Why I Keep Making Homemade Jam, Year After Year

My little son asked why I bothered—and got a longer answer than he'd expected.

closeup of spoon filled with strawberry jam hovering above homemade glass jar

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"Why do you bother making jam when you can just buy it at the store for cheap?" My youngest son posed an excellent question last week as I stood over a pot of bubbling peach jam on a humid afternoon. I wasn't particularly keen to be there in that moment; it was hot and sticky and I'd have preferred to be at the beach with my kids. But the peaches had been sitting on the kitchen counter for a few days and were perfectly ripe. Fruit flies were hovering and I knew I needed to get this job done sooner rather than later.

I had to think about my answer before responding. "There are a lot of reasons why I do it," I said, then launched into an explanation that appeared to bore him quickly because he changed the subject shortly thereafter. But I didn't stop mulling it over—it was such a good question—and I suspect that Treehugger readers like to think about this kind of thing, too. 

The first and most obvious answer is that making my own jam captures local, seasonal fruit in a way that allows me and my family to continue eating it throughout the year. When I buy jam at the store, it's often made using imported fruit or it's made in another country. Making my own means I know where the fruit comes from, sometimes even who the farmer is, and exactly what else is in the jam. It teaches my kids that certain fruits are available only at certain times of year, and that if you miss the opportunity to harvest or buy at optimal ripeness, you're out of luck till next year.

Making my own jam allows me to reuse the same glass jars year after year. This is satisfying from a zero-waste and plastic-free living standpoint. It means fewer containers in my recycling bin, no plastic seals, one less thing to buy at the store. All I have to replace are the sealing lids. 

It's satisfying to use my hands to make delicious food that my family will enjoy throughout the winter months. Cooking is a hands-on, practical life skill that I enjoy doing and it's a welcome contrast from the more cerebral writing and editing work I do all day long in front of a computer. I can also make the jam exactly how I like—loose and spoonable, unlike the thick, jelly-like consistency of store-bought jams that you basically have to crush onto your toast; I prefer dribbling it.

Last but not least, the act of making jam each summer connects me to a deep-rooted family tradition. I have memories of my grandmother, aunts, and mother churning out dozens of jars of jam—strawberry, apricot, plum, elderberry—and "putting up" plenty of other preserves, as well. I remember standing in the cold cellar of my grandmother's 150-year-old farmhouse, looking up at the rainbow of jars on the shelves, tangible evidence of her hard work and commitment to both frugality and food security.

My kids are growing up in a very different world than my grandmother did—or even I, for that matter—but I still want them to know what goes into preserving food, how delicious it tastes, and how it connects them to a food supply chain that's increasingly industrialized and hidden from our sight. We're not about to move to a farm and start raising our own animals or growing organic vegetables on any significant scale, but bringing bushels of fruits and vegetables into our home to preserve and freeze each year is just one way to shorten that food chain and get closer to the land that feeds us. And so I persist, getting better and more efficient at it each year. 

My six-year-old son, of course, listened to almost none of this, though he perked up at the story about his great-grandma's cold cellar. Then he asked to taste the jam, which I'd just spooned onto a plate to check its consistency. Watching his face light up as he licked the spoon made all the sweaty work worthwhile. "Mommy, it tastes like summer!" he declared.

And maybe that was the only answer he needed—that homemade jam is like packing a hot summer day into a jar so that you can enjoy it months later when the whole world has frozen solid. It can't get much better than that.