More on the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

In a previous post I told you about the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker I bought. I thought I would take a few minutes to show you exactly what you get for your money.

There are really only four parts to this appliance; the base, the pot, the stirrer and the lid. The only part that needs assembly is the lid, which needs to have the knob attached. It’s not tough to do, but it always makes me a bit nervous when I am tightening something down on a glass lid. I did manage to put it together without an issue.

So, in pictures, here is the base on which the pan sits –

FreshtechBaseI think that little silver button is part of the temperature sensing system. Or maybe it doesn’t heat up if the pot isn’t sitting on the base. I don’t know for sure – haven’t had a reason to play with that. The top of it is a black metal surface with lots of grooves in it, kind of like a vinyl album. The cord to plug this in is short. They assume you have an outlet close to where you want to use it.

Here is the pot that the jam or jelly cooks in –

FreshtechPanIt sits on top of the base and locates on the two pointed “ears” you can see in the picture of the base. Yes, it is non-stick. Hopefully the non-stick coating will hold up for a long time.

The stirrer is some kind of polymer and has a metal shaft imbedded into it –

FreshtechStirrerThe metal shaft has a flat on one side and drops into the center of the base through the hole in the middle of the pot. You turn the stirrer until it seats all the way into the center hole so that it will stir.

And finally, the glass lid –

FreshtechLidYou can see that there are holes along the edge of the lid’s rim to let steam out as it cooks. You do NOT want to set the lid into cold water after it has finished a cycle of jam making, or at least not unless you want to have to replace it. Glass doesn’t like that kind of temperature change. You can see the black knob on the lid that has to be installed.

That’s it – no more parts. The only thing you can’t put in the dishwasher (if you have one) is the base – duh! I guess they have to put it in the manual, but they say don’t submerge the base in water. That would seem like a no-brainer to me, but I must be a genius. Here’s the whole thing put together and ready to run –

FreshtechComplete

To get into the operation of the it, here’s the control panel on the base –

PJ_FreshtechControlsThose two lines are what displays when you plug it in, before you start it up. Pretty simple controls. Press the “jam” button and the display changes to “21” – the length of the cycle in minutes – and pressing “jelly” will give you 25 minutes. You can press the minus or plus button to add or subtract time. I’ve seen recipes that tell you to increase it to the maximum cycle length of 30 minutes, but so far nothing that requires less than 21 minutes. Actually, I’m not sure how little time you can set it to.

Before pressing the “enter” button you can change whether you want jam or jelly and can make adjustments to the time setting. Once you press the “enter” button you are committed. You can press the “cancel” button at any time and it will stop, but the J&J (Jelly & Jam) Maker needs to cool down between batches. The manual says it needs 30 minutes to do so, so if your unit has already started running when you hit “cancel” it may take a little while before you will be able to start it again. Make sure you have chosen the right cycle and time to avoid having to cancel and wait.

After you have added your ingredients and started the J&J Maker, the stirrer starts stirring and the timer counts down. After four minutes it beeps several times to tell you it is time to add whatever sweetener you are using. Don’t expect to hear this in another room if it isn’t close to the kitchen – it’s not a loud beep. The stirrer keeps stirring while you add the sweetener (you’re not supposed to just dump it all in at once) and the time keeps counting down. For jam you put the lid on after adding the sweetener, but not for jelly.

At the end of the cycle the J&J Maker beeps again, at which time you press the “cancel” button and unplug the appliance. You’ll note that the display changes to “CO” once you press “cancel.” This means the machine is in cool down and won’t run again until cool enough. As mentioned earlier, the manual says 30 minutes to cool enough, but either I lost track of time during the cool down or it actually can take just a little less than the full 30 minutes. I assume when you plug it back in and the “CO” is gone and the two dashes are there, it is ready to go.

When the J&J Maker has finished running you take the stirrer out, using a hot pad or oven mitt. They tell you to be careful of the metal shaft because it will be hot, but I’ll tell you not to expect to hold onto the top of it for long either right at first, because the whole thing will be hot!

While ladling jam into jars I found that when I got to the last jar, I was able to hold the handle on one side of the pot to tilt it to get the jam to one side. Don’t take my word for this, though. Use a hot pad to grab it, or at least test whether it is hot first or not. I found a rubber (actually silicone) spatula useful for scraping the last bits of jam to one side.

As a rule, the recipes make about two pints of finished product. This works fine for me, yielding four half-pints of jam or jelly. There are people who say you can push this, but if you guess wrong you are going to have a mess to deal with, not to mention a hassle trying to salvage any jam or jelly. There are also recipes for things like tomato and pizza sauce as well as jelly and jam, but I haven’t tried them yet.

I think that’s about it. If anything above conflicts with the manual that came with your J&J Maker, follow the manual. Your safety is your responsibility.

Strawberry jam

StrawberryJamWhew! I did it. I was sweating up a storm and ready to collapse by the end of it, but I now have seventeen half pints of strawberry jam, all produced in the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker. In hindsight, that was not the appropriate technology for this batch of jam. Given the volume, I should have done this the old fashioned way, but I certainly learned how to use this new appliance.

