Ahhh a day off, watching one of my favorite shows, America’s Test Kitchen, they were making Classic Strawberry Jam and Bread and Butter Pickles. I have never made jam or really canned before, but it looked interesting… I CAN DO THAT. They were making small batches of jam and pickles which is nice, I could test the recipes without having jam and pickles all over the place. I looked for stuff around the house that I had on hand, Mason jars check! sugar check! that is about all I had on hand; I did have however, frozen triple berry medley in my freezer, so I started to think about jam and canning. I started thinking about some awesome recipes and what I could can or jam. I had a whole list of ideas and thoughts. So I started my adventure and gathered some ingredients from the recipe I had seen on TV.
Using the America’s Test Kitchen website, americastestkitchen.com, I started to read about canning and jamming. I was surprised to learn about the amount of science that actually goes into making jams and jellies and canning. You can’t just go and put anything in a jar, boil it in water and store it in your cabinets forever or even your refrigerator. You have to know about pectin, acidity and PH levels. All items you want to can or jam has a PH level, if this PH level is wrong you can have some major problems with the safety of your food, causing illness and possibly death. This put a damper on my plans for making all the awesome jam and canning recipes I had thought of. As I read on I saw that most of my flavorable creations would not come into fruition; that dang PH, you can not safely can water, the PH is too high, it will spoil over time. I started researching the processes of jam and canning. I used about 20 different sites and gathered notes about PH of fruits and veggies; what citric acid, lemon juice, vinegar and pectin does to jams to make them safe. (Check out PH levels in fruit here.) I used the USDA website as well as famous chef recipes and websites such as Food Network, Cooking Channel, Cooks.com, Allrecipes.com, Good Eats, etc.
Once I gathered, in my opinion, enough information I started to gather the ingredients for my jam making adventure. I didn’t want to invest a lot of money, if any money into this venture so I used what I had already in my house then filled in the necessary additions to the recipe. The recipe I used was from America’s Test kitchen but I made half a batch, (don’t alter recipes, it doesn’t always work out) I only had 8 4oz mason jars, and 2 pounds of berry mix. I went to the store and got lemon juice and a granny smith apple, and as I mentioned before I already had the sugar. I also had a jar grabber tool for getting the hot jars out of the bath, after I had my baby I started making baby food, Note – you can NOT CAN your own baby food, you CAN make baby food and put them in jars and freeze or refrigerate with the canning process, USDA strictly advises NOT TO CAN BABY FOOD, I had a large stock pot, not a canning pot, but you don’t need a canning pot unless this is something you want to keep doing. If you don’t have a canning pot you can use a Pasta Pot or a large high walled pot, stock or soup pot, with a clean dish towel on the bottom of the pot. You do not want the jars resting on the bottom of the pot, they could shatter. I used a Pasta Pot with the insert, I was using 4oz jars so I didn’t need a lot of water, but if I try the pickles I will use the towel method, the water splashed over the sides of the pot and made a mess, thankfully it was just water, but it still made a mess and the water level diminished which could cause problems in future. I highly recommend getting one of the jar grabbers, you can use tongs, but remember you are removing hot liquid in glass jars from boiling water. IF you don’t invest in a jar grabber BE CAREFUL and do it at your own risk. The first time I made baby food, I said to myself, I don’t need that jar picker upper thing – I have tongs, did it work, YES; but it was difficult and I did splash boiling water on my arm and that hurt as well as caused a delay in the processing which could lead to shattering and spoilage. I picked one up at Wal-Mart for less than $10; you can get a kit which includes the funnel, timer, lifter, tongs, magnetic lid grabber for around $22, or a basic kit with a recipe book and 3 jars for about $12. You also will need a food thermometer, quick read is the best, but any thermometer will work. If you don’t have a thermometer you can use a frozen plate to test the jam.
What you need for this adventure,
VERY IMPORTANT – gather all your ingredients and supplies and be organized before you start jamming, you really can’t stop once you start; it is important to have everything in front of you ready to go before you turn on the stove. Have the recipe in front of you and read it from start to finish.
- 3 pounds of Triple Berry Mix: Blackberry, Raspberry, Blueberry. (Check the PH levels of other berries if you don’t use the mix above.)
- 3 cups (21oz) of Sugar
- 1 Large Granny Smith apple, peeled and shredded (1 1/4th cups)
- 2 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice
- Canning Pot or Large Stock Pot, or high walled pot
- If you are not using a canning pot, you need a rack or towel to place inside the pot.
- Dutch Oven or Large Heavy bottomed pot for cooking the jam. DO NOT use a small sauce pan, you need plenty of room, the mixture will boil over if you use a small pot.
- Whisk and/or potato masher and wooden spoon for mashing and stirring berries.
- If you have a whisk you can mash-up the fruit without the aid of the potato masher.
- 4 Pint Mason jars with new lids. You can re-use the rings but you need new lids to make sure you have a proper seal.
- Canning Supplies
- Jar grabber
- Jar funnel – you can skip this but it is much easier to put the jam into the jars, you could make a DIY funnel out of parchment paper – do this at your own risk.
