Monday, July 02, 2007
As you know, when things get rough (or I have a lot of produce), I start canning. I think this is because the process keeps me completely focused from beginning to end. I also end up with a product when I'm done...a local and/or organic product that has only a few ingredients in it, and it's good for you. There's a satisfying sense of accomplishment and completion to the whole thing. Since it's blackberry time, and I've had requests, here is the story on the flavored jams.
My great-grandmother had a chicken farm and a huge garden and canned enough every season to fill a room--a special canning pantry in her basement. It made a big impression on me as a kid. My mom made jam when I was small, but after I helped hull the berries, the kitchen was offlimits while she dealt with hot liquids. I learned to make strawberry jam on my own, as an adult, during May of 2000. I remember this time in detail because my mother-in-law was diagnosed with brain tumors. She and my father-in-law stayed with us in North Carolina while she had surgery at Duke U. My mother-in-law died in November 2000, in her early 50's. It was horrible.
I learned to make jam that May, and I picked strawberries and made 20+ jars of strawberry jam. Sometimes you need something productive to do when in reality, there's nothing else to do. On Saturday and Sunday, while I stressed about book issues, I did 16 jars of jam. 8 of Blackberry Brandy, and 8 of Plum Port. Here's roughly how I do it. If you are already a canning person, this will make sense!
I'm skipping the pictures...imagine the blackberry or plum version of this jar, please!:
I start with the Sure-Jell pectin for less sugar. In my part of the country, it's a little pink box. I've found it works best for me. Technically, you don't need pectin for some fruits, but I like to reduce the amount of sugar I use this way so that more fruit flavor and less "sweet" comes through. I use organic sugar though, never splenda or some other chemical. (I know what sugar does, the studies are conclusive, and I brush my teeth!) I make cooked fruit jam. This means that, unlike freezer jam, if the electricity goes out, my jam is still fine, sitting patiently on the basement pantry shelf for me. It's lots less messy than cleaning out my freezer...I've tried it both ways.
I do everything the Ball canning folks recommend: I boil the jars and lids, I pour boiling water over the tops. I mention all this because I don't want anyone to die of weird canning heebeegeebees...follow the rules for safe canning, please!
I make the fruit jam by following the exact recipe mentioned inside of the Sure-Jell cartoon, but here's the trick:
if you want to add an additional flavor, like lemon or brandy or port or whatever...
just before you finish making the jam, add this flavor at the very last minute. This is last thing you stir in before putting the jam into jars. For the 8 cup blackberry brandy or plum port jams, I use 1/3 cup of brandy/port, etc. and I stir it in right at the end. Most of the alcohol will evaporate right away, but since you're done cooking the jam, some of the flavor will remain.
There's nothing wrong with a plain fruit jam, but the alcohol makes it seem a bit more sophisticated. Other combos: peach bourbon, raspberry chambord, pear port or brandy....have fun! (do bear in mind that only one shot of the stuff, for tasting only, is advisable while canning. More than that can be dangerous for you with all that boiling water!)
If you want to use lemon or vanilla or some extracty thing like that, use less flavor but add it right at the end as well. If you cook these sorts of subtle flavors too much, you lose them, they can't stand up to boiling too long.
Once the jars are done, I pop them back in the canner for another 10 minute sealing boil. I almost never have a jar that doesn't seal with this process, and it makes the professor (a biologist, whose mother, may she rest in peace, used to work at the NYC department of health) feel reassured about our food safety.
I read a lot of cookbooks--I buy used and new books on canning, preserving, pickling, etc. whenever I see one that looks good. Once you really know how a canning recipe ticks and what is safe, you can alter it. (yup, I feel the same way about knitting patterns!) I also do pickles: dilly beans, dill pickles, cornichons, tomatoes and okra pickles. I make salsa, chutney, duck and plum sauce. Yes, it can get out of hand sometimes, but if it has enough sugar or vinegar in it and it doesn't smell bad? You should be ok...but boil the heck out of it all anyway!
Professor's sweater update: I am knitting the collar. Everything else is done. Professor himself is out of town at the moment, and it is July, so we'll have to wait a bit longer to know if this knit-a-thon is flattering on him.
Do let me know how your jam comes out!