rather than processing everything in a rush. I like to put kiwis with my blueberries and blackberries, not just for flavor but because the kiwis boost pectin. And of course cranberries and bananas make a great jam. (Seriously, they do.) I have been addicted to mangoes lately, but just for eating fresh. I saw a mango butter recipe once that looked mighty intriguing, tho. I’d love it if you report back on what you decide/decided to do.

      What a great garage sale find, too! My father schooled me in the labeling method you use — write it at the top and then cut it off before reuse (smart!) — but I haven’t yet settled on a decent way to label ordinary freezer bags.

  • I agree with Julia, another freezer please! One for the stocks,sauces, meats and another for fruit, veges and breads. I knew you would come around with the camelias once they bloomed. Very beauty.

  • Wow, what a great idea! And those colors are just so lovely… what a wonderful preview of the coming season. I like to write food labels on masking tape– it’s easy to remove, even after it’s been frozen, and it sticks pretty well as long as you make sure the surface is dry when you lay it down. One of my food resolutions this season is to freeze more fresh stuff– this post is totally inspirational! Thanks for all of the great tips.

  • Tripoli777

    Last year I planted a Boysenberry cane from Lowes and this year it’s gone nuts! Unfortunately not nuts enough that I was able to get a jam load of fresh berries, so I was so thankful to find this post on frozen fruit. Thank you so much! One question though, will I need to add pectin to these berries to make jam? Love your blog and await your further adventures!

    • Shae

      Lucky you, growing your own boysenberries! I don’t add pectin to boysenberry or other jams made from blackberry varieties — no matter whether I start with fresh or frozen fruit. If you macerate the berries in the sugar while they are thawing, you will get a lovely mixture that you can cook down into jam without added pectin. (I have a post about boysenberry jam, too!) Thank you so much for your comment and for stopping by. I hope you’ll let us know how your jam turns out. :-)

  • I was just thinking about this post the other night over dinner. Even though I read it months ago it remains a great reference point. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Shae

      Thanks, Shani! This is definitely the time to think about freezing fruit. I’m working on wild blackberries and neighborhood plums. :-)

  • Vicky

    Hi,
    I have fruit (blackcurrants/sour cherries/gooseberries)that I froze last summer (August 2011) and I want to know if it is still OK to eat and/or make jam from. If I do make jam how long should it be OK to eat for from year old fruit?
    Thanks.

    • Shae

      Hi Vicky: Sounds like you have some great fruit to play with! I usually try to use my frozen fruit within six months for jam, or a year for anything else, but a little longer won’t hurt. It’s not a safety concern; it just won’t taste quite as fresh. After you make it, you can keep it as you would any other jam.

  • sally pendlebury

    I forgot to weigh my plums before freezing. What percentage weight do they gain on freezing?

    • Shae

      Sally, I checked it out with my friend who’s a scientist. The change in weight will be negligible, if anything at all. You can weigh out your frozen fruit without worry.

  • Linda

    I have made freezer jam for years. I had some blackberry jam left in the freezer from 2011. When I opened it,(April,2013) there were tiny little worms on top of the fruit,like the ones you find when you pick the berries. When I make jam, I wash the berries and some worms float to the surface. But I’ve never had them in jam before! Also, there are clumps of light foamy looking stuff on top and through the jam. Has anyone ever had this happen?

    • Shae

      You know, I’ve never made freezer jam, Linda. This post is all about making “regular” jam from previously frozen fruit. Never had worms in my blackberries, either, and I feel lucky for that! Maybe someone else who reads this post will be able to speak to your questions.

  • kim

    i cooked my plums and put through a food mill, but do not have enough jars, can i freeze until i get more jars?

    • Shae

      Kim: For sure you can. I freeze puree in tupperware-like containers. Just make sure to leave an inch or two of headspace to permit expansion.

  • Thank you so much for turning me on to freezing fruit in the summer. I don’t have enough time to process everything with the kids birthday’s coming up. I am going to put back some apricots and blueberries, and when the kids go to school in the fall, I wil be good to go. I gave you credit for teaching me about macerating on my blog post about making strawberry jam. Thanks again!

  • rokopo

    Label your jars and bags by writung with Sharpie on Scotch tape and stick it to the bag.

  • This is a fantastic post. We can more and more each year, and there have been too many times when harvest time rolled around and yet we just did not have the time to can everything all at once. By freezing our fruit beforehand at different intervals, it gives us a better variety of things to choose from, so that there is an assortment of nice and even unusual recipes to use. Thanks for sharing the info. and to all of the other kind people who have posted their tips.

  • Marge

    I love this website. When I was 11 my parents bought a farm. We had 2000 strawberry plants, 500 tomato plants, and every other kind of berry and vegetable you could grow in Wisconsin. I learned to can and freeze at an early age. When my children were small and we had no money I did a lot of canning. Later as life got busier and my work (computers) got more demanding I left all that behind. My daughter (now age 30) started canning when she was about 20 in college. She has taught many friends her techniques. She and her friends will love this sight! They have all become very good organic farmers and each keeps an additional community garden that is completely donated to the local food banks.

    She brought the most amazing tomato basil and banana pepper and basil jellies, they were fabulous with cream cheese on sour dough Melba toasts as appetizers at Thanksgiving. PLEASE, PLEASE tell me how you make candied orange peels!

    I have marked this place and will follow often!

    Thank you!!’

  • Paula

    I enjoyed your article. I have never made jam or fruit pie but have a freezer full of all kinds of fruit I bought in a group purchase from Oregon. I live in Ks. Just overestimated how many smoothies and fruit salads I would make. Much of it has freezer burn though even though in food saver bags. Didn’t flash freeze and have had it far too long. Can’t bring myself to toss any of it though. I need to use it for something so will give jam a try. Would rather learn on old fruit than the cream of the crop :-). Thanks for sharing and the tip to macerate while thawing. That will surely help!

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