Monday, June 2, 2014

My First Jam Session

All three popped!

But that is starting at the end....

Saturday I learned how to make strawberry jam from an award-winning jam maker.  She had donated a lesson to a parish bazaar last fall, for the silent auction, which I won.  We arranged to do the lesson this summer so that I could use strawberries from our garden.  Here she is with some of her awards.

Here I am with three jars of my very own strawberry jam made from our very own strawberries!.

Preserving food really isn't as complicated as I thought.  We forget that how to make the fruits of the summer last all year long is a very old problem, and solutions to it have been around for a very long time.  There have been important updates, mostly having to do with safety like no longer using paraffin wax, but the basic procedure is quite simple.

I enjoyed myself very much although Mary and I decided it wouldn't be nearly as much fun for the pioneer woman trying to keep a constant temperature on a wood stove with no air conditioning.  Of course,  the pioneer housewife used her outdoor kitchen, if she had one.

The recipe called for two ingredients: strawberries and sugar. You gotta love a recipe with only two ingredients!

Strawberry Jam
(From “The Ball Blue Book”, Edition 32)
2              quarts crushed strawberries (8 cups)
6              cups of sugar
1.       Combine berries and sugar in large, heavy-bottom sauce pot. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly until thick, about 4 minutes. As the mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. (Depending on how think you like your jam, you can cook it longer, up to 15 minutes. Be sure to stir it often so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.)
2.       Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch head space. Wipe jar rims and apply lids.
3.       Process 15 minutes in boiling water bath.  Yield: about 4 pints.

I'm guessing there are roughly 873,462 online tutorials for how to make jam, so I am mostly including the following steps for my own reference.  I will add some tips here at the beginning that you might find helpful.

1.  Get the right equipment.  This would include special tongs to remove the jars from the boiling water, and wand with a magnet on the end to retrieve the lives from boiling water, and I would strongly recommend heatproof gloves.  Buying equipment is not a good time to be cheap.
Mary was a sweetheart and gave me a lid lifter (the blue wand), a jar lifter, and a funnel
PLUS some faux pineapple and some apple pie filling jelly.
2.  The glass jars must not touch side to the bottom of the pot while they are boiling.  My teacher actually improvised her canner, using a large stockpot with a circular piece from an old pressure cooker to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the stockpot that she uses.  She put the jars close enough the center so they wouldn't touch the size of the pot, while still making sure they didn't touch each other.  (The rings on the outside of the lids make it hard for them to snuggle up right next to each other.)  I plan on getting an actual water bath canner.  

3.  There are two ways of canning: water bath and pressure canning.  The kind that you pick needs to match the kind of food that you are preparing, with high-acid food like fruits and tomatoes being suitable for water bath canning and foods like most vegetables and meats requiring pressure canning.  Before you buy canning supplies, make a list of everything you want to can.  I'm planning to stick with a water bath canner to start with, and experiment with other methods like freezing to preserve foods that would have required pressure cooker canning.

4.  You can make jams and jellies out of all kinds of amazing things!  For example, Mary and I munched on lilac jelly, on crackers, and it was fantastic!  She used the tea from lilac flowers, pear juice, lemon juice, and pectin.  It was like eating a kind of floral honey.  She had found lots of other recipes for making jams and jellies out of unusual things, including zucchini and jalapeƱos.
Lilac Jelly
5.  There is a difference between a jam and a jelly.  Jams are thick and opaque, with chunks of through still in them.  Jellies are clear and uniform.  You can see the difference below.  The larger container is apple pie jelly and the smaller container is one of my very own strawberry jam.

6. You can always cut a recipe in half (like we did), but don't double it. That can really throw off the cooking times.

OK, this is how it went down!

1.  Gather equipment.  We used:
  • large stockpot
  • some to keep the jars from touching the bottom of said pot
  • jars with no cracks or missing bits, particularly around the rim.
  • New lids
  • rings or bands (they go around the top of the jar, keeping the lid in place until it seals)
  • lid lifter
  • final
  • jar lifter
  • heat-resistant gloves
  • (optional) pastry fork
2.  Wash jars with soap and water and then boil them jars in enough water to cover them completely.  You can add a quarter cup of vinegar.  (I forgot to write down why.)

