Friday, August 31, 2012
Basic Blackberry Jam
As the summer begins to turn toward fall, the limbs of fruit trees and vines are heavy laden with rich ripe fruits. It takes me back to days of picking blackberries and raspberries behind my grandparents house and trips to a local orchard to pick apples and sip fresh cider. This summer, I got to revisit some of those memories by picking blackberries with a friend and as when I was younger I ended up with more than I knew what to do with. I had however gone into the endeavor with a plan. A plan for jam.
I am relatively inexperienced in food preservation, what you might call a dabbler. This means you won't see recipes for canned meat or soup or salsa but if it can be pickled or jellied or made into jam I'm your girl! So with my plethora of delicious ripe fruit I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to encourage others to answer the call of home canning as well.
Many call this a dying art but I think it has a niche and it's slowly catching on in a more mainstream way. It may not be canning as your grandmother did it but with easy recipes, plastic freezer jars and simple kits it isn't all hours of sweating over a hot stove in midsummer either. This recipe is the "Berry Jams Without Added Pectin" from the National Center for Home Food Preservation which offers a wealth of information on how to can, safety guidelines and recipes. Once you get a handle on the basics you can let your imagination run wild and oh the fun you will have.
9 cups berries
6 cups sugar
This recipe makes 7-8 half pints or 4-5 pints. (I got approximately 4 1/2 pints)
Canning jars of your choice with lids
2 large non reactive pots
Canning tongs (Preferred but regular tongs will do in a pinch)
Funnel (make sure it fits your jars)
Start by washing your berries. I washed mine in a sink full of cool water spiked with some white vinegar (to kill anything that might have hijacked a ride home, these are fresh berries after all) about 1/4 cup. I let the berries sink and skimmed off anything that floated to the top then added more water for a rinse and scooped them out gently with a spider (wire cooking tool - a slotted spoon would also work but remember to be gentle and not to crush the berries) and laid them on paper towels to dry.
While you are doing this it would be a good idea to set your jars on the stove to sterilize. You need to have them ready and still hot when your jam is done so timing is important. I suggest you read the section on sterilization here http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_01/sterile_jars.html but the basic are as follows.
To sterilize empty jars put them right side up in the bottom of a pot large enough that you will be able to completely submerge them in water. Fill the pot and jars with hot but not boiling water to about an inch above the tops of the jars. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. There are adjustments to be made for different altitudes so please follow the link if you live more than 1000ft above sea level.
Now to the jam. In your other large pot combine the fruit and sugar over a medium to medium low heat slowly bringing it to a boil. (Adjust the heat as necessary but do not put it on high it can get out of control quickly.) Stir often and once the sugar has dissolved cook to the jellying point. This should take about ten minutes. Stir constantly during this time and do not leave your jam unattended. The jellying point is when the jam has reached a consistency where it sheets (instead of dripping) off a spoon dipped in the hot mixture or a temperature of approximately 220 degrees F. You can see more here http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/jelly_point.html.
Remove the jam from the heat and the sterilized jars and lids from the water bath. (This is where you'll want the tongs for the jars.) Drain the water from the jars (down the sink) and fill them with the hot jam using the funnel. You will want to leave "head space", about 1/4 inch of clear space between the top of the jam and the top of the jar. Make sure to wipe the rim of the jar with a clean damp paper towel and place lid and ring on top. Repeat till all jars are filled. Tighten the rings and carefully lower them into the still boiling hot water bath. make sure the water still covers the jars. This step is called processing. Leave the jars in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Then remove carefully and wait. The jars should seal with a pop in short order as they cool. If you use jars larger than a pint or smaller than a half pint the processing time may be different again please refer to the NCHFP website for more information or guidance on the subject. They have a chart along with the original recipe for this jam here http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/berry_jams.html.
I highly recommend reading the various articles offered on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website before jumping into canning for the first time. There is specialized equipment available if you want it but you can also do some basics with a couple of good heavy non-reactive pots. So look around and decide what is best for you. I do recommend a basic canning utensil kit that you can find at your local grocery or big box store. It has a jar lifter, a lid lifter, a funnel, a bubble remover, and a headspace tool. They aren't expensive and it's better to have the right tools than to drop a hot jar of hot water on yourself or the floor while trying to use regular kitchen tongs. It can be done but at your own risk.
I hope this is inspiration enough to do a bit more research and to try your hand at canning. Don't let it intimidate you, it isn't as hard as it seems at first and there are some great sites out there where you can ask all sorts of questions from experienced canners if you are unsure about something or if things don't turn out as planned. The results are worth it as is the fantastic sense of accomplishment you will feel when you hear those seals ping!