Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Sweet and Sticky Evening of Jam Making and Canning

Last night, I got one of my urges to cook something I've never cooked before.  Sometimes those urges turn out great...  other times not so great...  such as my toffee making attempts.  But I will master toffee someday, I'm sure of it.  I won't let an electric stove get the best of me!

We're heading to North Dakota early tomorrow morning to spend 4th of July weekend with Jamie's family, so I decided to make homemade jam to take along to give to his mom and sister.  (So while we're out of town, this will be my last post until next week...)

Of course, you could just buy jam...  or you could have some fun making your own, and knowing exactly what is and isn't going into it. The jam making itself seemed simple enough--some fruit, sugar, spices, lemon juice, pectin....  all pretty basic stuff.  So I created a few recipes that I hoped would be delicious:  

Strawberry-Apricot Jam and Black Cherry Vanilla Bean Jam

Sounds yummy, right?  They were SO good, it made me wish I had some freshly made biscuits to scoop a big dollop of jam onto, but I settled for a cinnamon graham cracker with a little peanut butter and some of the cherry jam.

If you're a fan of biscuits and jam like I am, though, then you might like to try making my Baking Powder Biscuits recipe.

Now canning, on the other hand...  that I've never done before.  Usually I just make small batches that can be refrigerated and eaten right away.  So I did some research, and I'll tell you what...  it's really easy.  There are a ton of articles online to help you get started, but I'll break it down into just a few things I learned:
  1. Sterilize the jars well in the dishwasher or in a hot pan of simmering water.
  2. Keep the jars hot while you're making the jam;  pouring hot jam into hot jars lessens the chance of the jars breaking from the temperature shock.
  3. You have to process the jars of hot jam in a water bath to preserve them--it's the only approved, safe method for preventing bacterial contamination.  (Unless of course you're planning to eat it right away, in which case you do not need to process the jars, simply refrigerate and eat within a few months.)
  4. Don't over-tighten the rings on the jars before the water bath--they should only be "fingertip tight" so that steam can penetrate under the ring to seal the jar correctly.
  5. You don't need any fancy equipment--a large pot, tongs (preferably with rubber or silicone at the ends which will grip the jars better), and the jars, lids and rings, of course, are all you need.  
  6. The lids should only be used once for processing--once they are used, they won't seal properly again.
  7. Sugar is a natural preservative.  If you want to use a little less sugar, that's fine, but remember that lower sugar content means a shorter shelf life.  The general rule of thumb in jam is equal parts fruit to sugar (1 pound of sugar for every pound of fruit).
  8. Don't try to do a taste test straight from the pot of boiling jam.  It's really hot, trust me.  Your tongue will thank you later.
Ok, so the fun part is making and eating the jam, so enough about canning and on to jamming...  :)

Printable Recipe

Strawberry Apricot Jam
(makes 2 pints or 4 cups)
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
  • 3 fresh apricots, pitted and sliced
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 packets of pectin (0.4 ounces each)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
 Black Cherry Vanilla Bean Jam
(makes 2 1/2 pints or 5 cups)
  • 2 pounds frozen sweet dark pitted cherries, thawed
  • seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 packets of pectin (0.4 ounces each)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Combine the fruit, lemon juice and spices (if using any) in a large stockpot.  Gently mash the fruit to release the juices, but leave it chunky.  Gradually stir in the pectin.  Turn the burner to high, and bring to a vigorous boil while stirring constantly.
Add the sugar all at once and stir well to dissolve.  Bring to a boil again over high heat, and boil hard for one minute.

Remove from heat.  Jam may look runny, but it will gel as it cools, and remember that it will also continue to cook during the water bath.

Pour hot jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving about 1/4 inch "headspace" at the top, to allow for expansion.  Wipe rims of jars with a clean, damp cloth.  Center lids on jars, then screw on the rings "fingertip tight".  Place jars in a large pot of simmering water, ensuring that jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water.

Cover the pot, and bring water to a steady, gentle boil over medium heat.  Once it starts boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes (20 minutes if you're at high altitude like me).  After the timer goes off, remove the lid and remove the pot from heat; let jars sit in the water for an additional 5 minutes.  

Remove jars from water with tongs and allow to cool on a wire rack overnight.  Check the seal on the lid after 12 hours.  If the center of the lid is indented, then it has sealed properly, and you can store in your pantry for up to a year (refrigerate once you open it).  If the center of the lid pops up and down when you press on it, then it did not seal correctly;  you should refrigerate and eat within a few months.

Happy 4th of July, everyone, and I'll see you when we get back from NoDak!  

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