Literally In A Jam: Rushing With Blackberries and Blueberries

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.

Dragging this thing home (with food inside) was a hassle! First of all, the process I used was boiling water canning, in which case you will need a giant pot (with a lid) that is high enough and big enough to fit in a boiling water canner (like a giant restaurant condiment lift for jars) or something else that will keep the jars an inch off the bottom of the pot, as well as have enough room for the jars and at least an inch of boiling water to cover their lids and create a seal. I ended up having to get a 16 quart/15.1 liter enamel stockpot, which was a pretty good deal at just under $20, but I must now plot to make crazy stews in it to deem it a worthy investment.

All of the stores that I went to were sold out of the canners, so I got a little creative and used the grater lids from my IKEA grater containers, in order to provide a balance and still allow the boiling water to circulate freely. The foil balls were ill-conceived (of course they floated, silly me) and unnecessary this go around anyway, as I used larger jars and could only fill two, resting them on the grater lids. One of the ladies I bumped into at a supermarket recommended using the screw bands (the round lid-holders) to line the bottom of her pots, which is what I do now. Put them in right-side-up.

Things to have ready: All your ingredients and the things needed to prep them, jars, lids, bands, an extra towel (in case of disaster or water drippage), and some essential canning equipment: A wide-mouth funnel, jar lifter, and stick for measuring headspace and eliminating air bubbles. My kit (from Bernardin) also came with a magnetic lid lifter stick, but I I've never had to use it. Sanitize the jars and lids with hot, soapy water (don't be lazy about it!) and a good rinse, and then put the lids in a bowl/container of hot (not boiling) water, and gently set the jars in the boiling water to keep them sterile. I choose to completely immerse and fill mine in the simmering water of the pot while jam-making, so be careful when lowering them in or you might get splashed by hot water. While you're at it, get a little plate and stick it in the freezer.

First, add the berries to a big pan/pot over medium heat and cover them with a lid, whether they're fresh or frozen, so that the steam cooks them up, and makes them easier to mush up. I highly recommend wearing full-coverage clothing that it not light-coloured. Sorry, Colonel Sanders and all you naked chefs out there. First, add the berries to a big pan/pot over medium heat and cover them with a lid, whether they're fresh or frozen, so that the steam cooks them up, and makes them easier to mush up. I highly recommend wearing full-coverage clothing that it not light-coloured. Sorry, Colonel Sanders and all you naked chefs out there.

Jam is something that you can't leave unattended. It needs constant supervision and stirring, to avoid burning, splattering, and a myriad of other crazy things. When the berries start to get very juicy, bring the pot to a boil and add in your sugar. For this particular recipe, after stirring in the sugar, I also added in grated apple peel and one half of crunchy apple, chopped up, with the peel on. After the apple has cooked through (easily fork-pokeable), add in the lemon juice and stir to incorporate. Citrus and apple peels (and apple cores) are high in pectin, and I opt to use them instead of commercialized pectin powder. One day I might experiment with the powder, but at the moment I have no patience for it because a lot of recipes say things like "1 packet fruit pectin", which is frustratingly vague. Is there a standardized size for all of them? And if it comes from fruit anyway, why not go straight to the source?

In about a minute, reduce the heat gradually, as you'll notice the texture of the jam starts to change. Remember that plate in the freezer? Drip a blob of jam on it and stick it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out, run your finger through the jam, and if it's not all liquidy, you have achieved a pretty good set (gel-point) for your jam. At this point you should turn off the heat immediately, because I found that mine continued to firm up, especially because it was still cooking during the freezer test. Take your jars out of the pot, your lids and bands out of the water, and quickly give them a dry, being really careful not to burn yourself. It's okay if the outside of the jars are a bit drippy, but you don't want any inside.

Another way to check for done-ness is by dipping a spoon into the jam and turning it sideways like this. You're looking to have drips move to the bottom of the spoon, but stay put. This is called sheeting. If it all flops right back into the rest (don't hold it up over the floor!), it ain't ready and you might need to reduce it more (by boiling longer), to allow the sticky sugar to take over, or add more pectin. Don't worry, I scrambled through that, so all you have to do is watch the pot boil and keep stirring.

At the time this photo was taken, the apples had cooked through, and sadly, the need for stirring had pulverized most of the chunks, eradicating my intended textural difference, but they took on a lovely colour and added a hint of apple flavour. At the time this photo was taken, the apples had cooked through, and sadly, the need for stirring had pulverized most of the chunks, eradicating my intended textural difference, but they took on a lovely colour and added a hint of apple flavour.

Fit the giant funnel into the mouth of a jar and fill it up. Easy peasy. Use the little ruler stick to measure the amount of headspace (airspace between the top of the food and the lid). I know that for jam the requirement is about 1/4 inch. After enough practice, you'll be able to eyeball it. Use the other end of the ruler stick thingy to push between the inside of the jar and the jam, popping any air bubbles by smoothing it around against the interior 2 or 3 times. After creating a mess, use a damp paper towel to wipe the top and inside of the jar mouth clean, and then a dry one to get rid of the water. The lid, as well as the mouth of the jar need to be clean and dry to create a proper seal, which is also why the lids were kept in hot water: The gluey ring on the underside needed to soften up in order to stick down firmly on the jar and create a seal.

Thinking about how much messier my kitchen would get without this funnel makes me cringe. Any jars that can't be filled all the way should not be boiled, and ought to be refrigerated and eaten within about 5 days. Screw the bands onto the jars, using your fingertips, until they are pretty firmly on. Don't push super hard and make it tough to move, because you could muck up the seal or cause the jar to shatter while boiling.

Use the lifters (I call them forceps) to lower filled jars into the water, and keep in them there for 10 minutes at a gentle, rolling boil, with at least an inch of water covering them. If you live at a high altitude, then they will need to hang out in there for longer (check out the links in this post, or look up high-altitude canning on Google). Remove carefully when done, and let them cool off with at least an inch between the jars, for about 12 hours. I just put them on a tea towel. Eventually, the lids should be convex, and not make a clicking noise when you push down on them, or else the jar has not sealed properly and the jam inside can be re-processed (again, see links). Don't worry if the lids aren't already unclickable when you take them out of the water. Sometimes it takes a while for the suction to pull the top in. I get happy when typing away or flicking on the TV and hearing a familiar *ka-TING!* shortly after leaving the kitchen.

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!

Eat well!


This entry was posted in Canning, Gluten-free, Spreads & Dips, Vegan, Vegetarian and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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