Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jammed Up – In a Good Way

When I was a child my grandmother not only made great pies but she canned fruit and made jam. I vaguely remember her sealing the jam jars with paraffin wax; I strongly remember her sweating like crazy over the canner. It didn’t look like fun, and I think that sort of image has scared off a fair amount of people from the pleasure of creating their own jam.

If you have the tools you need the whole process is fairly quick. If you really want to cheat on time you can make freezer jam like my mother used to, and it’s good. But I love hearing those lids go pop pop pop after lifting the lid from my steam canner! Very satisfying!

Cooking up blackberry jam The canning funnel at work Getting ready to be processed

You don’t have to buy a canner – you can use a big pot as I used to do. I have a steam canner, which I really like. Highly recommended: a canning funnel, jar lifter, magnetic thingie for pulling lids out of hot water. You can get these items at kitchen stores pretty easily.

Making jam isn’t necessarily cheaper, for instance, I use organic sugar. However, if you have fruit trees you are in clover. Or check out the farmer’s market, or see if your supermarket has a good price on fruit this week. My husband Paul loves to pick wild blackberries by the river – he’s a pickin’ machine.

To prep my fruit, which is the most time consuming part, I try to keep it easy. Mash berries in a container with a potato masher. Strawberries have to be topped and cut up a bit before mashing. With stone fruit like plums I don’t peel them, just very coarsely cut up, tossing out the pit, then pulse in the food processor. I like my jam a little chunky, so I don’t puree anything. I’m not a big fan of jelly, but last fall I was given several big pomegranates. I was peer pressured by a fellow jam maker into squeezing the juice out to make jelly. What an absolutely miserable job. Pomegranates don’t yield up their deliciousness easily. Plus, I didn’t have enough juice! So I bought pom juice and finished the job; in fact, I had enough juice to make two batches. No regrets or shame for taking the easy route. That jelly is delicious.

For jars, I use mainly 1 cup jars, and have used pint jars. The most expensive place to buy jars is the supermarket. Big Lots, with its closeout prices, is a good source in the summer. Paul’s favorite is garage sales; he is incapable of driving past one without stopping. We’ve gotten jars for as little as ten cents apiece. I like cute potbellied jars. Our biggest extravagance was when we bought two Quattro Staggioni jars (from Italy) at a hardware store in St. Helena, totally an impulse buy. We’d read about a wine bar in San Francisco were the owner serves wine in Quattro Staggioni’s and we were going to drink wine out of them. Well, we forgot to do it, so this week I filled them with blackberry jam. They look beautiful.

Quattro Staggioni

My favorite jam growing up was apricot pineapple jam. My grandmother made it – not nearly enough – and I never forgot it. I looked up a recipe for it online, bought a box of apricots at Costco, let them ripen and went to town. Here’s a link to the recipe here. Please note I don’t make up my own jam recipes as I don’t want to risk runny jam anymore than I have to. I think you can still get apricots so hopefully you will try it! It is truly delicious!

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