Really, I don’t think I could have come up with a more cliche title for a post about jam-making. But since I am now a total make-my-own jam convert, I’ll forgive myself for using corny plays-on-words.
Here’s a little music to put you in the mood:
Yes, friends. I am now one obsessed mamma-JAMma. I’d been avoiding making jam for a while because I have one of those flat stovetops (glass? ceramic? porcelain? one of those…), and I’d read in multiple places that it can be dangerous to use a traditional water bath canner (the kind with the snazzy built in canning rack) because a) it holds like 12309834 gallons* and so when filled with water is way too heavy for this fragile stovetop, and b) traditional water bath canners do not have flat bottoms which fragile stovetops also don’t like.
*This might be a slight exaggeration.
So I hemmed and hawed for a while and considered buying an electric burner for the sole purpose of canning. I thought about using a regular stockpot without a canning basket, but apparently this is inadvisable because the jars will rattle on the bottom and possibly break. I purchased a round cake cooling rack thinking it would fit in the bottom of said stockpot to keep the jars from sitting on the bottom of the pot. Turns out I overestimated the diameter of the stockpot so the cake rack didn’t fit. I even tried to visualize my friends’ kitchens and what sorts of stovetops they might have, and debated whether they’d let me invade their kitchen for a couple hours. In all, perhaps I was being way too cautious about the whole thing, but having never canned before, and having never watched anybody can, I wanted to make sure I didn’t blow up the kitchen or something. (You should know that if you plan to do any water bath canning yourself and have questions about the suitability of your stovetop for the task, consult your oven/stovetop owner’s manual–the more modern models specify whether you’re good to go).
But then I found this:
It’s apparently a new product from Ball and totally solved my weird stovetop problem. With this simple contraption, I used my biggest stockpot for my water bath, and didn’t have to worry about a thing. Brilliant! Oh, and I got mine at Lowe’s for about $5.
So I washed my cute, 4-oz. jam jars and placed them on a baking sheet in a cool oven, closed the door, and cranked it up to 225F to sterilize them. I just let them hang out in that warm oven until I was ready to use them because the jam would be hot when I poured it in, and you don’t want the glass to break with a big temperature difference.
Then it was time to make the jam. I made two varieties this weekend: accidental strawberry lemonade, and strawberry-mint-thai basil.
I started by thawing about 2.5 pounds of the strawberries that have been camping out in my freezer. I tossed them together with the juice of one lemon, and then poured warmed sugar over top, which is a trick I learned from Darina Allen in her recipe for Mummy’s Strawberry Jam. Ms. Allen recommends leaving the fruit to sit like this overnight, but I just did mine for an hour, covered loosely with plastic wrap. (For 2.5 pounds of strawberries, I used 3.5 cups of organic cane sugar, but I found this to be a tiny bit too sweet. Assuming the strawberries were sweet before being frozen, which these were, I’d guesstimate that a good ratio is 1 cup of sugar per pound of strawberries).
Then I heated the berries and sugar over medium-high heat, stirring gently, until it started to boil.
Once it was bubbling away happily, I adjusted the heat so that the mixture would stay at a rolling bubble for the next 35-45 minutes, again, stirring occasionally. I also found that I didn’t need to try to mash up the fruit into smaller pieces–they all sort of melted into a great big sweet strawberry mush with a few chunky pieces of fruit suspended in the goop. When you’re ready to start transferring to the jars, turn off the heat under this pot. (And if you want to add herbs, this is the time to do it – just before portioning into jars).
I am sorry to say I did not take a photo of the next part, but it’s standard canning procedure, so there are likely countless photos and how-to videos out there on the internet. (I know, it’s slightly annoying for me to say that, being a novice canner myself and currently unable to show you photographic proof documenting how easy it is, but trust me, it’s not rocket science).
I used my canning tongs to remove three hot jars from the oven and placed them on a towel on the counter nearest the burner with the jam goop pot on it. Using a wide canning funnel to guide me, I ladled the goop into each jar, leaving 1/2 – 1/4″ space from the top of the jam to the top of the jar. (From what I’ve read, strawberry jam will be fine with only 1/4″ of space, but the volume of my ladle just worked out that they were mostly 1/2″). I checked for any air bubbles or sloppy messes around the lip of the jar with a small spatula tool. The lids were two pieces: the flat part with the sticky circle around the edge which I carefully pressed on to the top of each jar, and the ring which secures around the threads of the jar, which I lightly screwed atop each jar.
(Boy, this sure is riveting, isn’t it?)
Then I used my canning tongs to transfer these jars to the pretty green canning basket, took the lid off of my boiling water stockpot, and submerged the whole basket in the water, replacing the lid. I let the jars boil like this for 10-15 minutes, then removed and placed on a clean towel to dry (very important to just let them be at this point and for at least 12 hours). I knew I was on the right track because almost immediately after coming out of the water, the lid on each jar would cluck, indicating that the seal was good. If I heard no cluck, I made sure to check on the lid’s seal (or lack thereof) once the jar had cooled slightly.
And that’s it! That’s how I made jam! (Cue Bob Marley again). All told, I made 34 jars this weekend from 7.5 pounds of strawberries. The recipes still gave us a little leftover to sample with our breakfast:
So there you have it. The jam-making process has begun chez nous. At this rate, I’m hoping to make one batch of jam every weekend. I’ll continue experimenting with flavors, but at this point, I’m hoping to stay in the red color family. I daresay I’ll continue canning jam even beyond our wedding to use for things like holiday presents and accompaniments to food-themed gift baskets.
If you’re looking for some good advice on canning foods of all kinds, I highly recommend the blog Food in Jars. But otherwise, what do you think? Did I do everything the way I was supposed to? Does my jam look delicious? (It is). Are you more inspired to try making your own jam, now that you know of the existence of that magic green basket? Are you already a homemade jam devotee and this stuff is old hat to you? Do tell. (And stay tuned as we work on decorating each jar!)