Guys, I am so proud of myself! I MADE JAM!
I haven’t opened it yet, and of course, there’s still the off-chance that I did something horribly wrong and will have botulized someone, but… I’m so happy! I truly feel like this is one more step towards getting out of the vicious consumer cycle.
If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have had lofty dreams of canning for years, but have opted to freeze things like tomato sauce, apple butter, and to make refrigerator pickles rather than to actually process them. I’m actually surprised that I even have an interest in canning. It was never something my mother did, but once, when I was a child (perhaps 9 or 10, with sun-sensitivity from antibiotics for my Lyme disease), my mom and (at the time) two younger brothers went off with another mom from our school – let’s call her Ellie-May – and her couple of children to go strawberry picking, with plans to make jam for the rest of the afternoon.
Well, if you’ve never picked strawberries or raspberries, let me tell you, it is nothing like the idyllic autumn afternoons of picking apples in mid-September.
It is hot.
It is sunny.
It involves hunching over the plants as opposed to strolling along an apple orchard and plucking the fruit from eye level.
And it is sticky.
If you happen to be with Ellie-May and her children, they will throw tantrums and torment you and your siblings. Ellie-May will bring you back to her house to make quarts upon quarts of jam, but the children will not be involved, it will be hot as hell in the house, and she will neglect to offer anyone lunch, so the already bad behavior from the children will quickly diminish.
Somehow, though, I still was interested in learning to can. Perhaps it was the trips to Lancaster that we took, where we could buy jam topped with a little square of pretty fabric from lovely Amish families. Perhaps it’s my recent love of local food, farmers markets, and learning to appreciate a simpler life.
Whatever it is, I have wanted to try this out for years, and for Christmas, Charlie bought me a canning kit. He also got me a really great book, Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff. When I started perusing this book, I knew it was perfect for me. Liana isn’t super troubled if the jelly doesn’t look perfect, like me. And she uses recipes that are lower in sugar, though they still have enough to make the preserves… well… preserve. She even uses apples and other fruits in the recipes for their high pectin content, meaning that there’s no need to go buy an additional product at the store; you can simply use fruit to set up your jam.
Canning is a bit of work, but not quite as bad as I expected it to be. Here are a few tips for if you’re like me and you fatigue easily.
- Get a partner in crime. This is easy to do when you offer to share the finished product.
- Don’t attempt to can fifty jars in one day. There will be other days, and it’s a much more manageable task if you do one recipe at a time.
- Break your task up into steps, if possible. I found a whole lot of peaches that were seconds at the farmers market, and it took me a couple of hours to cut them all up. So, I did that one night, and I read all the instructions and assembled my materials the next day, but I was too tired to actually can that day. The day after, we canned. If I hadn’t been able to muster up the energy, I planned to use all those cut up peaches in a cobbler or a pie.
I can’t wait to try another recipe from this book!
Note: I am all about changing up recipes usually, but canning needs to be very precise so that it’s safe to store on a shelf. Make sure you’re familiar with canning before you try anything besides a tested recipe.
Classic Peach Jam from Canning for a New Generation
Makes about 5 half-pint jars
12 oz Granny Smith apples (about 2 large)
4 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted, and diced
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
Prepare for water bath canning: Sterilize the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, put a small plate in the freezer, and put the flat lids in a heat-proof bowl. (See page 21 of book for details.)
Cut the apples into quarters and core them. Tie the cores and seeds in a cheesecloth bag and set aside.
Put the peaches and sugar in a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, and cook until the juices just cover the peaches. Pour into a colander set over a large bowl and stir the peaches gently to drain off the juice. Return the juice to the pan, along with the apples and cheesecloth bag, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is thick and reduced, about 15 minutes.
Return the peaches and any accumulated juice to the pan, along with the lemon juice, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the peaches are very tender and a small dab of the jam spooned onto the chilled plate and returned to the freezer for a minute becomes somewhat firm (it will not gel), about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir gently for a few seconds to distibute the fruit in the liquid. Remove the bag and the apples. (Reserve the apples for another use; see page 94 of book.)
Ladle the hot jam into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace at the top. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it’s just finger-tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately. Label the sealed jars and store.