Today's task is jam. Since we've run out. And I have yet to find a no-sugar added jam that is good in the stores. AND it all costs a mint and I'm sick of paying so darn much for Diabetic Friendly stuff! So I have sort of self-taught and mined the internet for jam making tips and have been making my own for a couple years now.
It's not as daunting as you think.
Just take some time to familiarize yourself ahead of time and plan. Check out thrift stores and/or yard sales for jars but buy new rings and lids. Glass can be sterilized and reused over and over and over but the rings and lids should be new at first. Then you can reuse your rings but always be sure to get new lids. The seal is important. Ask your mother, or grandmother or other family member, you'd be surprised at the knowledge and goods they have.
The must haves:
The jar grabber thingie.
I know this is totally technical and hard to pronounce. The general name for it is jar lifter, but that would have saved words and a joke so I've chosen the high road of proper vocabulary. Sorry, sometimes you just have to do what's right. Said jar grabber thingie can and should be found in any respectable grocery store with a decent canning section. Bi-Mart has a good one, as does Winco, big stores here in the Pacific NW area. Links to all my equipment will be found below post.
**I tried canning a couple times using just a pair of regular tongs. Trust me, spend a few bucks and get this. The cheap way is dangerous and more difficult than it needs to be.
The funnel thingie.
Seriously. I tried the aim method and it just screws things up, this thing is cheap and will save you headache and a whole lot of mess and swearing.
Get your pectin too.
I get the low sugar/no sugar variety and have used both Ball and Sur-jel with the same results. I just get whichever one is cheaper. Get the low/now sugar needed ones. You can't just not put sugar in it if you get the regular kind, it won't work. Take a minute to read through it just so you know what it says; every box has directions and they are all some level of ridiculously confusing so it's good to figure out where your "oh s&^%" moment directions are. It says you shouldn't double the recipe but I'm telling you, next time I make jam I'm going to, because getting 2 jars albeit large ones out of a batch is just lame, I wouldn't do that if you are making jelly though, it's too sketchy, I have yet to have jelly turn out right.
Decide how much and what kind of fruit you are using. You can totally use frozen fruit, I pick a truck load of blueberries from a local farm during the summer, and wash, pick through and freeze them and use what I want through the dreary, life sucking winter months. There's something somehow hopeful at the smell of cooking blueberries in January. Plus it's so flippin cheap: $15 for 2 gallons compared to $95.84 (!!!!!!) if you buy them per pint at $5.99 at the store. 'sigh, I love this type of math. Plus they're good for you, score!
Set up a water bath:
I actually use a big pot and I put the lid rings top side up around the bottom of the pot. I didn't have a canning pot until this last summer and it's freakin' huge. It takes like 4 months to warm up and while the cage thing is neat and all, it's just way too much water and time for my need-it-now world. So I went back to my spaghetti pot again unless I'm doing a lot. You just have to make sure that once your jars are in you will have at least 1/4 inch water over them. I recommend to do the displacement test, it's way better to see that you have too much water in the sink than on the stove.
Get that on the stove and simmering while you do the next step.
The next step:
Get your rings, lids and jars together. I usually allow at least a couple more than I think I'll need. It will save you, I promise. Stick the jars and rings in the dishwasher and set it to wash with heated dry, sanitize if you have it. This ensures hot jars that won't break with hot stuff being added and sterilizing everything in one easy step. It's also WAY easier and faster...unless your dishwasher takes an hour and a half to do even the most basic wash cycle, at which point you have to start that part fairly early. Put the flat part of the lids into the water bath pot so they sterilize and get hot. Why use a separate pot? Just make sure you have some tongs or something to take them out.
You can do this in a small space, but clear your counter first and take time to organize yourself. I have a towel I fold up on the side of the stove where my water bath pot sits. I put my water-bathed jars of heaven there after their 10 minutes of hot tubbing...mmm. On the other side, by the pot I cook the jam in, I have a cookie sheet covered with paper towel or something to catch all the drips. Why not take a minute to prep so you don't have scrape sticky fruit guts off the stove, right?
|Blueberry Pomegranate bubbling happily|
Then, follow the directions on the pectin container and cook your fruit. Feel free to add spices, herbs, lemon zest, orange zest, whatever to the jam recipe. I'd steer clear of lime zest, it's too bitter imo. My oldest, now 13, suggested one year I put some basil into the blueberry jam, and you know what? It rocked. And yesterday, I tossed just a teaspoon or 2 of balsamic vinegar with the blueberry jam and it totally kicked %$#. I'm all about experimenting. I don't even like the sugar jam varieties anymore, you can't taste the fruit and it's just yucky.
Once cooked, ladle your hot jam of the Gods into the prepped and still hot jars you just got from the dishwasher, snag the lid parts from the water bath pot and lid up. I like to put the lid and ring on the jar, tighten a little and then using the jar grabber thingie lift up the jar and tighten with your hotglove clad hand. It's way easier than trying to just pick it up with your hand to tighten it. Tighten it well, but don't reef on it. Then, again using the jar grabber thingie, lower sealed jar into water bath and process. I do 10 minutes, but read your directions for altitude info, it varies. Make sure you get some of that goodness into a glass or ceramic bowl (it will melt plastic!) and let it cool so you can eat some now.
Canning is about organization; get your stuff set up and you are good. Scrambling for your stuff as your jam is bubbling and spitting little clots of pain and death at you is never fun. Plus it hurts like hell if you get it on your hand, so don't.
Below are some links to the stuff I mentioned, and to a website I have visited to find farms in the area. With the changes to our environments and the responsibilities we have to the land and each other as a society, it's good to support local farms, cut down on the fuels we consume to have things shipped halfway across the globe and save some money while doing it. Do it if you can, because there are so many who can't. Plus it's fun and a great way to get the kids out of the house during the summer before mayhem lapses into murder.
This website is a tad clunky but it's a great source of information and detailed directions. Well worth the visit.