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Antique Recipe Road Show

Sugar and Heat for Your Jam

Q, Can strawberry jam be made without sugar and without cooking?

(I came to the conclusion that in the 1800s, they may not have had sugar or pectin) Raw is better than cooked and NO SUGAR is certainly better than even one granule of sugar.


A.  Dawn, First of all, the answer is yes, absolutely, you can make no-cook jam with some pectin (a thickener) and eliminate the sugar if you wish--especially if you have wonderfully ripe and sweet fruit.  I have a friend who makes no-cook berry jam in Maine and swears by it.  I always wanted to try it myself, so if you have a recipe, feel free to share because I’d love it. 

However, I’m pretty certain that you need the consistently low temps of a fridge or freezer to do it, and so these types of jams are probably of the modern electrical era. 

Were you to just set out your jam in a cool place, it would grow bacteria. 

This is where the sugar comes in. You wonder if people didn’t have much back in the 1800s.  In general, sugar had become readily available to the middle class people living in urban areas of Europe and the U.S, thanks to European plantations in the Caribbean and slave labor.  (But that--and the whole big magilla of sugar history--is best for another day.)

In any case, sugar was not optional in making jam--it was essential.  Remember that “fruit preserves” were invented as precisely this--a method of preserving fruit for winter before refrigeration came along.  Sugar acted not only as a sweetener but as a preserving agent.  Cooking breaks down the fruit so it can absorb the sugar.  In some historic recipes, you also find the addition of vinegar for the same reason. 

The only way I’ve ever seen fruit preserves made without sugar is when it’s been cooked and pounded into sheets then then sun/air dried and rolled up for the winter.  This is called “fruit leather” in the old cookbooks.  But also, I’ve read of Indians of the Northwest who used to preserve fruit this way.  So cool.  I’m sure you’ve also seen kids eating these under the guise of “fruit roll ups.” These of course have LOTS of sugar--a la corn syrup.

So in sum, my vote is that unsugared uncooked jam is a modern invention, though please if there’s someone out there who knows otherwise, correct me.  I also think it’s probably more delicious--full of fruit flavor--and perhaps one way that modern recipes are sometimes better than old!

see also: Quince

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