Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kick Out The Jams

Having never been forced to farm, I've tended a real taste for foraging fresh Tennessee fruit. During my thirteen years of rural living, I harvested blackberries every summer. If possible, I'll be back to the old communal property this summer for more blackberries. In the meantime, strawberry season startled me with its sweetness, & I suddenly had the chance to go picking on the Tennessee Tech organic farm. What an opportunity!

On a Friday, May 14, I biked to the farm with my friend & pastor Pat Handlson. It was a hot day, & we had a good sweat going by the time we got there. A vigorous breeze kept us comfortable. We were joined by a small crew of Moms & kids. Farm manager Randy Dodson gave us instructions, & we found our rows, fell to our knees, & started filling our boxtops.

Before long, we were all swimming in sweet red bounty. That afternoon, I'd be in my kitchen turning that mess of berries into a mess of jam. Canning & jamming kind of intimidated me before I tried, but I've been kicking out the jams each summer for over a decade, so I guess I have the hang of it now. Here's a simple description of how utterly easy & fun it is to make fresh jam. I encourage you to go get some strawberries today & give it a try.

What you need to have on hand
Big ol' soup-size cookin pot & wooden spoon
Smaller but wide saucepan
Large glass measuring cup
Ladel or metal measuring cup
Food processor or blender
Canning funnel
Jars & lids
metal tongs
Apron & lots of kitchen towels

Mess of fruit
Lots of sugar
Certo Liquid Pectin

When I cook, I look up recipes & quickly memorize them. I hate measuring or reading from the recipe once I start cooking. While I've become quite wizardly with guesstimating quantity for most dishes, with jam, you need to follow the directions; I hate numbers & math, so I am not going to go into that here, but the pectin packaging has all the details you'll need. For years, I've been using Certo Liquid Pectin, & jam always comes out just perfect. I suggest getting some, using their suggested measurements, & enjoying the results.

To prepare the jars, just wash them in hot water, & set aside. For the lids, place these at the bottom of a saucepan & cover with boiling water. Set aside.

The first thing to do is wash & prepare the fruit. This takes the most time, so I suggest planning to listen to some good jams while fixin' to fix jam. When I pick blackberries, I always gather at least one gallon to make one batch of jam. With the strawberries, I had close to 20 pounds, & I made two batches of jam & had lots of fruit left over to freeze.

Mash the prepared strawberries in a food processor & transfer to the glass measuring cup to make sure you get the amount correct. If you mash too many by mistake, you can put them in a smoothie or freeze them with sugar for a simple sorbet.

Combine the measured crushed berries & measured sugar in your big ol' pot. Cook on high, constantly stirring, for a good while. You want to get this mess real hot. Once the berries begin to bubble & froth in a rolling boil, even while stirring, add the pectin. Return the steamy batch to a full boil that keeps its head even while stirring. Count to 60. Now your jam is ready. Some people like to skim off the frothy head, but you won't die if it ends up in the jam.

Have lots of towels laid down everywhere, because if you're like me, you'll need these to catch sticky spills. Ladel the hot jam into your clear jars one at a time; the canning funnel makes the mouth wider & cuts back on spills. Take a lid with the metal tongs & place it onto the jar. (The tongs help if the lids are hot to the touch, & this feels super sterile.) Use one of your kitchen towels to tighten the lid on the jar or to wipe spillage. Take the freshly canned jam & turn upside down onto the counter. The heat from the jam will create the sterile seal on the lid of the jar. You can test this once the jar has cooled by firmly running a finger over the lid, to make sure it is smooth & snug.

Store your jam in the cupboard. Refrigerate after opening. Serve on warm toast, in cold plain yogurt, or with fresh hot biscuits.

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