30 June 2008


A few weekends ago, I devoted myself to the making of some strawberry jam. I went out and picked the berries (in a rainstorm, of course, I live in Ohio.) and made the jam in my very own kitchen. Jarred it, too. I ended up with 15 half-pint jars, which looked so very pretty sitting on the counter to cool. I had the idea that I'd take pictures of the whole process, but that didn't happen. Typical.

When I was a little girl, my mother canned all sorts of things. Jams, both strawberry and pear-apple. Soup, her homemade tomato. Tomato sauce. Hot peppers. Sometimes, she did this with one of her sisters. Other times with a friend. Canning is hot, heavy work, and it is helpful to have another set of hands.

During my sister's undergraduate days, she started canning to save money, and she inherited all of Mum's canning supplies. I have no problem with that, she'll use it more than I ever will. It is just tough to borrow it when it is in New York City.

Proper tools for any job are essential. But in a pinch, improvisation works too. I don't own a particularly deep stock pot. Nor the rack that submerges in the boiling water that holds the jars. I didn't think I'd have a problem, as I used little jars, but it was very much a pain in the persqueeter.

It did work, though. As I removed each jar from the boiling water, I set them on a kitchen towel laid out on the countertop, just like my mother used to do. There's a little "pop" sound that the jars make when the seal is sealed, peculiar to canning. DH was upstairs while I was working on this project, and he called down to me, "What's that noise? Is it supposed to be happening?" I had to laugh; my mother always said that was the sound of successful canning. So yes, it is supposed to be happening, and is, in fact, desirable.

The jars were so pretty lined up on the countertop, like I had jarred rubies rather than strawberries. I was worried about it "setting" properly. Jam is supposed to be jammy, not runny, and I wasn't sure it was going to work. I'd called my mother for advice, and she told me she'd always used the recipe printed on the inside of the boxes of pectin she used. Well enough, I pulled out the paper and read the directions for "freezer canning" "pressure canning" "sugar-free canning" and about 10 other variations of fruit jam recipes. None of them, of course, that related to the amount of berries I had on hand, and they weren't easily scalable.

I improvised there, too.

My mother had warned against experimentation, as she knows I'm prone to do so, and the pectin boxes had dire warnings about using the exact amounts of sugar and pectin called for in the recipe. Meh. The amounts of sugar suggested were appalling. I did more than cut it in half; I sweetened the crushed berries, tasted them, added more berries and sugar until they were just a little more tart than I thought they should be (as cooking the jam intensifies the flavors) and prepared it from there.

It worked, and it worked beautifully. The jam is NOT the over-sweet stuff you find in the grocery store, in fact it is about perfect if you ask me. It jelled nicely, too. I've given away about 11 of those half-pints, so excited to share it with friends and family. DH had asked WTH we were going to do with 15 jars of jam, and I thought perhaps I'd save 'em to give as holiday presents. Nah, that's too long to wait!

I had intended to sweeten some of the jam with raw honey, but forgot at the crucial moment to separate out a portion of the crushed berries to experiment with the honey, and the next thing I knew, the whole batch had been sugar-sweetened. Ooops.

That just gives me an excuse to go pick more berries, and try again.

I just hope next time that the regge song, "jammin'" stays out of my head, because that's all I was singing the whole time I was making the batch.


MotherMe said...

Fortunately, the current soundtrack in my head is pervasive enough to overcome your powerful suggestions. I am so zen that way.

(It's "Elmo's World", of course.)

The jam was delly, by the way. The girls ate it with spoons. Mmmm!

John said...

Our kitchen table is currently used for housing canned jars of jelly (all sugar sweetened BTW) that My Beloved has gloriously created. We have blackberry, plum and peach all beautifully crowded together. The glorious colors are food for the soul. The "pop" of the lids is a delight to the ear. But the taste of the jelly on a warm buttered biscuit is unmatched!

Definitely save some and give at the holidays. The expression on the faces when they receive something that your hands have actually been involved in producing is priceless.

Happy 4th! Hope to re-ignite the conversation after my pending journey to Central America.

As always, blessings!