Monday, June 22, 2009
Just be grateful you're not hearing me sing Bob Marley. I am, however breaking a record on my blog for most images in one post. What can I say, making jam is easy but involved and precise. You don't want to miss a step and spread botulism around the neighborhood. That's just no way to treat the people who know where you live.
Having said that, it's very rewarding to be able to break out a jar of strawberry jam made in June for a delicious batch of strawberry buttercream in December. My friend T. was the one who convinced me that canning was not as daunting as I had imagined. So I bought a canning utensil kit for a few bucks, swiped Mr. Maricucu's humongous chili pot and bought some jars. That was the initial investment and since then all I do is purchase new lids and more ingredients each year. I like to use the Ball No Sugar pectin which allows me to use apple juice and half the amount of sugar a typical pectin would use (three versus seven cups per batch). Honestly even the full amount of sugar in a traditional pectin is fine by me since I'm simply trying to get fresher fruit in the preserves and trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup. Once those two requirements are met, everything else is just gravy.
On to the jam. The night before I set up all the work areas and my tools. For me it's a time saver to only have to pull out the fruit and get to work. Plus, Mr. Maricucu was entertaining the amazing teething baby with mood changes at the drop of a hat. My time was limited. Also, while these are the steps to making jam, be sure to follow the instructions and proportions listed on your package of pectin.
First be sure to wash your jars and lids. Then measure the juice (if used), sugar and fruit. I was making two batches at a time. I know, I know everyone says make only one batch at a time or it won't gel. I've never had a problem and having to wash pots between batches is a chore I like to minimize. I also thawed my berries overnight in the fridge.
Next to the stove I have my filling station ready with my jar tongs, canning funnel, lid lifter and headspace tool. Ignore the well loved cast iron dutch oven. I've always said don't trust a cook with immaculate pan outsides unless that cook is my mom.
On the stove I have the smaller stockpot for actually cooking the jam, the humongo restaurant supply chili pot for processing the jars and behind that pot a saucepan with the lids. The lids are in hot water but not boiling water as listed in the instructions. The bands are off the side but not in the water. Also a plate and potato masher for crushing the berries.
Since I don't use a proper canning pot I lay about 8 used bands at the bottom of the pot to serve as a canning rack. You want the jars lifted off the bottom of the pot so they are not directly on the heat and they are processed evenly. I just reuse the same bands every year. The dark stains you see is the reaction between the aluminum bands and the pot.
Place your jars in the canning pot and turn the heat to high. You want to sterilize the jars as well as get them acclimated to the heat before pouring in the scalding hot jam.
Now, crush the berries one layer at a time on the plate. One layer at a time ensures an even crush. Dump them into the pot.
Add the pectin and juice. Stir well and bring to a boil over high heat until the berry mixture is boiling heavily and can't be stirred down.
Stir in the sugar and bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling, allow it to boil for three minutes, stirring the whole time. Now look at that ruby jeweled jam. Right about now your kitchen is heady with the strawberry scent.
Allow the jam to sit for about five minutes.
There will be foam at the top of your jam. Some people like to use a 1/2 teaspoon of butter to avoid it but I find something strange about adding butter to my jam. So I just skim off the foam. But don't throw it out. You can remelt it in the microwave later on and use it in the shakes. Yes, milkshakes.
Using the jar tongs, remove one jar and set it down on your covered work surface.
With the canning funnel in place, fill the jars as specified in your pectin instructions (usually about 1/4" headspace left at the top).
The magnetic lid lifter is a finger saver. Use it to place a hot lid on the jar. Then twist on a band as tight as you can with your fingertips only. This is to keep the lid on tight but still loose enough for the air to escape from the jar during processing.
With the jar tongs place the jars in the canning pot and bring to a rolling boil. Process the jars as indicated, in my case that's 10 minutes.
Remove the jars and listen for the lids popping. That means the jar is properly sealed and won't poison your friends and families in a few months. See how the strawberries seem to be floating at the top of the jam syrup? That happens but I shake the jars every 10 minutes or so until they are cooled completely to distribute the solids evenly in the jar.
Ahhh, jam. Beautiful, sweet strawberry jam. How to use it? Of course, slathering on some bread is required. Stir it into plain yogurt for a much better version of the storebought strawberry yogurt. Serve over ice cream, stir a few spoonfuls into a buttercream recipe for the most vividly pink and tasty strawberry frosting you've ever had. But how did we break in this year's batch?
Strawberry milkshakes. Oh yeah. Place a large scoop of ice cream in your glass. I prefer to use some canning jars since my immersion blender fits in easily so I can make each shake individually.
Top off with enough milk to just below the level of the ice cream. If you like a thicker shake, only add enough milk to go halfway up the ice cream level.
Plop in a couple of tablespoons of the jam and whiz it up with the stick blender.
A shake for momma, daddy, and the kiddos. Fresh, creamy and intensely strawberry flavored. Not bad for a morning's worth of work.