Thursday, July 24, 2008

We be Jammin'!

Okay, people, put away your fear and preconceptions, today is jamming day!

Canning in general has a bad reputation. Is this you image? A woman (perhaps barefoot and pregnant?) slaving away the day in a hot, steaming kitchen with sweaty, vinegar coated hair pasted to her face. This isn't a prerequisite to canning. A person of any gender, in any state of reproductive development, may preserve food of small or large quantity to enjoy in the months when the garden (or local farms) are under a weight of snow and ice. I won't harp on this point, but with the cost and dwindling supply of petroleum, eating local makes a lot of sense. It can also be fun, rewarding, and a healthy way to eat. (The Ball Jar company should hire me as their spokeswoman.) There is one more thing that I want to say about canning: it doesn't have to be a herculean endeavor and you don't have to can enough to feed your family for 10 months. Yesterday morning I canned 5 jars of raspberry jam in an hour. No big deal. No great quantity. Yet now we have five jars of jam that we don't have to purchase from the store and they don't have to be shipped 3,000 miles from a Californian organic food source (and I might smugly add they surpass the quality of store-bought). Don't let anyone ever tell you that small steps don't matter.

So how did I do it? As Queen of the Meadow, I began with 2 quarts of a purple raspberry aptly named Royalty. Purple raspberries are a cross between red and black. As they ripen they begin red and are edible at this stage, but get better as they turn a shade of purple.

I use Pomona's Pectin which allows me to make jam quickly (you don't have to stand over the stove for hours, pregnant or not) and to use little or no sugar. Without pectin you have to add gobs of sugar in order to get the jam to thicken. This pectin also has a "Jam Hotline" phone number on it. I have called and spoken with "Pomona" as she stood in her kitchen shuffling through her papers to find me other recipes not listed on the box. I felt so cool - in a retro sort of way - to speak with the pectin lady on the phone.

There are clear, concise recipes in the pectin box (as well as in the most preserving book) so I'm not going to give exact details here (email me if you want this recipe). I just want to give you a sense of how easy it is.

You have three pots on the stove: one for boiling/sterilizing jars, one for boiling/sterilizing lids, and one for the fruit. You boil the jars and lids to sterilize them and then let them sit in the hot water. That's done. You boil the fruit and then add your sugar and pectin mixture and boil a few minutes more. That's done. You take the hot jars out of the water, fill them with hot cooked fruit, and put on the hot lids. Done. Then you boil the full jars with the lids on for five more minutes to seal the lids. ALL Done!

I actually used honey instead of sugar for my jam, but you can also use any kind of alternate sweetener - sucanat, stevia, or juice concentrate. Honey definitely adds its own flavor so you have to use a strong enough flavored fruit so that it does not over-power the taste of the jam.

Next week: the wild blueberries!


Kathryn said...

Ok - stupid questions - but I have always wanted to make jam but have two problems with it:
1 - where the heck do you find the jars!! I NEVER see them in the shops! I always think they are only given out by secret Martha Stewart mavens...

2- How do yo manage screwing on boiling hot lids onto the jars?

Like I said, stupid questions - but these two things have kept me from jammin.

MrT said...

Never mind those ramen noodle remnants. The jam is fresh!

The Queen of the Meadow never ceases to amaze me.

-The King

julie said...

There are no stupid questions!

Jars can be found:
1) at your local hardware store, especially one that has a "domestics" section with pots and pans and such, both Tru-value and Ace hardware carry canning supplies in my town, but it is a quite an earthy, crunchy town;
2)Agway or your local farmers supply store;
3)food co-ops;
4)tag sales for jars only - you need to buy new lids every time

As for the hot jars and lids ... You can buy special jar lifting tongs wherever you find canning supplies. Regular metal kitchen tongs can be used for removing the hot lids from the water. This is probably the trickiest part of jam making, but that said it is simply a matter of fishing the lids out of the hot water.

Holding the flat lid with the metal tongs, place the lid on top of the jam filled jar. Next, grab the lid ring with the tongs and place on top of the jar. Obviously, the ring will be askew at this point and still hot. I begin by holding the ring with a pot holder and screwing it on. The ring actually doesn't retain its scalding heat for that long, so by the time I have fished out all the lids, I can usually tighten them with my bare hands.

Thanks for asking, Kathryn!

julie said...

Dear King,
If his Royal Highness would like to scrub the stove before the Queen takes over the kitchen for a photo opp., you are most welcome.

Kathryn said...

aha! hardware store - very counter intuitive! at least for the domestically jam making challenged!

Thanks Julie - I think I willy try to make some jam in the near future! Our birds have eaten all our blueberries! :(

Dutchess of Soul's Landing said...

Hi Queenie,
So I just recieved an incredible recipe from my neighbors for "Refrigerator Pickles." I'd like to make a jar for my sister and she is on a gluten-free diet. The recipe calls for white vingegar, what can I use? Or is there gluten free white vinegar? Where can I purchase it?

julie said...

My Dear Duchess,
Apple cider vinegar is my all-purpose vinegar of choice. White vinegar is usually called for in recipes where a bland, flavor absent vinegar is desired. Bland has no place in the Queen's life. Apple cider vinegar, while having a rich history in the health maintenance of humans, works wonderfully in any recipe calling for white vinegar. It's flavor is subtly fruitful. Save the white vinegar for washing windows and dying Easter eggs with those little colored tablets.

julie said...

Oh, one more thing, Duchess ... I am sure that your sister will greatly appreciate the pickles ... the princesses have been known to inhale them by the jar.