3.  Clean, core, and remove bad spots from your strawberries.
The left-most item is a strawberry leaf remover.

4.  Crush the strawberries with the pastry fork, or using whatever method you like.

After crushing they look like this.  Note: They aren't blended! You want some identifiable strawberry chunks in the final product.

5.  Add strawberries and sugar to the pot.

6.  Stir to completely dissolve the sugar. 

7. Let the mixture sit 10-20 minutes.

8.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.  Leave the lid off.  Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, or whatever you have on the recipe.  You'll need to turn down the heat or it will splatter and spit when it gets close to being done.  Cover with the splatter lid, those kind that are netting, not solid.

9.  Remove from heat when the mixture has reached the desired thickness.  Basically this "desired thickness" means that you scoop up a bit in a metal spoon and let it drip back into the pot.  If it's liquid, it's not done enough.  If it has started to transition from liquid to goop and you have kept it simmering for the time required by the recipe, then it's done.

10.  Skim off the foam.  Foam = air bubbles = air to feed bacteria.

11.  Carefully remove one jar from the boiling water at a time.  This is one place where your jar lifter comes in very handy. Ladle the jam into jars.  You should fill them until there is only one fourth of an inch left at the top.

12.  Being very careful and wearing heat-resistant gloves, tap each jar on the counter to get out bubbles.

3.  Using the the measuring gauge or some other similar instrument, push the jam away from the sides of the jar, releasing air bubbles.

14.  Using a paper towel dipped in the boiling water, carefully run it over the rim of the jar to make sure that no jam splashed onto the rim.  The rim needs to be perfectly clean or the jar will not seal.  If the jar does not seal, then the jam will be edible, but not preserved, and you will have to keep it in the fridge and eat it in the next week or so.  All jars must be this full.  If you don't have enough jam to fill a jar all the way, then fill it part of the way and put it in the fridge.  You can eat it this week as a sweet reward for all of your jamming hard work.
15.  Using the handy dandy magnetic wand, retrieve a lid from the boiling water.  Don't drip water in the jam!  Put the lid on the jar.

16.  Put a ring on the jar.  It will tighten as it cools, so don't screw it on so tight you need power tools to get it back off.  Firm but gentle.

17.  Using the jar lifter, put jars into the boiling water.  (The same boiling water used to sterilize the jars.)  The jars must not touch the sides or the bottom of the canning pot.  If they do, they can crack or break.

18.  Boil filled jars per the recipe, usually 10-15 minutes.

19.  Remove the jars from the water with the jar lifter.  You must be extremely careful when you do this.  Don't slosh the jam as any jam on the rim will interfere with the sealing process.  So you must lift, carry, and release the jar while it is perfectly upright.

20.  Listen for the pop.  That is the sound of the jar sealing.  Do not move or touch the jars until that happens.  I thought the popping sound was pretty loud.  (Like microwave popcorn, not like a shotgun, but plenty easy to hear it even if you're chatting with your jam teacher.)

The first two jars popped within about five minutes.  We waited and waited, the third one didn't pop.  Finally, Mary marked the tops of the two jars that had popped and I was going to pack it up and head home.  I was reaching for the third jar to put it in the box when it popped!  I was really thrilled that all of them popped.

We used lids with designs on them.  Regular lids have a circle in the middle that will pop up when the jar has sealed, which is a lot easier to see if there isn't a design on the top.  Of course, you know me; I was using jars that someone had given me years ago rather than buying new ones.

21.  Store out a direct sunlight with the ring off.  (The rings can get little bits of rust on them if they aren't perfectly dry, and they have already fulfilled their purpose, which was to help persuade the lid to commit to the jar.)

That wasn't so hard. 
 And now I will have a taste of summer whenever I want it!

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