Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We Be Jammin

As you all may have guessed I have issues with a lot of processed foods. The issues itself stems from the fact that in order for foods to sustain a lengthy shelf life, they have to be chock-a-block full of preservatives. In some cases preservatives aren’t bad for you, but in most cases these preservatives are either large amounts of sugar, salt and often more dubious chemicals. Or the aforementioned items are added to make up for the lack of flavor that is innately a part of food stuffs that never really go bad.  

My first notice of this issue was canned tuna and the first time I had store bought. My mom home canned tuna growing up (I lost my third tooth on a home canned tuna sandwich), but I vividly remember one afternoon when we had eaten all home canned supplies so off the store we went. Mom even splurged and got the expensive dolphin safe, canned in water yada-yada-yada. I took one bite and vowed I would never eat it again. She still cans tuna to this day and grants me cases of it whenever I ask because I am yet brave enough to venture into pressure cooker canning at this point in my life. It is a lot of equipment and I have seen Breakfast At Tiffany’s enough times to fear my inevitable boiling tuna, water and glass explosion. But that’s just me, I’m clumsy and pressure cookers really don’t deserve the reservations I attach to them. They are really quite safe.

Currently (unless under the supervision of more experienced canners) I stick to hot water bath canning. Which is easy, required very little equipment and extremely safe as long as you stick to jams, and high acidity items like pickling. All you really need is a large soup pot, two pans (not Teflon lined), a bunch of hot pads, rags, and tongs. Well and jars, and whatever you are canning obviously.   

This past weekend I went berry picking with some lovely lady friends Julia and Kim. I stocked up on extremely cheap blue berries and raspberries and promptly went home to make some jams.  So here is my soap box argument for home canned jam. Preserved fruits were originally a safe and effective way to squirrel away fruits for the long vitamin c-less winter months. Yes there once was a time where you couldn’t just go to the grocery store and buy oranges year round by the bushel. And to avoid among other things, scurvy. Having a large supply of canned fruits helped keep you and your family happy and healthy all year long. Now a days, we have nearly an entire isle dedicated to jams and jellies but if you look at the ingredients you will find more sugar than fruit.

I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and while many stores have peanut and almond grinders to make sugar free nut butters, most stores don’t carry sweetener free fruits preserves. So I started canning my own homemade jams. It’s fun and easy and relatively sugar free, if you follow the following instructions.

The first thing you need to do is get your hands on some Pomona’s Universal Pectin. If you don’t live near a health foods store you can buy it online. I use this pectin, despite it being more expensive than other types because the amount of sugar needed in astonishingly less, traditional pectin’s call for 5 cups of sugar for every 4 cups of berries. This pectin calls for ½-1 cup of sweetener (suggestion is to use honey) for every 4 cups of berries.

Once you have the pectin open up the box and check out the instructions, they are relatively straight forward. This will help you organize everything you  need as far as number of jars, amount of berries, and sweetener you will need before you get started. It also explains how to jam using the easy and user friendly method of hot water bath canning. Which requires the everyday kitchen equipment I listed above. Really between the web site and the instruction booklet that comes in the box you don’t need any more help to make wonderfully delicious and healthy fruits preserves. My only additional suggestions are as follows.

1.       Do not under any circumstance touch the hot jars, fruit or lids directly with your fingers. Its hurts more than you can imagine.

2.       When handling jars after sterilization do not let anything touch the rim of the jar. Also after filling jar with fruit and putting the lid on make sure to wipe down the rim with a hot clean/wet rag. Any oils on the rim will prevent the jar from sealing properly.

3.       After jars are filled and lids attached move them to a cooler part of the house to seal, they are more likely to seal with an more extreme temperature change, but don’t put them in the fridge or freezer because when glass cools too quickly it cracks and/or explodes.

4.       That’s all! Enjoy, good luck, you won’t be sorry you gave this a try.

{pictures all mine from last summers jamming}

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