Sorry there have been no posts for a while, everyone!
You know that saying about March weather, “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? This month so far has been pretty hectic. Our very organized and proper store owner is being audited, we’re preparing for a fashion show sales party, the busy retail season has picked up, and I can barely fit into our back stockroom, all the while I’ve been figuring out home canning and juggling fruit to avoid it spoiling (and take photos/record notes throughout the process), and my internet connection has been on the blink, making it hard to write here, yikes! If you’ve ever had to call tech support, you will never take the convenience of wireless for granted again. Ever!
Lately I’ve been coming home too exhausted to cook a decent meal for myself, which is really too bad, because good nutrition will give you zounds of energy. I’m working on an upcoming entry about a roast that I made to last the next few days, mmm. Knowing what’s coming up for the rest of this month, I’d say this September is more akin to in like a lion, out like a Jabberwocky battling a female T-Rex.
If you’ve never jarred/canned food before, I want to ask you a question: Have you heard of botulism? It’s pretty bleeping serious and can be caused by improperly preserved food. Now that I’ve frightened the crap out of you, keep in mind that it is preventable, so when you look online for guidance or read recipes, they have some damn strict guidelines that you should follow. I know all this reading seems daunting at first, but when you actually get through it all, and have a pretty strong idea of what you’re doing, it’s pretty fun and you will be confident that you’re not going to kill your family, friends, coworkers, boss, and boss’s dog by sharing yummy creations.
There was a whole lot of prep/homework involved in this process, so I’ve provided some of the most helpful links in this post for you guys to check out. A lot of sites and books that I checked out said big scary things like DO NOT DEVIATE FROM THE RECIPE SHOWN!!! which annoyed me quite a bit, because after a lot of searching, there were very few recipes that actually satisfied my wild and wacky brain’s craving for flavour/texture/colour experimentation, so I started looking for advice elsewhere, and did some food math (the most fun kind).
Jams and jellies need a few things: Stuff to preserve that has/releases liquid, plus pectin, with sugar (that also turns into a syrup when dissolved/melted) and acid to help it set. In preserved food, acidity also wards off potential illness, so many recipes call for bottled lemon juice because it has a standardized-ish PH level. Personally, I don’t like the taste or smell of it, so I chose to add more fresh lemon juice (like, double the requirement) to add a nice, bright, tart flavour to the jams, and counter the cloying sweetness of all the sugar required, but would have to be careful not to reduce the liquid via boiling by too much, or else chance ending up with a berry-flavoured rock.
You can find jars at many large grocery stores (see my tips/notes below), and every time I went to pick some up, I had lovely chats with elderly ladies in the same section, whom I basically interviewed for tips, figuring that they had a lot of practice with canning and hadn’t been killed off by foodborne botulism yet. I’ve actually had a lot of nice conversations with friendly but complete strangers (one of my favorite types of conversations), because people seem to get happily curious when they see unusual young ladies walking around with a flat of jars or a little something special that looks home-made. This usually results in great exchanges about food ideas or hilarious “back in the day” stories, so you are highly encouraged to get started. Remembering times that I sent David off to work with packed lunches, always makes me laugh and smile. Sometimes he couldn’t wait to dig in to pies or tasty leftovers, and people nearby would start asking what he was having. Food is a great connector.
Speaking of which, I am so grateful and honoured that anybody is even reading this thing. I torture myself with perfectionist worry every time I hit the Publish button! WordPress is great because it has a little hit-counter that users get to see when logging in, and I get excited to know that people actually visit my kitchen here.
Recipes for blackberry and a different blueberry jam are posted at the end of this entry. By the way, unless you want to end up with tiny batches because you’re experimenting (because making jam is kind of a lot of work), use a lot of fruit. A lot of fruit. Everything boils like crazy and I reduced a little too much of the juice-syrup away, resulting in less finished product, but one with delicious, intense flavour. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how I roll.
After the jars have dried and cooled, use a Sharpie marker to write the date on the lid or on a label that you’ll stick to it, and eat the stuff (or tell whomever you give it to) within a year. I’m thinking of getting some stickers made or doing them myself, because the cornucopia stickers that come with the flats of jars are fun in a “my grandma is soooo cute, it matches her home decor and she made me this!” way, but they’re not really my thing.
