Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jammin' in January

Who says canning is only for summertime?  Well not me!  This past weekend my friend Katy and I made and canned a bunch of peach and cherry jam using produce we had frozen from the late summer.  Canning can be kind of an overwhelming process....Especially if you are doing something like peaches that requires you to remove the skins and cut the fruit beforehand.
Here's what we did: in late summer, during prime peach season, Katy purchased a whole lot of peaches from a local farm.  We then spent one after noon removing the skins, pitting and slicing up the peaches and froze them in 6 cup batches.  (If you don't know how to easily remove peach skins, see my post about removing tomato skins, its the exact same process)!  It would have been quite daunting to do all of that and then proceed to make jam and can all of them in one day.  On another day Katy also pitted and froze a bunch of cherries for the same purpose.  We froze them knowing that someday....we would get around to actually jammin' and cannin'.

To make our peach jam we followed the directions here.  The only exception we made is that we only used 3 cups of sugar per batch rather than 4.5 cups for the "low sugar" option.  The jam still comes out delicious!  So after we thawed our previously frozen peaches, we went to work by heating them up in a large saute pan and mixing in the pectin.
Something to note that I didn't know before....Whenever you add pectin to the heating fruit, you should always mix some sugar with it first.  Somehow that prevents lumps from forming.  In the meantime, we were sterilizing our jars in the dishwasher, getting our water boiling in the canner (I suggest starting this early as it can take a while) and heating the lids/rings to sterilize.
As you can see there is a lot going on here at once.  That's why I highly suggest canning with a friend.  It's a lot easier if there are two people and therefore 4 hands to go around.
Now once you add the pectin, you are supposed to boil (hard boil, which means the boiling doesn't stop when you stir) for about 1 minute.  Then you take a small sample of the jam to test and see if its the consistency you want it.  As you will read in the directions from pickyourown.org, keep a spoon in a jar of ice water (or the freezer) and use that to scoop out some jam.  Give it a minute or two to cool and then decide if its the consistency you want.  Remember, its jam.  You want it to spread but you don't want it so thin that its more like ice cream topping!
Once you got it the consistency you want, its time to jar it.  This goes a lot easier if you have a funnel.  Please, for the love of God, invest in the $2.00 funnel!
Once you have your jars filled (you can probably only do about six or seven at a time), place the lids and the rings on and then drop them into your canner and cover.  Its a lot easier to put them in the canner if you have one of these handy jar holders.  Usually these come with the canner when you buy it.  If you don't have a canner, you can use a large stock pot.  Just make sure its big enough that you can have one inch of water above the top of the jars.  Usually, if you are using a standard stock pot, this means that you can only use the small jelly jars.


Okay so the jars are in place and the water is boiling.  Cover the pot and process according to the directions.  We actually ended up processing the peach jam for about 7 to 10 minutes.  Remove the jars (careful they will be hot) and allow to cool on a wire rack.  You should notice that after you remove the jars you'll hear a little "popping" noise.  That's good!  That means the jars are sealing!  You know they are sealed if the center of the lid doesn't wiggle when you press it.
We also decided to make cherry jam....just because.  We found a recipe for it in the Ball Blue Book.  Its pretty much exactly the same as the peach jam recipe.  I believe the original recipe called for 5 cups of sugar.  Again we only used three.  Also, we had to process them for 10 minutes.
Before heating the cherries we pureed them just a bit in a food processor.  Don't do it too long or you'll end up with cherry soup.  The cherries did require a little more than one box of pectin to gel the way we wanted it to.  That's okay, just remember to keep testing (and tasting) and adjusting sugar/pectin to suite your desires!  Both the peach jam and cherry jam are absolutely delicious.  I highly recommend the peach jam on either my Homemade Black Bread or my Homemade Honey-Oat Bread!
So as you can see, jammin' isn't just for the summer.  If you want to jam and can't find the time, freeze your fruit and then do it at your leisure.
If you're new to canning be sure to peruse around websites like pickyourown.org or freshpreserving.com to get thorough instructions. Canning can be fun and money-saving but you have to be smart about it so you can prevent spoilage.
Canning really is easy for a domestically inept person, especially if you have a few friends around to help you!  Thanks Katy!

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