In the last post, we gathered all of our supplies and got set up. Today, we're cooking and canning.
The first step is to prepare your fruit. This means peel the peaches, wash the blueberries, hull the strawberries, pit the cherries, or whatever it is you need to do. You'll also decide how you want your fruit. We're talking about making jam rather than jelly. Personally, jelly seems awfully fiddly to me. I like jam. I dump the fruit in the pot and cook it. I have found that soft strawberries will cook down to a good size on their own, blueberries need a little help from a stick blender, but peaches are a different story. In the past, I made a peach jam. The peaches were nice and soft. Once I peeled them, I was able to squish the fruit off the pit by hand. This time, the fruit seemed a bit stringy to me. Since I had blueberries as well, I whizzed it up with the stick blender. It gave me a nice smooth consistency. Personally, I'm not a big fan of giant pieces of fruit in my jam. You might be. While you're cooking your fruit, decide for yourself if that's what you want. If you feel like it's too chunky, I recommend a stick blender.
Regardless of what kind of pectin you're using, the first thing that needs to happen is bringing the fruit to a boil. For certain fruits, you may need to add lemon juice. Now would be the time to add it. There's always a certain element of chemistry to cooking and baking. It's extremely important to remember that when making jam. You need to be sure to use the exact amount that the recipe calls for, or else it just won't work. This goes for fruit, lemon juice, and sugar. Measure carefully.
you can see here that my jam has a nice smooth texture. again, personal preference.
Long before this point, you should have thought about pectin. Liquid or powdered? Regular or low sugar?
choices, choices, choices.
I haven't tried the low sugar yet. I have used both liquid and powdered pectin. I like the powdered kind better. I think it makes a better product. I think Paula Deen likes the liquid pectin better. (I think I heard her talking about it on Food Network once.) I'm not one to argue with Miz Paula, so you know. Try them both, see what you think. The difference in the two types of pectin, liquid v. powdered, is the point t which you add the sugar. With liquid pectin, you add the sugar to the fruit and bring to a boil. Then add the pectin and bring to a boil or one minute and voila! You've got jam. The powdered stuff is the opposite. You add the dry pectin to the fruit and boil, adding sugar at the end. Either way, follow the instructions on the package insert.
after I added the pectin and while I was waiting for my fruit to boil, I measured my sugar thusly:
This way, I am ready to go. I can just dump my sugar into the pot when I'm ready, thusly.
please note that I am stirring with a very long spoon.
After carefully following the instructions and adding the sugar and the pectin at the right time, you probably have jam. If you aren't sure, you can test it. Take the pot off the heat. Take the small plate out of the fridge (that I forgot to tell you to put in the fridge...oops) and put a small dab of jam on it. Give it a minute then swipe your finger across it. Does it feel like jam? You can tell. Unless you've never seen jam before. In which case you should find someone who has.
Okay, so we have jam. Hooray! The next step is to put it in jars and preserve it. It is generally not a good idea to use paraffin wax to seal a jar. It's considered and outdated method that can cause more harm than good. Here's information from NCSU on paraffin wax. In the mean time, we're going to use a traditional canning method....the boiling water method. This method is used for preserving fruits and some vegetables (tomatoes, pickles) high in acid. Preserving low- or no-acid foods, such as vegetables or meats, you use a pressure canning method. By this point, our giant black pot of water should be boiling. Here we go!
Let's first take our tray of jars and lids out of the oven. Dump the hot water out of the jars at once using the canning tongs. Remember our mantra? HOT, HOT, HOT. Be careful! Since I am short, I like to put my smoking hot pot of jam in the sink and my tray of glass jars on the counter. I make less of a mess this way. Remember, everything we have is hot, so potential mess means potential burns. Cuidado, amigos! This is also where the canning funnel comes in handy. Put the funnel into a jar and slowly ladle in the jam. I add jam until it's just at the bottom of the funnel. Once you've got the jam into the jars, put the lids on. I think I forgot to tell you that I prepare a few more jars that I think I'm going to need. I have never had a recipe yield what it says it will. I always get more. Better to have a few extra jars here than not enough.
ladle jam into jars, leaving a little room at the top.
Wipe the jars clean if you get any on the top, especially the outside, as it can prevent the jar from getting a good seal. Screw the lids on, nice and tight, but not too tight. Once all the jars are filled and lids are on, head back to the stove. Using the canning tongs, carefully lower the jars into the canning pot. Space them evenly, try not to let them touch. If they do, it's not the end of the world, I've never had any problems with big batches. The jars should be covered with about an inch of water.
trust me, there's enough water here.
You'll let this simmer for 10 minutes. If you're at a higher altitude, process longer. When time's up, pull out of the water and put on a heat and water proof surface. I place mine on a quilted placemat on the counter. As the jars cool, you'll begin to hear a "tink" sound. You'll get one "tink" for each jar. This means you've got a good seal. Once cool enough, you can press down on the lid. If it doesn't give, you've got jam! Give yourself a pat on the back!
tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink, tink
Oh, I nearly forgot the most important part. The last step.
There you go, yo. You made jam. It's so easy! It takes me about an hour from start to finish to make a batch of jam. I know, shut up! Seriously, I really thought it would take hours and be a complicated process and require faeries and pixie dust, possibly a dash of holy water. Nope. Take some time to hit the farmer's market to get good fruit. The farmers can tell you what's good for jam. Come home, make jam. It'll take you a couple hours all together.
Don't hesitate to ask me any questions. I'm sure I've left out something here. Let me know if you've made jam! I want to here how it went.