April 10, 2012

I Be Jammin'!

Have you ever put something off for a really long time because you were so intimidated by it?  Up until this weekend that was me with canning.  I really don't know why I waited so long.  It was so simple!  A few years ago, I had tried it under the strict supervision of my friend Molly and her father, but going at it alone was a scary thought!  I'm not going to lie, I did a TON of research before I even started.  There are so many factors that could go wrong, with things not sealing properly, or you don't get the correct amount of acid so you're food will spoil before you eat it.  With all the research I did, I felt more than confident going into my first solo canning experience.  I picked an easy Strawberry Jam recipe that I saw The Pioneer Woman make on her show a few weeks back.  The ingredients were simple.  Strawberries, sugar, pectin and lemon juice. The recipe called for 5 cups mashed strawberries.  So, how do you figure out how many pounds that is?  A quick Google search of "mashed strawberries to cups" and I had my answer.  There is about 1.75 cups per pound, so I needed about 3 lbs of berries.  Gotta love Google.

First, you start by putting your jars in the canning water and bringing it to a simmer. 

In a small sauce pan, do the same with the lids and bands. The jars will become sterilized when you do the water bath at the end, but you want to get your jars hot so when you put in your boiling jam, your jars won't break. As far as the lids go, you want the rubber to get softened up so it will seal properly.

Next, hull and mash the strawberries.  I did this about a pound at a time in a large bowl with a  potato masher measuring along the way. 

Place the berries that you've measured in a large pot and add the pectin and lemon juice.  A couple of things to note.  I bought the jar of powdered pectin, because it seems to be more cost effective than buying it one box at a time.  The cost of the jar was the same as 2 boxes of pectin and the jar holds about 2.5 boxes.  Not a huge cost eliminator, but every little bit helps.  Also, I read somewhere that buying the bottled lemon juice is better than buying actual lemons because that way you can control the acidity better.  I guess all lemons are not created equal.

I placed the berry mix on the stove over medium high heat and brought it up to a hard boil. 

Then, I added 7 cups of sugar, while stirring constantly. Keep stirring until all the sugar is dissolved and the berries form a "violent" boil. This part gets a little messy so maybe keep the kiddos away from the pot during all this. It was during the "violent" boil, that I added my secret ingredient of Grand Marnier. Only a couple of tablespoons are needed. Now its time to remove the jam from the heat and get to canning!

I formed an assembly line of sorts by first removing the jars from the water and placing them on a clean towel. Next to those, I put the pot with the lids and bands. Then I placed the jam so I could go down the line to fill the jars with ease.

I should probably stop and back up the train for a second to show you all the supplies that are needed for this. First, you need a large pot for your water bath and a canning rack. I got a kit with all the stuff in it for Christmas, so if you can find one of those then you'll be golden for all future canning endeavors. Otherwise you'll need a wide mouth funnel, jar lifters, a magnetic lid lifter, bubble remover, jar wrench and a good pair of tongs.

Place the funnel over one of the jars and using a ladle or measuring cup, carefully scoop your jam into the jars leaving at least 1/4" head space at the top.  Continue down the line and fill all remaining jars.  I only sterilized 9 jars for this and ended up having some extra so I found an extra jar to put the rest in and am now using that as my current refrigerator jar.

Using a clean, damp rag, wipe the rims and sides of the jars to remove any jam that may have gone rogue.  Next, take the nifty magnetic wand and carefully lift the lids from the pot and center them on the jars. 

Screw on the bands until you get resistance.  You don't want to make them tight at this point but rather tightened enough so that the lid won't come undone in the water bath.

Once all the lids and bands are on, place as many jars as you can in your canning rack.  I think I'm going to need a new rack because the one that came with my kit will only hold 5 half pint jars at a time so I had to do two batches.  If I wanted to to can pints or quarts, I'd be hosed.  Place the rack with the jars carefully into boiling water and place the lid on. Make sure you have at least 1-2 inches of water covering the jars.

The water should be at a rolling boil for the duration of the canning period which for this jam is 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, turn the heat off and let them sit in the water for another 10 minutes.

Remove the canning rack from the pot and using your jar lifters, carefully move the jars from the rack to a clean, dry towel.  Repeat these steps with the remaining jars.  It wasn't long after I removed the jars from the canning rack that I started to hear the magical "ping" to know that the jars sealed properly.  I'm not sure there's a more satisfying sound in the world.  Now as tempting as it is to mess with the jars and putz with the tops to make sure they sealed, don't touch them for 24 hours! 

I read an interesting tip online that said when storing the jars you should not keep the bands screwed on.  That way, any gases that may still be released can escape without any issues.  When you're ready to use it or gift it to someone, than place the band back on.

How about a cost breakdown for this little canning adventure?  We all know I love those!

10 jars @ $.67 each = $6.70
3 lbs strawberries on sale for $1.88 each = $5.64
Jar of Pectin @ $5.00.  But I only used about $2.25 worth
2 lemons @ $.50 each = $1.00
Sugar bought on sale for $2.49

For a total of $18.08 I got 10 half pints of jam which breaks down to $1.81/jar.  Not too shabby and it tastes really good too!!  If you've been intimidated by canning, you shouldn't be.  It was so much easier than I ever thought it would be.  Happy canning!