Q. I would like to make cooked strawberry preserves and blackberry jam using Equal and or a combination of Equal and sugar. I have made both before using pectin and regular sugar. The directions on the pectin package say not to use sugar substitutes. Any suggestions?
A. Pectin, a natural thickening substance present in many fruits and vegetables, requires a balance of sugar and acid to perform its miraculous gelling act. Equal-brand sweetener doesn't measure up in that regard. Another, perhaps more significant, challenge is that Equal breaks down in cooking, losing its sweetening capacity, which, of course, is the reason you're using it in the first place. But not all the news is bad. The desire of people to make home-made jams with sugar substitutes will not be thwarted, apparently, and has resulted in some inventiveness.
Of course, your first consideration is to use the freshest and ripest the fruit you can find, because the natural sugars will produce the most flavorful jam, no matter what else you do.
The folks who produce Equal offer some recipes for freezer or uncooked jams, which are essentially fruit compotes (Strawberry Freezer Jam and Peach Preserves). But you are looking for cooked jams.
The best option is to use no-sugar-needed, or low-methoxyl, pectins. These require a source of calcium to cause gelling, and generally include it in a separate package. Don't confuse these with "light" pectins, which are easier to find, but only allow you to reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe by one third. Recipes and processing times provided with each of these modified pectins must be followed carefully. The proportions of acids and fruits should not be altered, or spoilage may result. And the jams either must be processed in a boiling-water canner for a longer period than for regular jams, or be refrigerated.
You can use a variety of artificial sweeteners containing saccharin when you make jams with some of these specialized pectins. But many people find them to have a bitter aftertaste. Your only possible option for using Equal in a cooked jam recipe is to make the jam, let it cool, stir in the Equal, and not use the hot-water canning process to preserve the jam. The jam would have to be stored in the refrigerator and would not have a long shelf life.
Low-methoxyl pectins are a little hard to find. Your first choice would be a well-stocked health-food store. An online option for sales in the US and Canada is Pomona's Universal Pectin.
And finally, you might want to consider using some sugar in your recipe anyway; without it, jams are often pale and opaque. Adding a little sugar will cause them to "shine" like traditional jams.