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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strawberry Jam 101

So, after picking 23 lbs of strawberries, one must decide what to do with some of that beautiful bounty. They were almost too pretty to cut up, but once I started I was on a mission. 

The first step in making jam (or canning anything) is to gather your supplies. You need: 

a large canning pot (preferably with a canning rack inside)
jar lifting tongs 
clean mason jars with lid rings and new lid inserts  
whatever you plan to use to fill the jars. I didn't have a wide mouth funnel, but using a 1/2 c. measuring cup worked just fine.  

You need to sterilize your jars and utensils to be sure no bacteria gets sealed into your jars and ruins your jam (that would be a complete travesty!).  I threw everything I would be using into the dishwasher and set to the sanitize cycle.  

Next, to start making your jam, you have to make it in small batches or it won't set.  I followed the proportions from the original Ball Canning recipe.  

Per batch:

5 c. mashed strawberries 
1 box Sure-Jell pectin
7 cups sugar (I know!)
4 T. lemon juice
1 t. butter

Start by mashing up your hulled strawberries with a potato masher until you have 5 cups of fruit. Pour that beautiful mess into a large saucepan.  

Add a small pat of butter, which helps to reduce the foam produced as your jam cooks (which you will have to scrape off later, but this decreases the work at that step)

Pour your pectin in, and whisk to be sure all clumps are dissolved.  Add the lemon juice.  Now get that strawberry pulp boiling! It needs to get to a rolling boil for at least a few minutes - the longer you boil it the more the fruit breaks down so if you want chunkier jam just let it go a few once it gets up to a rolling boil (this means you can't stir it down, it just keeps boiling despite stirring).  Then it's time to add ALL that sugar...there are recipes that call for less, and you have to use a special low-sugar pectin, but for my first try I thought I'd go old school and do it the way our grandmas all did. I mean, jam isn't supposed to be sugar free, right?

Once you add the sugar, bring it all back up to a rolling boil again. Let that go about 1-1.5 minutes once it gets there, and then turn off your heat. After it cools a few minutes, scrape off any foam that formed (but don't throw it away! It's still delicious, just doesn't look so pretty in your jars of jam. Just think of it as a sample.)

While your jam is cooking, you need to multitask to prepare your jars.  Get enough water in your canning pot to cover at least 2 inches above your jars. Put the sanitized jars on in there, and get the water simmering. This is to ensure that the glass and the jam are about the same temperature so when you fill them they don't burst! 

In another pan, get your lids in simmering water as well. The sticky part of the ring needs to heat up to get gummy enough to make a good seal.  Be sure you have some metal tongs or a special magnetic wand to lift them out of the water when you need them.  

Ok, so when your jars are ready, your jam is ready, and you are ready, it's time to fill them up and get canning! One at a time, take a jar out of the large pot using your jar lifter tongs, drain the water back into the pot, and set on the counter. Fill it with jam, then wipe the top of the ring off to be sure you catch any drips.  If it seems like there are bubbles in there, you can tap your jar on the counter, but be careful because it's hot! Or, you can slide a knife around inside the jar.  To be honest, I skipped both of these steps and it turned out fine! 

Next, get a lid out of the pan, center it on your jar, and put a ring on, screwing just enough to get some resistance (i.e don't screw it on super tight or you'll never get it off!).  Repeat with all your jars until your jam is used up.  Place them back into the large pot of boiling water, and be sure they are all upright and covered with water. Cover the pot and boil at a rolling boil for 10 minutes, and then take the lid off, letting them sit in the water for 5 minutes before removing them to equalize the pressure.  Then carefully using your jar lifters, take each one out, and set it on your counter. Do not mess with the jars, they will seal and you will hear "pop-pop-pop" as those lids seal while the jam cools! Music to your ears after all that work :) If any don't seal, don't worry, just toss them in your fridge and they will last for weeks...if you don't eat it first. 

Strawberry Picking

We are in peak strawberry season in Michigan right now, and there truly is nothing sweeter or more perfect than a sun-ripened strawberry picked and eaten right there in the field.  We decided to try and take Norah to the u-pick farm near us and see how she did this summer, and it was an absolute success! We went to DeGroots Farm in Gregory, MI and the picking was good, prices were great ($1.58/lb!) and the atmosphere was friendly and low-key.

 It seems that two years and two months is the perfect age for strawberry picking - she enjoyed eating the fruit, helping us load up the carton and dump it into the flat, she didn't whine about the heat or having to go potty or how tired she was or that her legs itched or... (like a few of the older kids in rows near us).

Looking for the red ones

Dedication to the cause, right there

SO juicy Mama! "Dis 'trawbewwy yummy!"

She also loved the small farm animals area with goats, baby pigs, chickens, and peacocks.  
They had 9 baby goats, and she was thrilled to be able to feed them! 

These guys are LOUD! One little girl near us goes "Hey, it's Kevin!" (if you've seen Up, that's the crazy bird they meet...peacock yelps totally sound like Kevin!)

These goats just climb all over the place, Norah found it quite amusing! 

We ended up with nearly two flats - 23 lbs of berries! I'd say that's good work for two adults and one toddler in an hour and a half! 

Next up - my first canning adventure and making strawberry jam!