Monday, May 30, 2011

obsessed i tell you

I've been away for a bit. Trying to get ready for Wakarusa this week, getting loose ends at work tied down, etc. And canning, canning, canning. Seriously. I am so addicted it's ridiculous. Rhubarb, blackberry, strawberry, you name it, I've been turning it into jam. This is the first summer of canning for me, and as I do before embarking on any new project, I did a LOT of homework. I hate starting something and then realizing I'm missing a piece of equipment, or a key step in the process. I usually read at least 10 or 12 different sets of instructions before I start, as well. I look for the common theme, or steps in each one and then I feel like I have a good baseline for whatever I'm about to undertake.

I like to call it "being neurotic thorough."

So, what I figured out is that generally speaking all basic fruit jams require fruit, some sort of acid, and sugar (or some form of sweetener.) Equipment-wise, you need (obviously) jars, lids and rings; a big pot for sterilizing jars and lids, as well as for processing the filled jars; another pot for actually making the jam; and wooden spoons. It also helped to get one of those "canning starter kit" things with the jar lifter (unless you enjoy plunging your hands into boiling water to fish out hot jars), the magnetic lid/ring lifter, and the funnel. I think it was around 7 bucks at my local King Soopers.

Once I had all the stuff, and a pretty good idea of how this whole thing was meant to work, off I went. I started with rhubarb, but me being me, I couldn't just do it like the recipe said. I had to PLAY. I ended up with a really rich, nicely spreadable rhubarb/brown sugar/vanilla jam that tasted amazing with goat cheese on a cracker. However, it wasn't exactly something I would eat with PB&J. A little went a long way.

Then I found some blackberries on sale. The blackberries, combined with lots of lemon juice, about 1 1/4 cups of cherry cider, and 3/4 of a cup of sugar, made a nice... something. Still following the basic order given by all the recipes I saw, I added a package of liquid pectin to it. What I got was not jam. The flavour was there, and I was delighted to have a lower sugar product, but I think what I essentially made was pie filling. Didn't stop me from eating it on bread with some peanut butter, though.

And then I read something on Twitter that changed things a bit. Someone tweeted that most fruits have enough pectin in them all on their own, and if you just let the ingredients cook down low and slow, you don't even need to add the liquid pectin.

So I tried it with rhubarb, and whadda ya know? They were right! At least, for rhubarb. I had the time, so I just set the heat on low and wandered back over every 10 or 15 minutes to give it a stir. A couple hours later, I had a lovely rhubarb jam that hadn't required any extra pectin at all.

Last night, I made a couple pints of strawberry, hoping to be able to do the same thing. The liquid was definitely reducing, but it was still liquidy, so after two and a half hours of playing with the heat I got impatient and added the liquid pectin. It thickened right up in about 10 minutes, and it was jam, not pie filling. Whew!

I'm pretty excited to have figured out this whole jam thing. I'm still learning, of course, and am by no means a Jam Master, but I do feel relatively confident that A) I'm not going to kill anyone and 2) my jams taste good.

And, not that they read this blog, but I have to thank my co-workers for being my gracious band of guinea pigs. I've handed off a jar of every experiment to someone at work, and the feedback has been constructive and mostly positive.

I have a whole folder full of jam recipes I've bookmarked to try throughout the summer. I'm also starting to seriously get into designing some cute labels for them. I'm having daydreams about gift baskets and charity jam sales, so I'm sure this isn't the last you'll hear from me about all this canning nonsense.

And with that, I'm off to finish packing for my (as the boss calls it) "dirty hippie rock music festival." have a great week!

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