I bought four quarts of Michigan strawberries at the local farmstand, because they have a better flavor (I think) than those giant, mutant strawberries in the grocery stores. However, because I wasn’t sure if I would have enough strawberries, I did buy a package of strawberries from the store, too. I really didn’t need to.

I prepped all the strawberries, washing, hulling and crushing them. Being the first time in a long time that I made jam, I was re-familiarizing myself with the process. It’s not difficult, and actually the bulk of it is prep work. In addition to preparing the fruit, you have to wash the jars, lids and rings, get water boiling for the canner and for the lids, wash your canning tools, layout your workplace, etc. Once all that is done, actually making the jam and canning it is relatively quick.

The FreshTECH J&J Maker has to cool down between batches, so that gave me time to concentrate on the canning part of the process and getting all the ingredients measured and ready for the next batch. They say it has to cool down for thirty minutes, but I swear that it was less time than that. I also washed the J&J Maker pot out between batches. I assume I needed to do that, though nothing in the instructions said so. It just makes sense. Perhaps washing the pot helped to cool things down more quickly.

I decided to make “regular” jam, with the full amount of sugar as I wanted to make sure my jam was successful the first time. Since I’m actually writing this the day after I made the jam, I can report that it is sweeter and has less strawberry flavor than I would like. It’s certainly not inedible, but the next jam I make I think I will try a low sugar version. They have regular, low sugar and no sugar recipes for most fruit jams.

I had intended to keep the jam made from store bought strawberries separate from the rest to see if I could tell if the jam tastes different. Unfortunately I forgot about that and after washing the jars off after they cooled, I mixed them up. Oh well. With all that sugar I’m not sure I would have been able to tell the difference anyways.

Now on to my next victim. I’m not sure what will fall under my potato masher next, but whatever it is I will try to give a detailed description of how to make jam with this automatic jam maker. Next time, I’ll try to make less, too. Once batch would be fine, or two at the most. I’m looking forward to another jam session.

No stirring required?

I have a very small kitchen with next to no counter space. There is just enough room for a microwave oven, a toaster, a small coffee maker and an electric can opener, and those use up almost half of my countertop. So when I think about buying an appliance, I also have to consider where I am going to put it because I know it is not going on the countertop. The utility of the appliance has to outweigh the hassle of owning it.

I got bit, or perhaps re-bitten is a better term, by the canning bug this year. In my lifetime I have canned almost every kind of vegetable you can think of and made pickles, jellies and jams. For whatever reason, I had to do it again this year. Being early in the year with nothing coming in from the garden, I turned to fruit. Jams and jellies seemed like a good idea, so in addition to getting the latest copy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, I started cruising the Internet for ideas. That’s when I found something new – the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker.

freshtechAn automatic jam and jelly maker? Cool beans – I didn’t know they made such a thing. Well, they didn’t, at least not until last year. Interestingly enough, around the same time Philips came out with a Jamie Oliver self-stirring pot that has some things in common with the FreshTECH J&J Maker. It makes me wonder if they are the manufacturer for Jarden Home Products, which produces Ball® branded products.

Now, do you really need an appliance to make jam and jelly? Heck no. If you have a pot you can make jam. But if you’ve ever made jam or jelly, you know that you have to keep the stuff moving the whole time it is cooking or it will sitck and burn. It can be a real pain in the butt, specially when you have bad knees and standing in one spot for a long time really gets to them.

After cruising the Internet reading reviews, I decided that it might work for the small scale jam and jelly making that I wanted to do. It’s only me here, and I can only eat so much, though gifting is always an option. I don’t have my own fruit sources so I will have to buy the fruit to make the jam and as that isn’t always cheap, small batches will be my norm. Maybe something that typically is supposed to produce four half pints at a time would be good for me. I had not felt the need for any additional appliances in my life until now. I started looking for the best deal.

The typical list price in $99.99, which is what you will pay if you buy it straight from Jarden Home Products and many other suppliers. I also saw it listed for as high as $130.00, with the lowest usually being $79.00. I didn’t want to pay $100 for this thing, but I thought I could justify $79. and luckily I found it on the Walmart web site for that price. Whoopee!

All primed to buy, I went to the store. I eventually had to ask where the heck they were hiding the canning stuff, but I found it, and was shocked to see the price was the standard $100. What the heck? Pissed off, I left. Here’s a lesson learned – going home I double-checked the Walmart web site – yep, it was listed at $79., but apparently only as an online order price. Oddly enough, you could order it online and then pick it up at the store. Hmmm, let’s try this. Sure enough, I bought it online and the next day I went back to the same store that had it on their shelves at $100. and picked up my $79. jam maker. As goofy as that seems, it was the deal I was looking for and that’s good enough.

I got it home and put it together (you really only need to assemble the knob on the lid) and am now ready to get jammin’. Strawberries are at the top of their season, so that’s going to be the test run. I’ll let you know how it works.