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Pump up the Jam

Posted by kevinwolz on July 10, 2010

Regardless of how your food is grown or raised, if you believe that eating local is as necessary as I do, then food preservation is an absolutely essential skill to have, especially living here in the Midwest where our growing season is quite constrained. Sadly, however, these skills, which were second nature to many of our grandparents or great-grandparents, seemed to have completely skipped over the last generation or so. In order to preserve (ha) these vital skills, as well as to help myself eat local all winter long, I am hoping to try my hand at the various methods of food preservation this summer.

Since strawberries were so overly abundant a few weeks ago (I picked about 50 lbs), I decided to start with some jam. Jam is one of the easiest things to can because it’s acidic. The low pH prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes Botulism. Consequently, the jam doesn’t need to be heated extra hot with a pressure cooker to kill the little buggers.

Making jam is super simple. First, you mash up the strawberries with a potato masher. Then you bring it to a boil and stir in some type of sweetener and pectin (amounts vary depending on the kind of fruit your using, but all the instructions come in the box of pectin). Pectin is a protein that helps the jam set, which is nice for PB&J’s but not absolutely critical (my first batch didn’t set, but my second one did). Some fruits already contain enough pectin naturally to do this, but strawberries aren’t one of those. Meanwhile, your mason jars are being heated in a boiling water bath, and your lids and rings are being heated in a simmering (not boiling) water bath. Next, you remove a jar with tongs, ladle in the jam, place a lid on top, and screw on the band.

Finally, the jar must be sealed. This is typically done by placing the filled jar back into a boiling water bath for anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes, depending on the food. That sounds ridiculous to me! So much energy! Luckily, Sheril taught me a trick that seals the jars without any extra energy: leave them upside down over night. So simple! Also, they have fancy equipment for all this as well, but that’s expensive and lame. Everyone has big pots and tongs around the kitchen anyway. This isn’t a science; it’s an art.

I used honey to sweeten my jam for several reasons. 1) I love the taste of honey. 2) My honey is local. As ubiquitous and cheap sugar is in our society, sugarcane still doesn’t grow in the Midwest. 3) Honey, especially the raw stuff I buy, is so good for you.

Originally, I bought two cases of new mason jars from the store to get me started. Then I realized the awesomeness of thrift stores and have since bought out the two local ones of all their jars. All I had to do was wash them out and just buy new lids and bands. My goal is to fill any jar that I acquire with something before I go back to school. I’ve already made strawberry-rhubarb jam, and I hope to also try canning pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, pumpkins, beans, and other flavor jams. This will give me some more experience and a good store to dip into this winter.

I got really good at hulling after the first TEN pounds or so...

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4 Responses to “Pump up the Jam”

  1. Joan said

    Kevin,

    I hull my strawberries by using a grapefruit spoon which has a serrated tip. Works well, and wastes very little.

    GB

  2. Gramma Schreiber said

    You are making me hungry, but I know where to go next winter to fill up.

  3. Victoria Johnson said

    I haven’t tried it, but I read in a a food magazine that you can ude a sturdy straw, insert in the bottom of the strawberry, push up and the hull will come out easily.

    Aaunt Vickie

  4. nice. stock up on jam. so i can steal it from you.

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