- Ladle or measuring cup with handle
- Clean dry dish towel
- Clean paper towels or dish towel
- Hot pad
- Cutting board
- Cheese grater for shredding the apple
- Measuring cups and spoons
- 2 small plates, place in freezer
- Soup spoon
- Wooden Skewer
- Canning Pot or Large Stock Pot, or high walled pot
In the morning I took the berries out of the freezer and gave them a short rinse to take off the ice, don’t rinse too much you will lose flavor, and placed them in the heavy bottomed dutch oven type pot to thaw. I washed my jars in the dishwasher using the heat dry setting just to be extra careful, USDA states if you are processing items for more than 10 minutes you don’t need to sanitize the jars before hand, you can just wash the jars with soap and water and let dry, but I had to wait for the berries to thaw so Why Not? I waited for my daughter to take a nap, I didn’t want her to wander into the kitchen and get splashed with hot liquid, and it takes about an hour of your undivided attention, I wanted to make sure I could invest the proper amount of time into jamming. I placed the jars in the pot with the insert and placed it on med high heat to temper the jars, since you will be placing hot liquid into the jars, you want to jars to be hot to decrease the chance of shattering while you are pouring the jam into the jars. I placed a clean towel with a cutting board next to the stove and placed my utensils on the towel. I placed 2 small plates in the freezer. I smashed my berries in the pot with the whisk, I do not have a potato masher. I measured my ingredients and started to jam. I followed the recipe except I cut it in half, this is not a good idea, I over cooked my jam, it still tastes great but it is more jammy than I wanted, so follow the recipe do not alter it. I started to cook the jam, stirring it constantly so the bubbles didn’t boil over. Cook for about 20-25 minutes, set the timer. After the timer went off, this is when I knew my jam was over cooked – it did not look like the one on TV, I checked the temperature, it should read between 217°F – 220°F. Remove the jam from the heat, grab one of the plates out of the freezer and with a soup spoon place a small amount onto the plate, place plate back in the freezer for about 2 minutes. After the jam has set on the plate, run your finger down the center, if you have a clean trail and jam doesn’t ooze back towards the center, then you are ready to jar the jam, if it does ooze back into the center of the trail place back onto the stove for another 1-3 minutes and repeat the test with the other plate.
Take the jars out of the hot water bath and place on the clean towel upside down to drain all the water out of the jars. When jars are cool enough to handle start ladling the jam into the jars leaving a
1/4 inch head space from the top of the jam to the top of the jar. Take a wooden skewer and run up and down the edge of the jar to remove air bubbles.
Clean the rim of the jar and place lid on the jar with ring, DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN, fingertip tighten so air can escape from the jar to allow proper vacuum in the jar.
Allow the water in your canning pot to return to a boil, place the jars CAREFULLY into the boiling water, making sure that at least 1 inch of water is above the lid of the jars. Set timer for 10 mins. (If you are at a higher altitude you will need to process the jars for longer. USDA has a table as well as America’s Test Kitchen, explaining the processing time for other altitudes other than sea-level.) After the amount of time has lapsed, turn off the water and let jars set in the hot water for another 5 minutes. Remove from the water bath and let set at room temperature for at least 2 hours. If you hear a popping sound, That’s a good thing, no need to worry, this means your processing was successful and your jars have a vacuum seal. After about 30 minutes check the lids and see if they are all sucked down and not raised, if they are not sunk down then you didn’t process them properly so you should put them in the freezer after the 2 hour mark. If you are going to eat the jam within 2 weeks you can just place them in the refrigerator at this point to prevent any food bourne illness, but if you want to keep the jam for more than 2 weeks you should place it in the freezer, this should be good for a few months; just make sure the jars are completely cooled before placing them in the freezer, cool them down in the refrigerator first then place in the freezer. After 2 hours of cooling you should be able to eat your jam.
What I have learned from this experience, knowing nothing about jamming and canning except you concoct a recipe and place it in jars and boil it for an amount of time to seal it.
- Do not alter the recipe in any way, after you have had some experience with jamming you probably could reduce the recipe, you should never double the reciepe unless you have a mega pot.
- Only use credible recipes from crediable sources. The recipes that are printed in a cookbook or posted on the crediable website have been tested to USDA regulations. You should not try to just jam anything without foregoing your own research. You can jam just about anything, if you don’t use a recipe then place the jars in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent spoilage.
- Some fruits have natural pectin like apples. If you are using fruit that doesn’t contain a lot of pectin you can buy store-bought pectin. The more ripe the fruit is, the less pectin it contains.
- PH is one of the most important things in canning for food safety.
- Safe canning acidity is between a PH of 2 and 4.6.
- Use Bottled Lemon Juice not fresh lemon juice. Bottled lemon juice has a consistent PH of 2 whereas fresh lemon juice can greatly vary.
All in all the jam tastes great, I did not get the 2 cups that the recipe said it would yield due to over cooking the jam. I think I will try the Bread and Butter Pickles next.
America’s Test Kitchen Recipe for Classic Strawberry Jam, which is what I used except for the berries.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions about my adventure please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org