Land of Fruits and Nuts – Preserving the Harvest – Day 1 – Strawberry Jam

bigstock-Breakfast-of-raspberry-jam-on--16477550Well, we’ve finally reached the beginning of the harvest so to speak here at the aptly named Land of Fruits and Nuts. Yep, we’ve named the “farm” the Land of Fruits and Nuts . . . we actually went through a bunch of names, the top runner being 1 Bullet, 2 Squirrels after my sister-in-law’s adventures on her spread, but the reference to guns was too polarizing for our farm (and grand plans of turning it into something). So, the Land of Fruits and Nuts it is, which seems appropriate for an urban farm in Southern California, right?

In any event, I am looking forward to and dreading at the same time the abundance we shall harvest. So I’ve been getting prepared by brushing up on my preserving skills. My mom used to can and dry and bake the harvest, and I remember some of it but not all. So I decided to start by making strawberry jam. And then I realized I should at least blog about it. And then I figured I would blog about the entire adventure. So this is my official day 1, which started on May 2, 2013.

First, this recipe is for strawberry jam, without added pectin, and processed by water bath. If you aren’t familiar with water bath processing, it is used to allow storage without refrigeration to preserve foods.  Boiling water canning is appropriate for most fruits because they have enough acidity to prevent growth of Clostridium bacteria, which can result in botulism.

Second, there are a number of recipes that have been tested to ensure food safety. This recipe is from the Institute of Domestic Technology which adapted it from  Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving by Kevin West. Always make sure you are using a tested recipe to prevent foodborne botulism and that you are following safe preservation techniques.

So, the recipe calls for 3 pounds of prepped fruit. I used strawberries, and I want substance to my strawberries in jam, so I washed them, cut off the tops, and cut them into quarters. I tried to keep the quarters even in size, so the smaller strawberries may have been cut into thirds or halves, depending.

I placed the cut strawberries into a stainless steel bowl and added 3 cups of sugar and 2 tablespoons of organic lemon juice. I gently combined and let macerate for 30 minutes, covered with a towel.

While the fruit was macerating, I made sure my jars were prepared. This recipe makes 2 and 1/2 pints, or five 1/2 pint jars. To prepare, wash the jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. You can use a dishwasher, but I usually hand wash. Then place the jars in the rack in the pan you are using for the water bath, and keep at a simmer at medium heat, but don’t boil. Depending on the size of your water bath pot, you may need to start this well before – you are going to have to get it up to a boil eventually, and if it is a lot of water, it may take some time. The water should cover the jars with at least an inch above the tops.

Leave the screw bands near your work area. The lids will need to be in a saucepan and cover with water. You will bring this to just a simmer but not yet – you do this to soften the material on the lid to form a good seal, but you have time.

I then placed the mixture into my jam pot. Now, you can use almost any non-reactive pot – meaning you cannot use pots made from aluminum or untreated cast iron – but hot jam is really  hot, and can splatter, so if you have any interest in canning, I highly recommend a pan designed for canning. I have a Kilner jam pan from Williams and Sonoma because I had a gift card there. I love it, but I absolutely lust after the Mauviel copper pans which just seem, so, well stunning (although to be honest, I’m usually not that into copper . . . ).  But you judge for yourself: Mauviel Copper 15-3/4-Inch Jam Pan

So, put your mixture into the preserving pan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly. Once it reaches a full rolling boil, reduce the heat and stir as it boils, until it reaches the gel point (which is 8 degrees above boiling). Again, this depends on the strength of the heat source and the shape and size of your pan. Sometime before it reaches the full rolling boil, turn on the sauce pan with the lids so they are ready to go.

There are three ways to check the gel point – I prefer to place spoons in the freezer before I get started, and then dip into the mixture and see if the jam drips or sheets off (sheeting means it has reached the gel point). Until you are used to it, you may want to use a thermometer . . . .

Once the gel point is reached, take off the heat and skim if necessary. Put the hot jam into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Now, to get the jars out of the water bath, a jar lifter is extremely nifty and useful. To measure the headspace until you are used to it, a bubble popper and measurer is useful too – although you can certainly make your own. Wipe the rims with a clean, damp towel if needed, and place the lids on the jars. This is where one of those handy, dandy magnetic wands comes in handy to lift the lids out of the hot water.

Finger tighten the screw tops. Place in the water canning bath and process for 10 minutes, measured from when the last jar is in and the water has reached a boil.

Once the processing time is completed, remove the jars with your jar lifter and place on towel. Let sit for 24 hours without disturbing and check the seals. The tops should be indented (concave) and shouldn’t move when you push on them. Remove the screw bands and store for up to a year in a cool, dry place. Oh, and don’t forget to label.

If you are buying equipment, I don’t recommend many of the canning accessory kits because the funnels are usually plastic. If you want a wide mouth canning funnel, get a stainless steel one so you don’t have to worry about plastic stuff leaching into your food or the plastic melting or staining. You can get a jar lifter and a magnetic wand separately from the kits.