Tonight we celebrate the first batch of raspberry jam from Garden 2009. We’ve had rain nearly every day this summer and the berries are soft and fragile. The canes have been blown off their supports so much of the fruit is hidden beneath overlapping branches or resting on the ground. Picking is a lot thornier this year as a result, and the mosquitoes add insult to prickliness.
I like to use a large, plastic bowl for picking raspberries. That way, when I jump back and let out a girlie scream because of the leopard toad (or fox sparrow, or grass snake) that just leapt up my leg, I don’t break the bowl and spillage is minimal.
First, lay out your equipment. 2 Quarts of berries (5 C mashed) needs 7 C of sugar, 1 package of commercial pectin and makes about 9 Cups. You’ll need 4 pint jars, lids and screw tops, a canning funnel and a jar lifter (both optional but make life a lot easier), a large kettle and a wooden spoon. Clean everything, including the kitchen counter where you will be working. Use clean dishtowels. Wash the jars out with ammonia and dish soap and leave them upside down in the dishrack until ready to fill. Or hey – keep them in the dishwasher if you have a dishwasher. You probably do; I think I may be the only person I know who doesn’t. And you’ve seen my kitchen – if I had one I’d have to put it outside in the yard. Anyway, place the lids under water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, turn the heat off and let them sit in the hot water. Or, you know, dishwasher. I don’t have a dryer either. Make sure your wooden spoon is clean and aroma free, since the last time you used it was making black chili made with coffee and beer and you don’t want your jam redolent of either.
So, 2 quarts of berries comes down to 5 Cups mashed in your good steel kettle.
Yes, there are a few blueberries in there. It happens. Turn on the heat to medium high and stir a little until you get a small amount of juice forming. Add the pectin and stir until absorbed.
This is all on the package directions, but you’ll want to wait till this mixture boils and add the sugar all at once.
I agree, this looks like a lot of sugar.
What can I say? We’re preserving food here, folks, and before sugar was a problem involving weigh gain and rotting teeth, it was a preservative.
After you dump this huge bowl of sugar in the pot and stir the lumps out the mixture will begin to look like JAM. Bring the mixture to a full boil that will not “stir down”, that is, will not stop when you stir into it. You’ll notice a complete change when this happens – the jam will appear to be made completely of tiny bubbles and it will grow up the sides of the pot. Lower the heat a little and keep stirring for one minute.
Now allow the jam to sit while you grab those beautifully clean jars out of the dish rack/dishwasher and line them up on the clean cutting board with the pristine canning funnel in the first one. At this point you can take a metal spoon and skim the foam off the top of the mixturWe. This is probably a good idea if you don’t grow your own fruit – the foam can contain dust and impurities – but I skip this step. Give it one more stir to move the larger pieces off the bottom of the pan and pour into the jars, leaving about 1/4 inch head space. This is where an actual canning funnel comes in handy – there will be a line on the inside surface at exactly the right height. When all the jars are full, and you’ve dumped any leftover jam into a spare coffee cup or whatever, wipe the tops quickly with a paper towel to remove any splatter. There shouldn’t be much, but it will interfere with the seal of the lids.
Carefully drain the lids without touching them with your fingers (I use the jar lifter to hold them in place). Place the lids on the jars without touching the undersides and screw the “screw top” down lightly. Move the jars to a towel or trivet using pot holders or the jar lifter – they’ll be very hot (ask me how I know) in a draft free place, close together but not touching. After a few minutes I turn them upside down for 10 minutes or so. Folklore says this improves the seal and the “mix” of heavy pieces in the syrup. I never have a problem with those things, so I keep doing it this way – experiential learning has its place, eh? Tighten the lids after the jars have cooled. The next day, check the seal – the top depression should be sucked down, not bowed up, and there should not be any leakage around the lid. If you have any doubt, refrigerate and use that jar right away.
Be sure you mark the jars somehow. People can and do make lovely labels to celebrate the fruits of their labor, but I tend to grab a Sharpie and write the month and year on the lid. If there’s something different about the batch I write that too – I filled out the necessary amount with strawberries, or used ground oranges with this batch of peach preserves. All this is good to know when you grab a jar out of the canning cupboard to put on the waffles next Christmas morning, but you won’t necessarily need a beautiful label.
Next, clean up (because there’s is nothing stickier or more beloved of ants than a batch of jam) and sample the leftovers from that coffee cup. And think about what to preserve next – lekvar? Rose hips? Mint jelly? The world is just waiting for you to cook it down and pour it into a clean jar.