Aug 12, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything- Canning Strawberry Jam

Last Christmas, I resolved to learn the craft of canning. My Mawmaw was giving away (giving away!) her pressure cookers, and, lo and behold, she had lots of canning equipment, like a jar rack for the pot and a wide mouth funnel that's probably older than me. My Momma went out and got me a flat of mason jars, and new cute labels, and a jar lifter. I was all set to preserve everything imaginable! 

But, like some projects, this one fell to the wayside. All of that equipment sat in the trunk of my car for an embarrassingly long time. Sometimes, I'd think about canning as I threw away veggies that never made it into other dishes, but I just never made time to actually do it. Not to mention, I was scared. Reading about canning can be really intimidating. Basically, everything you read tells you that if you do it wrong, you will poison yourself and your friends. Botulism ain't joking around. 

But, just last week, my friend Karie mentioned that she had lots of strawberries frozen from a farm visit earlier this summer, and she needed to figure out what to do with them before moving to Ohio at the middle of the month. (Soon to be Dr. Karie to us! Go PhD Go!) "Wouldn't it be great to make jam?," she said. But, she didn't have any of the equipment. Elise to the rescue! I've got it covered! 

So, I pulled out my canning book Little Jars, Big Flavors and we got to work! 

We used the recipe for Strawberry Basil Jam, so first things first, we had to prep those berries, and Karie wasn't joking around when she said she had a lot of strawberries...

Once the berries were thawed out a little and had their leafy tops removed, we threw them in a big pot with some sugar, lemon juice, and a bunch of basil in a little cheesecloth bag (super easy to fish out of that big pot) and let it all simmer down. I also used an immersion blender to help break up the berries some too, but not too much, 'cause I still wanted there to be some pieces of those beautiful strawberries. Then, we added the pectin, which is a naturally occurring thickener in fruit, but you add some extra when making jam to help it all come together. Pectin will also cause the fruit to form a little foam on the top, which you can just scoop off before canning. Apparently, it can make the jam taste a little metallic, if you don't scoop off most of it. 

Meanwhile, we got to sterilizing those jars, which is probably the most important part of the whole canning process. First things first, take their tops off (Wooooo!), and place the lids aside in a casserole dish or any dish that is shallow and wide. With the rack in the bottom of the pot, we placed the jars inside and filled the whole pot up with water until there were 2 inches of water above the jars. Then, we boiled the jars for 10 minutes. I closed the pressure cooker to bring it up to a simmer really fast, but you can totally can with just a normal pot. No need for a pressure cooker! 

Once your jars are good and boiled, you're ready to start putting in that jam! Remove the hot jars with the jar lifter and place them on a kitchen towel. Then, remember those lids? Now, ladle some of the simmering water over the lids in the casserole dish and let those sit while you fill the jars with that awesome jam that's been simmering away. 

Don't forget to use the wide-mouth funnel to keep the jar edges clean. You'll want to make sure there's nothing in the way of the lids' seal, so if you get any jam on the edges, be sure to wipe it off with a damp paper towel before moving on. 

The next step is to put those lids on! Use some tongs and put the lids on, seal side down and then twist the rings on until their finger-tip tight. I know you're instinct might be to screw those on really tight, but don't do it! You'll need to be able to get those things off to make sure that the lids are really sealed later. 

Once the lids are on, it's back in the pot with them. The water should still be at a simmer, so add your jars back into the pot and then pour the extra water from the casserole dish that was housing the lids back into the pot. Add some extra water if there's not two inches covering the jars. Then, bring it back up to a boil and let them go for another ten minutes! Now, if you're like me, you'll be terrified that water is going to get into those jars. I mean, there's just a little lid on there and it's not even on there super tight. But, I can now tell you from personal experience that water won't get in there. It's a miracle! After they've boiled for 10 minutes, you can take them back out with the jar lifter! 

Now, they do need to sit still for 12-24 hours, so don't go throwing them around like a baseball quite yet. Once they've rested, you can check to make sure they're sealed by taking the rings off (see?! told ya you didn't have to screw them on real tight!), and pressing down on the lids to make sure they don't pop back up. Look at that! We made jam! And, now I can't wait to put other things in jars...pickles, relishes, more many things! 

Now you all know what you're getting for Christmas. Don't say I didn't warn you.