Bam! Pow! Blackberry Jam
Yields about 3 and 3/4 cups of jam, so have a few jars and a baguette ready.
I ended up boiling this batch a bit too long (be careful of that!) and so it firmed up a lot, but was really fun to share with the other zombies and we were glad that it didn’t drip everywhere and mess up our already-gory makeup. It’s very sweet and sour, a very high-impact taste, which I love. If you’re wondering why the pictures don’t look like they made this much, it’s because I made a batch with half this amount, found that it filled a large jar allllmost enough, and scrambled to make more and mix the two batches together. Yargh! What a nightmare.
8 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh!)
7 cups blackberries
4 cups granulated white sugar
2 tbsp grated apple peel (really pack it in there!)
1 apple, chopped into inch-sized chunks, with the peel on
Follow directions above, share, enjoy!
Zingy Blueberry Jam
Yields about 4 cups of jam.
This one was easy for me to think of. I’ve recently become addicted to blueberries, and have always loved juicy nectarines, so the two together, I thought would make a nice contrast, with the addition of lemon zest, to add some texture, along with the punchy flavour of the juice that lightened up the whole thing. This recipe actually drove me crazy, because of the acidity/sugar level of blueberries, and after 3 or 4 sheeting and plate tests I threw in some apple cores to cause the jam to set, and release a little apple juice. My poor boss, whose house is covered in tax receipt paperwork, also happens to be a fantastic pastry connoisseur, so she received a jar of this, as she probably has lots of wonderful treats to smear it on at home. Who couldn’t use a little happiness in a jar?
5 cups blueberries
1 cup chopped nectarine, with the skin on (try 1-inch chunks)
4 cups sugar
2 tbsp grated lemon zest (pack it in, and use the big grater. Tiny wisps will disappear! )
4 tbsp lemon juice (fresh!)
2 apple cores (de-seeded)
Follow directions above, with blueberries in place of blackberries, nectarine in place of apple, and as soon as you add the sugar in and melt it all down, throw in the zest, juice, and cores. Remove the cores before jarring, of course, as soon as the jam gets pretty jam-like.
- When buying jars, you have to rip open the packages and inspect all the lids, jars and bands. I had to make two trips back to stores to return jars because after taking them home, I discovered that some bands were dented, or there were chips in the jar mouths, all of which could result in improper sealing. Not only were staff less helpful than I hoped that they would be, when I had to look for jars to exchange, the size I needed were all gone, aah! If store staff ask what you’re doing, tell them (very nicely) that you just want to ensure that you don’t have to make a frustrating trip back, because your friend did. Also, don’t buy used jars. They could have hairline cracks or other problems that you can’t see, in case the previous owner dinged them by accident.
- Have everything ready ahead of time. I ain’t kidding. It was different for me, because I was experimenting with these recipes, and thought I had enough of everything ready, but ended up grating, chopping, and juicing like a madwoman to see these things through when the recipes needed a little more of this or that.
- Don’t cheap out on sub-par equipment or produce, and really do your homework if you plan to become a mad food scientist in order to crank out some monster creations like I did. You don’t want anybody to become sick!
- Read the links that I provided earlier on here. They were really helpful to me, especially Pick Your Own, and another, Ball’s Fresh Preserving. Looking at the websites from jar companies, like Ball, Mason and Bernardin, From reading so many different sites, books, and guidelines, I have noticed that some of them have differences, like times for boiling (10 minutes at sea level seems to be a popular answer from lots of reputable sources), things to add (some lean toward more acid as a preservative, some lean toward waaaay more sugar), but you will be able to figure it out. If canning is something that you hope to try more than once, the research is definitely worth it!
- Don’t boil your stuff for too long.
- Don’t burn yourself! Seriously.
I hope this has been a helpful post for you guys. It’s been two weeks, and I’ve already made jam, tomato sauce, fruit butters, and other things, so if anyone wants to show up at my place with baguettes and cheese, I’m more than happy to pop open a jar!