Saturday, August 6, 2011

Home Canning

With a half gallon or more of raspberries ripe and ready for picking each day, I have to think of ways to use them before they go bad.  Aside from eating them straight from the garden, making pies and other dessert or freezing them, making jam is one of my favorite ways to use up a lot of berries at once.

I first made jam last year when we were just visiting.  It turned out ok and we had enough to share with a lot of friends and family, as well as last through all the PB&J sandwiches during the school year.  This year, though, my jam is turning out much better.  I've had success with Strawberry-Rhubarb freezer, cooked Strawberry jam and now Raspberry jam.  Let's just say that after two short months here in Big Sky Country, I've got mad jam skills.....

The recipe is straight from the packaging inside the SureJell pectin.  You can pick up the pectin from any grocery store.  The ingredients are simple: berries, pectin and sugar.  The equipment you'll need are 9- 1/2 pint canning jars with lids and screw bands (you can pick these up cheap from Wal-Mart), a canning pot with rack and lid (again, cheap at Wal-Mart) and a funnel and jar lifter.  Aside from that, I keep a large towel and a coffee cup handy.... you'll see why in a moment.
Start out by sorting, washing and mashing your fruit.  For this Raspberry jam recipe, I used 5 cups of crushes berries.  Since I prefer seedy jam, I used the fruit as-is.  If you want to get some of the seeds out, you can push the crushed berries through a fine mesh strainer, but it's important that your final fruit measures 5 cups.
Put your fruit in a stock pot and add the packet of pectin.  Bring this up to a boil on high heat.  You'll need to stir it constantly until it comes to a full rolling boil.  Which brings me to why I wear an apron while I am making jam..... just like spaghetti sauce, the fruit will get all over you.

When the fruit is at a full rolling boil, add in your sugar.  I know that 7 cups of sugar is nearly mind-blowing, but resist the temptation to alter that amount.  It's really a science here and if you change any part of it, the jam is not going to turn out the way you want it to.  Trust me.  If you're worried about eating all that sugar, just make the decision that you'll only enjoy the jam while on the treadmill.... that will even things out a bit.

So, add your sugar and stir until it's completely dissolved.  You're still working over high heat here, so keep stirring until this mixture comes up to a full boil.  Once it reaches that hot, bubbly, lava type boil, keep it there for exactly one minute, while stirring.
After the minute, remove the pot o' jam from the heat.  At this point, I skim off the foam.  I know that you can add a pat of butter to help knock down the foam, but I want to keep my jam dairy-free, so I just skim it off the top.  Don't dare throw that foam away because it's really yummy.  This is where the coffee cup comes in.... just put the foam in there and set it aside.  You can use it on sandwiches or toast later when your kids ask "hey mom, is the jam ready?".
Now you're ready to fill your jars.  The jars are prepared.... by that I just mean clean and rinsed in very hot water.  If the glass jars aren't hot when you add the hot lava jam to them, well, they could crack and that would not be good.  So, you should have all your jars and lids hot rinsed and sitting out ready on the towel.
Using the funnel and a ladle, fill each jar and leave about 1/4 inch at the top.  This will give the jam a little room in case it wants to expand some. 
When you've got them all filled, wipe off the top rim with a damp paper towel to get off any spills; this will help make sure you get a good seal.  Top each jar with a lid and band.  Just screw on the bands and make them hand tight. 
Place them all in the boiling water canner, on the rack.  Use the jar lifter so your hands stay a safe distance from the water.  The water should come over the tops of your jam jars by an inch or two when they are all in there.  Cover the pot and let the water come back up to a boil.  When it gets to a gentle boil, let it continue for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove the jars using the lifter again.  Set the jars back on the towel and leave them there.  Don't touch them.  Don't tip them.  Don't press on the lid.  Just let them sit there for 24 hours.  If you mess around with them and starting guessing whether or not things worked correctly, you'll more than likely spoil the process.  Very soon though, you'll hear little clicking sounds that may remind you of when your kids first learned to do that suction-click-thingy with their tongue and the roof of their mouth.  That's a good sound.

In exchange for your hard work and patience, pull out your toaster and a slice of bread.  Grab the stock pot that the fruit mixture boiled in.  If you try, you can probably get enough jam from the sides and bottom of the pan to enjoy on your toast.  This is the first taste of your hard work.... enjoy with a cup of coffee!

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