Yup. That’s me. A huge scaredy cat newbie when it comes to canning. I did it last year, but was sweating bullets the whole time, worried that I would burn myself beyond recognition, make a shitty tasting product, or, worse yet, one that would fester on the shelves until I gave it to some unsuspecting friend and they dropped dead from food poisoning! Since none of that happened last time, I decided to forge ahead with a new confidence this week! My goal was to make a sugar free jam. Lots of recipes call for artificial sweeteners or gelatin which I feel is worse, but after asking around the homesteading community (they know everything, collectively) I learned about Pomona’s Pectin, made from citrus peel with no chemicals or artificial extras. I did use some suger, but compared to the 1:1 ratio usually called for, much, much less…you’ll see.
I went to Silva’s Organic Apple Orchard in Watsonville. They are a long time apple orchard but also have the best Freestone and Yellow Peaches you can get. Right outside their back door, honor stand, tree ripe…I just love going there and have been doing so for years. This time, I met Mr Silva for the first time. So, of course, I proceeded to make a fool of myself by asking him how many pounds of peaches would equal 2 quarts (because that’s what my recipe called for, why do they do that?). He, like me, is a farmer, not a mathematician, so he measured, with his hands, the size of a quart bottle to help give me an idea. It was so sweet! So I bought 10 pounds to be safe and rolled back to my street to buy strawberries at Crystal Bay Farm. I love it there! First of all, it’s within walking distance of my place, except that hauling back the berries poses a challenge and, quite honestly, I am lazy, so I drive. This day they also had bunches of beets, carrots and some smooth skinned avocados. I bought 25 pounds of strawberries and a bunch of the other stuff and headed home.
When it comes to canning, I have found that the preparation is the most difficult part. Kind of like dating. Well, unless it’s a bad date, but that analogy holds true here too. The prep takes just as long whether the date, er, jam, is good or bad. Which is why I am always afraid of messing it up, wasting the time and fruit!
It is always nice, and actually fun to do this with someone else. Good conversation and laughs ensue. My girls helped me a little.
Ok, if you have never canned before there are a few tools that you really do need. A canning pot with rack and canning tongs. I tried it last year without tongs, using our BBQ ones instead…stupid. They are not the right tool for the job and I was just lucky I didn’t get hurt. I also got a canning funnel this time. Much neater when filling the jars. You’ll see why this matters later. DO NOT go all in and get the “canning set”. Extra crap you don’t need.
Before you start prepping the fruit, fill your steaming pot and start heating it up. You will be shocked at how long it takes to get that thing boiling, which is where it needs to be when you drop the jars in.
Get your fruit, wash it (organic is queen, I just rinse the dust off of it). With strawberries, don’t submerse them as they collect water and it changes their quality. For the peaches, I tried dunking them in boiling water then cold water to make the skins “just slip right off” like I read about. This worked for the smaller and riper ones, but not for all. If you do this it has to be for 4 minutes or so. I think in the future I won’t bother because once you start cooking the fruit, it diminishes the good stuff. Just peel them.
Next, you need to cut the fruit up. I like my homemade stuff to look homemade. I like my jam chunky, and the whole time I am cutting it up I am humming this song. Now you will be too!
My recipe called for 8 cups of berries. I kept track and can tell you that stemmed and chopped you will need 1/2 flat to make 8 cups (or 2 quarts). Put the berries into a pot and start cooking them. I use a medium heat so that they don’t burn on the bottom. I used 1 cup of sugar, I know you could use less, or honey or some other sweetener, but I’m a scaredy cat, remember? Mix 4 tsp of the tan Pomona’s Pectin powder into the sugar and stir it up. Why? I tried just dumping the pectin into the berries and it clumps up like glue. You need for it to mix evenly around the pot, so even if you only use enough sugar to be a carrier, do it. Take the calcium powder and mix as directed. Add 4 tsp of calcium water to the pot, then the sugar/pectin mixture. Stir thoroughly often, until it comes to a boil. Let it cook 3-4 more minutes, then turn it off. A layer of foam will settle on top. This is normal, but you need to remove it. Just scoop it off with a spoon. Why? I wondered too…because foam is full of air. Air contaminates your product. The more air you leave in the jar, the shorter the shelf life. This is also why you only want to leave 1/4 inch head space on top. Feed the foam to the kids. They love it.
Now, you should have your 1/2 pint jars washed and ready. This recipe makes 10 jars. I take the jars with the tongs and dunk them into the steamer pot, which should be boiling by now. One at a time, then put them on a clean towel upside down to drain the water out. Take the lids and rings with your regular tongs, and dunk them too.Now everything is sterile and heated to a level that it won’t shatter when it hits the boiling water.
Use your funnel to fill each jar to 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe the rims off with a damp cloth. If there is jam on the rim it will affect your seal, which could allow bacteria to get in. Put the lids on then screw the rims on to just tight. Not super tight. The boiling will take care of that. Put the jars into the rack and submerse in boiling water pot. There should be at least 2 inches of water over them. Boil for 10 minutes, then remove and set on a towel. You should start hearing the lids popping shut. You can also check them to see that the little dome on top is flat, not bumped up. Then tighten the lids down the rest of the way and let cool. While mine was cooling, I noticed that the chunkier parts were on top and jelling, but the liquid in the bottom was looser. So I turned the jars upside down to finish cooling and they mixed up perfectly!
I also made a yummy Peach Jam! It’s a little looser and will be awesome for ice cream or in yogurt. But it worked well on toast. So well that there was an empty jar in the table when I got up this morning!
This was a zero waste project! Since I still had 1.5 flats left, I froze some
Made Strawberry/Peach Jam
And fed the scraps to Ginger and the pig,
who were both really, really happy.
When John came home and saw this
He got a little tear because it reminded him of his grandma. Not in a creepy way.
And for tons of great tips for beginners, The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food, tells you how to preserve pretty much anything in your spare time!